The Detroit Red Wings acquired Brad Stuart from the Los Angeles Kings on trade deadline day 2008 to patch up a defense that had plenty of holes. Nick Lidstrom had been out a week with a knee injury. Chris Chelios had just turned 46. Andreas Lilja was playing 20+ minutes a night and Brett Lebda was…well, he was playing. That’s a problem itself.
The Red Wings blue line needed help, needless to say. For the price of two draft picks (a second rounder in 2008 and a fourth rounder in 2009), the Red Wings landed an absolute horse on the backend, a guy who could eat up minutes and take punishment from the other team while dishing it out himself.
Four years, 300+ games and two Cup finals appearances later, are we nearing the end of the Brad Stuart era in Detroit?
Brad Stuart, who was drafted 3rd overall by the San Jose Sharks in 1998, has bounced around the league quite a bit. After five seasons in San Jo, the Sharks dealt him to Boston in the middle of the 2005-06 season in the deal that netted them Joe Thornton. Barely a year later, Stuart was dealt to the Calgary Flames. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said he couldn’t agree on a contract extension with Stuart.
He finished the year in Calgary, but at the end of the 2006-07 season he signed a one year $3.5M contract that brought him back to California, with the Kings. He didn’t even make it the full year there before the deal that brought him to Detroit and made him a Cup winner.
Following the Cup year, Stuart re-upped for four more seasons in the D. That contract is set to expire on July 1, and if deciding where to sign his next deal were a purely hockey based decision Stuart has said that re-signing with Detroit would be a no-brainer. There is, however, one big catch:
“I’ve loved playing here, loved everything about being here, so that’s not a problem. It’s just that I have a difficult situation I have to deal with, with the living arrangements. It’s something I have to figure out in the next few months.” – Brad Stuart
Brad Stuart’s family still lives in California, and being away from them is something that is weighing heavily on his mind. He has said that he will have to sit down with GM Ken Holland in the next couple of weeks and decide what he is going to do going forward.
Stuart has become a vital piece of the Red Wings blue line, eating up tough minutes on the penalty kill, blocking shots, throwing hits and (possibly most importantly, and least noticed) playing through the pain. Stuart is just about always nursing some kind of injury, but he is out there every night gutting it out.
Losing him would be a difficult void to fill, but if Stuart lets Holland know that this season he is going to look for employment closer to home, would Holland be better served to expedite the process and deal Stuart to a California team himself, so as not to lose him for no return this summer?
With that in mind, here are a few players who could be targeted in return for Stuart if Holland does elect to deal him prior to the deadline:
Los Angeles Kings:
Rob Scuderi ($3.4M thru ’13) or Matt Greene ($2.95M thru ’14) – Both make a little less than Stuart’s $3.75M, but they do essentially the same job – playing big minutes on the penalty kill, blocking shots and throwing hits. Scuderi was a big reason why the Penguins won the Cup in 2009, and he plays with little regard for his own comfort, and is a stocky 6’0″, 214. Greene is a bigger body (6’3″, 237) and a Michigan native – you know how Illitch loves his Michigan boys. All three put up similar offensive numbers.
Toni Lydman ($3M thru ’13) or Francois Beauchemin ($3.5M thru ’15) – Again, neither makes as much as Stuart but they are in similar roles. Big horses on the PK, minute eaters, blocked shots, etc. Lydman, like Stuart, is a valuable glue guy. Ask the Buffalo Sabres (and specifically Tyler Myers) how much they miss him. I actually wanted the Wings to take a run at Lydman when he last hit free agency, but he wound up in Anaheim instead. Beauchemin is currently Anaheim’s number one defenseman in terms of time on ice and has a modified no-trade clause (he can list 12 teams he would accept a trade to). Anaheim went into the All Star break red hot (8-1-1 in their last 10), but are still 12 points out of a playoff spot. If they don’t close that gap significantly in the next few weeks, expect them to be sellers at the deadline, and unloading a contract with years left on it like Lydman or Beauchemin would be a start.
San Jose Sharks:
Douglas Murray ($2.5M thru ’13) – I saved the best for last here. Douglas Murray is a player I have coveted for a long, long time. At 6’3″, 240 he is an absolute monster on the blue line for San Jose. If you watched the last two playoff runs for Detroit, you probably hate Murray at least a little bit. He throws thunderous body checks and blocks a ton of shots (nearly three of each per game). He has the least offensive upside of any of the players I’ve mentioned, but he would be the perfect foil for the offensive Niklas Kronwall on the second pairing just like Stuart has been for the past four years.
Those are the five guys I would be taking a long, hard look at in the next three weeks if I knew Brad Stuart would be gone after this season. What do you think?