From worst to first, Stuart's glad to be a Wing
The league-leading Red Wings acquired the veteran defenseman from the Los Angeles Kings at the NHL’s trade deadline on Tuesday.
Stuart practiced Thursday with his new teammates at Joe Louis Arena, and met with the Detroit media afterwards.
“When you think about it, (the Kings are) in last place, and I'm sitting here today with the team in first place,” Stuart said. “You can't really do any better than that, so I'm excited.
From a professional standpoint, Stuart said accepting the move to Hockeytown will come easy. It’s the family situation that likely will cause some sleepless nights.
“My wife's pregnant, so there's going to be a little bit of anxiety as far s that goes, but they're excited for me as well,” Stuart said. “This is a great opportunity for myself, hopefully things go well, and we'll see what happens in the future. There's two sides to it, they're excited for me, in a hockey aspect, but it is tough a little bit, but they'll be out to visit, so it'll all work out.”
The Wings hope that Stuart can help make an immediate impact to a defensive corps decimated by injuries lately. Stuart will likely be partnered with Niklas Kronwall when the Wings host the San Jose Sharks on Friday.
Friday’s game will be Kronwall’s first since suffering a clavicle injury against Phoenix on Jan. 30.
“I haven’t seen a lot of him, but we’ve played him a couple of times,” said Kronwall of his new defensive partner. “He’s very solid, strong D. He’s a good hitter, a great hitter. It will definitely be real exciting to be out there with him. I think he’ll be a huge player for us.”
Even with Kronwall’s return and the addition of Stuart, the Wings are without the veteran services of captain Nicklas Lidstrom (knee), Brian Rafalski (groin) and Chris Chelios (leg).
In 63 games with the Kings, Stuart, from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, had five goals and 16 assists. In his last game against the Red Wings, Stuart tied a career-high by collecting three points in LA's 5-3 comeback victory on Feb. 7 at Joe Louis Arena.
He’s also had a run in or two in the past with his new teammates.
“I think the last time we played in L.A., me and Dan Cleary were going at it a little bit, but it's all part of the game,” Stuart said. “It's water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned. You have some battles, but when it's all said and done, we're all pretty easy going guys.”
Stuart’s best statistical season occurred in 2005-06, while splitting time between San Jose and Boston. That season, he had 12 goals and 31 assists.
Stuart, 28, was part of the blockbuster deal that sent Joe Thornton to San Jose in Nov. 2005.
A big (6-foot-2), physical player, Stuart sees his role with the Wings as someone who can move the puck and kill penalties.
“I like to play physical,” he said, “and get in hits when you can, finish your checks and all that, but at the same time you have to be sound positionally and that's kind of a fine line sometimes, but that's what I like to do. Hopefully I can bring that to the team, and bring that extra physical element to the defense.
“When you're playing on a team that, let's face it, doesn't have much to play for other than pride, sometimes it's tough. Then you get thrown into a situation where there's an ultimate goal here and to go form one end of the spectrum to the other it very exciting for me and I am looking forward to it. That's something maybe does help energize me a little bit and I'm looking forward to it.
While Detroit is Stuart’s fifth NHL spot in eight seasons, the former first-round pick (third overall) of the San Jose Sharks in 1998, is looking forward to playing the Wings’ puck-control style.
“Detroit has always been a team that controls the puck and made it real hard for the opponent to do much,” he said. “That's something you always notice when you play Detroit, so I am looking forward to being a part of that and they're definitely not an easy team to play against.”
While Stuart doesn’t know much about most of his new teammates, he did play a few games together with Mikael Samuelsson in San Jose, and was coached by Mike Babcock.
“He was my coach when I played in junior,” said Stuart of Babcock. “He's a Westerner, so there's always that connection, but other than that this will be the first time I play for him.
“I played with Samuelsson a little bit. A couple of guys, just general acquaintance, say ‘hi’ every now and then, but it's a fairly new locker room for me. The last couple of times I've been traded I've known some guys, this time I don't really, so it's a little bit different, but everybody's been really good this morning and this afternoon so that definitely helps to make me feel more comfortable.”