DETROIT – Brad Stuart did his best to make things work in Detroit.
In the end, family came first.
Stuart’s rights were traded to the San Jose Sharks Sunday afternoon by the Wings in exchange for center Andrew Murray and a conditional seventh-round draft pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
“I hope this works out here (in San Jose), but if this doesn’t the Wings are still a possibility,” said Stuart, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “It was important in my situation to continue to be on a contending team. A team that I was excited about going to and San Jose is definitely the place.
“My family situation can’t change every season because of it,” Stuart added. “For my boys and for another year at least it would be draining, I have done it for years now and I’m at the point where if I could make it better I could at least try.”
Wings general manager Ken Holland said he did what he could to keep Stuart in Detroit.
“We wanted to engage in negotiations to keep him,” said Holland, who added he made Stuart a contract offer. “He did not want to engage in contract negotiations. I wanted to get into a discussion. Brad’s feelings are he wants to get to July 1. His family has lived the entire time in San Jose.’
“He was a good player for us,” Holland continued. “We would have liked to have re-signed him. He gave us four good years, five really good playoffs. I know it’s been a real difficult time for him and his family. They were going back-and-forth. He needs to find a home for all of them together.”
The Wings acquired Stuart from Los Angeles prior to the trade deadline in the 2007-08 season and he helped lead them to the Stanley Cup.
Stuart’s family remained in California because of a custody issue involving his step-daughter during his entire time with the Wings.
“I don’t know if this will be my final NHL contract but, I hope it’s my final destination,” Stuart said. “I’ve lived here ever since I was traded and I have a lot of respect for the organization, it’s a good organization. It’s a team that’s been contending since the lockout. I am excited about the chance to play with this team.”
San Jose was believed to be one of the front runners to acquire Stuart, who was drafted by the Sharks in 1998 with the third-overall pick, when free agency begins.
The move also reunites Stuart with Wings former assistant coach Todd McLellan. McLellan was named the Sharks coach after the Wings won the Cup in 2008.
“I have great memories from my team there with the organization,” Stuart said. “Detroit was a great experience for me. I learned a lot from being around some of the best players in the game. I had a chance to play with Nick Lidstrom, who I consider one of the best defensemen ever. All those things made me a better player.
“The organization itself, was more than understanding of my family situation,” Stuart continued. “They always gave me an opportunity to make things work. I’ve got to thank them for all those things they did for me and I became a better there because of it.”
Stuart is the second defenseman the Wings have lost this offseason after Lidstrom announced his retirement last week, which only leaves Niklas Kronwall, Ian White, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl regulars under contract for next season. Kyle Quincey, who was acquired before the trade deadline last year, is a restricted free agent.
“We’re going to try to do something on defense,” said Holland, who has just over $26 million to spend this offseason. “We’re younger. The only defenseman in his 30s is Kronwall. It’s become obvious coming out of the work stoppage that this was going to be an ongoing reload.
“A big part of the reason we made the deal for Kyle Quincey was in the event Lidstrom retired and we couldn’t re-sign Brad Stuart,” Holland added. “We’ll explore free agency. We got six NHL defensemen on our roster.”
Rookie Brendan Smith, who saw some action last year, is expected to be on the roster next season.
“Part of being successful in the new (cap) world is you have to be homegrown,” Holland said. “You have to have homegrown players. We need to give Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith an opportunity. I thought Jonathan Ericsson made good strides last year. Niklas Kronwall is a real good NHL defenseman. Ian White turned out to be a real good player for us.
“Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart took a lot of pressure off everybody,” Holland continued. “They ate up a lot of minutes. They had a lot of experience. We’re not going to be as experienced.”
Holland added that has not had any talks yet with other team regarding acquiring anyone’s rights.