|Stuart's physical presence in the playoffs was evident in hits like this one on Pittsburgh's Maxime Talbot during the second overtime of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. |
– First was the trade to Hockeytown, followed shortly by the birth of his first child, a Stanley Cup celebration and now a new four-year contract.
has lived a charmed – if not hectic – four months.
“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 by phone on Tuesday. “It was important to me to try as hard as I could to remain here.”
It was also important for the Red Wings that they keep the rugged veteran defenseman, who made quite an impression along side his defensive partner Niklas Kronwall
, in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs. Together, the pair made a destructive unit that often disrupted the opposition’s top scorers.
Stuart, 28, 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.
A thumb injury late in the regular-season limited the former first-round draft pick to nine games with the Red Wings, but it was in the playoffs where Stuart's success was measured. In 21 games, he had a goal and six assists with a plus-15 rating.
Stuart’s biggest impact in the playoffs came from his willingness to throw bone-jarring body-checks. He led the Wings in the playoffs with 59 total hits, three more than Pavel Datsyuk
After nine NHL seasons, Stuart has compiled 59 goals and 170 assists in 579 games.
Published reports had Stuart testing the market to see what it would bear, but Stuart said Tuesday that his first priority was to return to Detroit.
“The only thing I had to think about was did I want to take a chance and go into free agency and
|Stuart (right) and Kronwall (left) were a thorn in the side of opposing offenses during the playoffs, especially for the Pens and Sidney Crosby. |
seeing what the market was,” he said. “I had a pretty good idea, but obviously, before you make that decision, you don't know.”
For Stuart, the Red Wings are his fifth NHL stop, along with San Jose, Boston, Calgary and LA. But now that he’s a new father, gaining some stability in his life was a determining factor in settling down with the Red Wings.
“It's been a tough couple of years from having a family and having to move around a bit, spending a lot of time a part,” Stuart said. “To be able to stick in Detroit for four years, I'm real happy about that. It's not just about you anymore. It's about the family and some times you have to make sacrifices to make everyone happy.”
Stuart’s family priorities changed on April 24 when his son, Logan Michael, was born in San Jose. Stuart was excused that day from playing in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Avalanche.
He returned to play in the rest of the series, even getting an assist in Game 4, before maximizing the Wings’ long weekend off -- before the start of the next series -- by flying from Denver to Los Angeles to spent time with his wife Melissa and their newborn baby.
Another reason that Stuart said that he wanted to return to the Wings was the partnership he had built with Kronwall. As the Wings’ No. 2 defensive unit behind Nicklas Lidstrom
and Brian Rafalski, the pairing of Stuart and Kronwall made a measurable dent in opposing offenses.
“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.”
Another Red Wings’ defenseman, Andreas Lilja, avoided free agency when he signed a two-year contract extension on Monday.