SAN JOSE – Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart spent more than four seasons wearing the winged wheel, and Thursday night at HP Pavilion will be the first time he lines up against the Detroit Red Wings since before a trade deadline deal with Los Angeles in 2008.
“It will be a little strange, probably not as bad as if I was at Joe Louis. That will be a little stranger,” Stuart said on Thursday morning. “It should be fun, too, I’ve got a lot of good memories of being a part of that organization.”
The best memory is undoubtedly playing for Detroit’s last Stanley Cup team in that 2008 season. But, there’s more. Stuart mentioned a Winter Classic, going to Europe to start the season in 2009, the overall Red Wings’ culture and, “learning a lot from guys like [Nicklas] Lidstrom, and [Henrik] Zetterberg, and [Chris] Chelios, and [Kris] Draper, and all those guys about how to win and how to be a winner.”
The Red Wings, who also lost legendary defenseman and captain Lidstrom to retirement in the offseason, have had trouble finding a replacement for what used to be their top defense pair. When asked about it, though, head coach Mike Babcock focused on Stuart the person, not the defenseman.
“You’re always going to miss him as a player, but you miss him as a man much more,” Babcock said. “He’s a great person and we appreciate what he did for us. It was a great trade we made with LA to win the Cup, and he was a huge part of that.”
Stuart, who wanted to be closer to his family and was traded to San Jose in the offseason, has fit in nicely on the Sharks’ blue line after signing a three-year, $10.8 million deal. He’s been a big reason the penalty kill has so drastically improved, from 29th in the league at the end of last season to fifth in the league currently. In 18 games, Stuart has three assists and 15 penalty minutes, and is third in the team in ice time. He leads the team in ice time shorthanded (3:20 per game).
Todd McLellan said: “He’s made us a more competitive back end. Our penalty kill has improved immensely, and he’s played a huge role in that. He’s a very physical player, and we’ve seen him do that a number of times. Just the overall intensity of our blue line has gone up, due in large part to his competitiveness.”
“It’s been great. From a personal standpoint it’s been awesome, just getting to be home as much as possible and not jump through hoops to see my family has been awesome,” Stuart said of his return to the Bay Area. “I think I’ve fit in well with the team, so that’s been good too. It’s been a lot of fun.”
He’s also kept an eye on the Red Wings, who sit in an unfamiliar place of being in 10th place in the Western Conference. The team still has all-world players like Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk up front, of course.
“I haven’t seen a lot of their games, but from what I’ve seen they are still two dangerous players and the key to that team,” Stuart said.
“Any time you have two world-class talents like those two in particular, you’re going to have a chance. From what I’ve seen lately, they’re starting to put it together a little better.”
Babcock talks Sharks
Mike Babcock was asked to give his assessment of the Sharks after just a few of his players skated on Thursday morning at HP Pavilion:
“Obviously the top six forwards have a lot of talent. They can really grind you. Boyle is still an outstanding player, and solid goaltending. Like anything, they are a team that has high expectations. Eventually you want to end up with a Cup. You’re always building towards that, and they are no different than us that way, they’ve got to find their way to get a groove going and get themselves in the playoffs.”