The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/25/12 at 06:27 PM ET
Amidst the biggest “storylines” from the Red Wings’ locker room clean-out day, in terms of cringe-worthiness, anyway, Danny Cleary’s knee issues (the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan adds to the conversation in a blog entry this afternoon) earned some serious sympathy pains…
But the Red Wings’ player who seemed to be suffering the most discomfort, however, was and is defenseman Brad Stuart, who very clearly wants to remain a Red Wing, but, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness notes, is all but guaranteed to sign with a West Coast team after spending the past four-and-a-half years away from his San Jose-based family, two young sons and high school-aged stepdaughter due to Mrs. Stuart’s custody issues:
“I love it here,” Stuart said. “If it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay. But I’ve got other things to consider and other factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I’ll have to figure out in the next month and a half.”
Stuart just finished his four-year deal with the Wings that paid him $3.75 million a season and will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He was dealt from the Los Angeles Kings to Detroit on Feb. 26, 2008.His wife and three children continued to live in Los Angeles while he played hockey in Detroit.
“I’ve been living here and my family’s been in California,” Stuart said. “I’ve got a stepdaughter that needs to finish high school so that’s how it is. There’s really no way to get around that. I guess it’ll be up to me to kind of decide what needs to be done. As much fun and as great as it’s been to play here, it’s been equally as tough not having my family by my side. Those are things I’d like to consider, at least try to fix. It’s not as easy as just picking and choosing where you want to go,” Stuart added. “I guess the decision I’ll have to make is am I going to go to free agency, see what happens, or not. I haven’t talked to Kenny (Holland) yet so I guess I’ll have to talk to him a little bit about it. I’m sure there will be a point where he wants to know one way or the other. I don’t really know that yet. It’ll be within a month, probably, I guess, month and a half.”
Holland, the Wings general manager, did approach Stuart during the regular season about an extension which led to speculation that the defenseman’s time in Detroit had lapsed. And Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn’t sound like he is counting on having Stuart around next season.
“I know his family’s still living out West, so that’s probably going to happen,” Babcock said.
Stuart spoke to DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose about the attempts he’s made to attempt to spend as much time with his family as possible…
There were times if we had a Sunday off and didn’t play again until Wednesday, they’d let me take Sunday and Monday off so I’d go home Sunday, come back Monday night, miss a practice,” Stuart said. “Now flying in for a day is some times worse than not coming at all because they get all emotional. I made it through the last few years. It’ll be a decision we have to make whether we can do it again.”
Stuart’s defensive partner, Niklas Kronwall, is resigned to his friend’s departure…
“Family comes first. That’s just the way it has to be,” Kronwall said. “He’ll talk it over with his family, see how they feel. Everyone knows his family has been in California for a few years and it’s got to be tough on him. His kids are growing up, and as much as I hate to see him leave, he needs to do what’s right for him and his family.”
The wounds of missing his family wound re-open every time his teammates brought their kids to The Joe to skate before and after practices. Stuart is as low-key of a person that you’ll ever meet, but whenever asked about his family you could see the hurt in his face and hear the tremble in his voice. Stuart’s step-daughter has one more year of high school, and while his sons are only four and five years old hockey has kept their dad away for half of their young lives.
“Those are all factors I have to consider,” Stuart said. “My boys are getting older now. … It’s getting harder to be away from them. I don’t enjoy being away from my kids or my wife.”
And no dad wants to see crocodile tears.
“Yeah, if it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay,” Stuart said. “But I’ve got other things to consider and other factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I’ll have to figure out in the next month and a half.”
As the Free Press’s Helene St. James noted this morning, Stuart will be missed:
Jonathan Ericsson related how, during his rookie season, coach Mike Babcock would urge that “you have to be like Stuie. He’s like a guy on a mission on his every shift.”
The team’s goaltenders loved Stuart, often calling him “a second goalie” for the way he blocks shots. The one player who’ll feel his loss the most is Niklas Kronwall, who has been Stuart’s partner.
“Stuie is just a big tank out there,” Kronwall said. “He goes out every night, and he does it all for us. His physical play and just his commitment to playing, his attitude, can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a really good character guy. Guys like that don’t come around too often.”
Stuart’s leadership was indelible. He was always available to reporters, even after tough losses. While in Sweden to open the ‘09-10 season, I was interviewing a younger player on the team, who in the course of an answer used questionable language. Very quietly, very unobtrusively, Stuart told the player, “Watch your language.”
Teammates are loathe to lose him, but understanding.
“Brad is the one of the best guys out there,” Ericsson said. “He’s just so humble and just genuinely nice. I got to know his family a little bit this year, too, and he’s telling me about his kids. He’s really a family guy. So that’s something that he really kind of reflects to everyone else—that some things are really more important than others.”
Kronwall described Stuart as someone who “you know him inside out, and you go to dinners with him every time you’re on the road. You spend a lot of time together. He’s a friend of yours. If he would leave, we all know that’s part of the business, but at the same time, it’s sad. But he’s got to do what’s best for him and his situation.”
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.