|Wings defenseman Brad Stuart played around with his sons, Jake and Logan, at the Pepsi Center in Denver before a practice in early December. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) |
As a father of two young kids, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be away from my family for eight months out of the year.
Actually, I wouldn’t want to know.
But professional athletes are different. They’re often forced to make life-changing choices, which some times means leaving family behind in the pursuit of a dream. It’s a business decision that Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart
and his family made four years ago. But now that his contract is drawing to an end, it appears that more important things may take precedence over hockey.
As the Wings cleaned out their locker room at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, Stuart spoke candidly about the last four years in Detroit, his teammates, the organization, his hockey future, and his desire to be closer to his family, including two young sons, Jake and Logan.
Since the Wings acquired Stuart in a trade from Los Angeles late in the 2007-08 season he has regularly made trips home to San Jose, Calif., even if that meant seeing his wife Melissa, the boys, and his teenage step-daughter for only a day before rejoining the team.
It’s been tough on Stuart, but tougher to see tears well in the boys’ eyes as they beg dad not to leave.
“There were times if we had a Sunday off and didn't play again until Wednesday, they'd let me take Sunday and Monday off so I'd go home Sunday, come back Monday night, miss a practice,” Stuart said. “Now flying in for a day is some times worse than not coming at all because they get all emotional. I made it through the last few years. It'll be a decision we have to make whether we can do it again.”
The decision that Stuart must make is whether to enter free agency on July 1 – and hope to land a deal with a California-based team like the Kings or Sharks – or negotiate a deal with Wings general manager Ken Holland.
“It’s not as easy as just picking and choosing where you want to go,” Stuart said. “I guess the decision I'll have to make is am I going to go to free agency? I haven't talked to Kenny yet so I guess I’ll have to talk to him a little bit about it.”
During his time with the Wings, which includes winning the Stanley Cup in 2008, Stuart has been a steady contributor on the blue line and an exceptional defender on the penalty kill. Partners with Niklas Kronwall
for much of his time, there’s no doubt that Stuart will be missed.
But who can blame a man for wanting to be with his family?
“Family comes first. That's just the way it has to be,” Kronwall said. “He'll talk it over with his family, see how they feel. Everyone knows his family has been in California for a few years and it's got to be tough on him. His kids are growing up, and as much as I hate to see him leave, he needs to do what’s right for him and his family.”
The wounds of missing his family wound re-open every time his teammates brought their kids to The Joe to skate before and after practices. Stuart is as low-key of a person that you’ll ever meet, but whenever asked about his family you could see the hurt in his face and hear the tremble in his voice.
Stuart’s step-daughter has one more year of high school, and while his sons are only four- and five-years-old hockey has kept their dad away for half of their young lives.
“Those are all factors I have to consider,” Stuart said. “My boys are getting older now. … It's getting harder to be away from them. I don't enjoy being away from my kids or my wife.”
And no dad wants to see crocodile tears.
“Yeah, if it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay,” Stuart said. “But I've got other things to consider and other factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I'll have to figure out in the next month and a half.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose