DETROIT – Wings defenseman Brad Stuart sounds like a player that has already made up his mind.
“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 and Niklas Kronwall have formed a formidable pair along the blue line since he was dealt here from L.A. The duo helped lead the Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2009 and then back to the finals the very next season.
“I think we see the game pretty much the same,” Kronwall said. “We’re both pretty low-key guys, just get along really well for some reason.
“Family comes first, that’s just the way it has to be,” Kronwall added. “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.”
Stuart said he would miss playing alongside Kronwall.
“It’s going to be agonizing, playing with him has been awesome,” Stuart said. “We seem to have a good understanding of each other’s games since almost the first day I got here. It’s tough to find that with a lot of players. That’s closer to the middle of the factors in my decision than the top.”
Stuart has spent a majority of his 12-year career on the West Coast. He was drafted by San Jose in 1998 with the third overall pick and spent five and a half seasons with the Sharks before being traded to Boston. After a season and a half with the Bruins he was traded to Calgary before spending part of a season with the Kings.
“My family situation can’t change next year so the only way for that to work is for me to have to suck it up for another year,” Stuart said. “It’s been a few long years of doing it so I guess if as a family we decided we could do it for another year, I guess that would be the way. It’s been a draining couple of years for me, having to do that. So that’ll be a decision I guess we’ll have to make as a family.
“Obviously when I was traded here I didn’t really know anything about the Red Wings other than they were a good team, have always been a good team since I’ve been in the league,” Stuart added. “When I got here, I figured out why that is. It’s a great organization from the top to the bottom and everybody enjoys playing here and they’ve got a great core of players and some of the best players I’ve ever played with. It’s pretty easy to figure out why it’s such a good team.”
Stuart, 32, also has two young sons, four and five years old.
“My boys are getting older now, so it’s getting harder to be away from them,” Stuart said. “I don’t enjoy being away from my kids or her as much as I have in the last few years.
“The team was great,” Stuart continued. “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. The team was great about that. I couldn’t tell you how many times I did it, but a few probably, maybe once a month, depending on the schedule. But again it’s hard, flying in for a day is sometimes 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.”
If Stuart leaves and Nicklas Lidstrom decides to retire, it’ll leave a huge hole along with blue line.
“There’s a chance,” Stuart said. “I’m not going to tell you what percentage that chance is but I’m not going to rule anything out because that would not be smart on my part. I’ve already said if it was a strictly hockey decision I wouldn’t probably be talking about this. So there’s a chance, but I don’t know what that is.”