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Wings take it easy as free agency starts

by Mike G. Morreale

Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland signed defenseman Brad Stuart to a four-year deal on what was a quiet opening day of free agency for the Stanley Cup champs.
The opening day of free agency in the NHL was a relatively quiet one for the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

While many clubs looked to fill needs from outside their organizations, Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland was busy re-signing from within. In the process, the 11th-year GM made certain some key components to his top-rated defense remained intact.

Holland signed defensemen Brad Stuart to a four-year contract hours after Andreas Lilja signed a two-year deal. With Stuart, Lilja, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brett Lebda, Jonathan Ericsson, Derek Meech and Kyle Quincey all under contract, Detroit could have as many as 10 defensemen in training camp if the Wings re-sign veteran unrestricted free agent Chris Chelios.

The retirement of veteran goalie Dominik Hasek also forced Holland to have a backup in place for Chris Osgood. As it turns out, journeyman Ty Conklin, who played 33 games for Pittsburgh last season, was available and agreed to a one-year contract on Tuesday. Conklin, who was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association this season, will challenge Jimmy Howard for the back-up role. He was spectacular for Pittsburgh last season when Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined with an ankle injury, posting an 18-8-5 record with a 2.51 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Lilja, who has spent the last three seasons with Detroit, agreed to a two-year contract extension on Monday, just hours before he could have tested his value in the free-agent  market. He led the Wings with 133 hits and 114 blocked shots in 79 regular-season games. Stuart was originally acquired by the Wings in a February trade with the Los Angeles Kings for a second-round pick in this year’s draft and a fourth-round selection next year.

He was a player Holland coveted at the time and his steady performance did nothing to alter that opinion.

"In the end, both sides gave a little bit and came to a deal," Holland told The Detroit News. "Stewie is a key player for us. He really solidified our top four (on defense). He provides a physical edge and can play a lot of minutes."

Only Pittsburgh's Marian Hossa (seven) and Sidney Crosby (six) and Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg (six) finished with more points than Stuart's five during the Stanley Cup Final.

"I got a pretty good taste of what it means to be on a winning team, and I wanted to continue to be a part of that," Stuart said. "It was important to me to try as hard as I could to remain here."

Another reason Stuart preferred Detroit was the camaraderie he had built with defensive partner Kronwall. As Detroit's second defensive pair behind Lidstrom and Rafalski, Stuart and Kronwall made life miserable for opposing forwards. The duo achieved a combined plus-31 rating during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It was a pretty big factor. I really enjoy playing with him," Stuart said of Kronwall. "We seem to have a pretty good chemistry. That's not always easy to find, so that was pretty important to get a chance to continue that. I'm excited to get going next year."

Stuart also added a physical element along the blue line, finishing with a team-leading 59 hits and 28 blocked shots in 21 postseason games. He also logged more than 21 minutes each game. In nine NHL seasons, Stuart has compiled 59 goals and 170 assists in 579 games.

Lilja, who turns 33 on July 13, has scored four goals with 28 assists in 218 regular-seasons with the Wings. Prior to his arrival in Detroit, Lilja spent four seasons with Los Angeles and Florida.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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