SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Red Wings hate that Brad Stuart is no longer part of their team. But they’re happy that the 13-year NHL veteran is where he belongs.
“He’s all smiles and loving it,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who spoke with Stuart Thursday morning at HP Pavilion.
Stuart requested the trade to the Sharks to be close to his wife and young boys. A custody issue with her teenage daughter from a previous marriage prohibited Stuart’s wife from relocating to Michigan. Over the last few years, the Wings granted him permission to miss occasional practices so he could fly home to California – even if it was for a day – to visit his family.
“Not having to do that anymore has been huge,” Stuart said. “My kids have gotten used to having me around, which they weren’t at one point. It’s kind of sad, because I’d come in and they’d expect that you were going to leave. Now they expect me to be home all of the time, which is great. … They are at an age where they probably don’t even remember a lot of those times, which is good. Now it’s the way it should be.”
The Wings loss has certainly been the Sharks gain. Stuart has played in every game this season for the Sharks, producing three assists and a team-best plus-7 rating.
“We miss him,” Babcock said. “You’re always going to miss the player, but you miss him as a man much more. He was a great person and we appreciate what he did for us.”
Stuart said that it will be strange to face his former teammates when the Sharks host the Wings tonight. But he thinks it might be weirder when he returns to Joe Louis Arena for the first time with the Sharks on April 11.
“It should be fun too,” he said. “I have a lot of good memories of being part of that organization. I’ve moved on, but it’s still going to be a little bit weird to play against those guys.”
Besides winning the Stanley Cup in 2008, and playing in the 2009 finals, Stuart said he was fortunate to be a part of Wings’ teams that opened the 2009-10 season in Sweden and played in the 2009 Winter Classic in Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
“Just the fact that I got to be a part of a lot of unique opportunities,” Stuart said. “Being a part of that culture and learning a lot from guys like Lidstrom and Zetterberg and Chelios and Draper and all of those guys about how to win, and how to be a winner. All of those things were invaluable as far as my career goes.”
But leaving Detroit wasn’t as easy as it seems.
“It was tough, but also worth it,” said Stuart, who had a career-best plus-16 last season. “As tough as it was to leave those guys, that organization, it’s just as easy to make the decision that I made for my family. One out-weighed the other and it’s been well worth it.”
After the Red Wings traded his rights to the Sharks, he signed a three-year contract worth $10.8 million to return to San Jose, where he began his NHL career in 1999.
While his four-plus seasons in Detroit provided a lifetime of memories, Stuart said that family eventually won out. Returning to northern California, coupled with the four-month lockout, has allowed him to finally be a full-time father to his two young sons, Jake and Logan.
“Being able to be a dad, to take my kids to hockey and soccer, to be there every single time has been awesome,” Stuart said. “I’ve definitely made the most of.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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