It had been expected Stuart would be one of the first free-agent signings in July, returning to San Jose, where his family has been while he was manning the Detroit Red Wings blue line. Instead, general manager Doug Wilson has traded for the No. 3 pick in the 1998 draft.
In return, he sends Ken Holland, Andrew Murray—also a pending unrestricted free agent—and a conditional seventh-round pick in 2014.
Why trade for someone you were going to sign anyway?
Because both parties want everything resolved quickly so they can move on. Stuart gives the Sharks an upgrade from Douglas Murray, Justin Braun and Jason Demers for the role as the Sharks' fourth defenceman, because he is an asset on both ends of the ice.
His 177 hits were higher than any Sharks player. He had just two fewer blocks (115) than Brent Burns, and his 22 takeaways give him a Defensive Quotient of 78.3, higher than any Shark. He also had six goals—including two game-winners—and 15 assists in 2011-12.
A total value of 103.4 ranks just above Sharks shot-blocker Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
San Jose only gives up a pick if the move works to re-sign Stuart, and even then, it is only a seventh-round pick. Those picks (especially as late as the Sharks usually draft) are often spent on players that would be available to the team as undrafted free agents.
Thus, even in those rare instances where they work out (see Joe Pavelski), chances are the team could have gotten that player without drafting him. So while that pick has almost no value, Holland got something for a player he was going to lose.
Murray is a similar throw-in who was obviously not in the Sharks' plans. San Jose has better and younger free-agent options to fill out its checking lines among its restricted free agents.
Murray had a goal and three assists in 39 games earlier in the season. The low point total gave him the worst Offensive Quotient among Sharks forwards at 3.9.
Signed as a penalty killer, he did not work out for the second-worst unit in the NHL. However, it is pretty well-established the Sharks' PK problems are about system, not personnel. Scott Nichol, Michal Handzus, Colin White and Niclas Wallin are just some of the established penalty killers to have failed over the last two seasons in that role in San Jose.
The reality is Murray was a good defensive option for San Jose. While he only had eight blocked shots and six takeaways, he had 66 hits and only four giveaways.
While the Sharks did not want him, and Holland could have signed him for under $800,000 on the open market, one can see why Detroit wanted him. He is a good skating veteran for their fourth line if he is re-signed, and they can now tie up one more position before focusing their attention on a replacement for Stuart and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Obviously, Murray is better off playing where he will be used. Detroit also has much more stocked cupboards and thus a wider window to win a second post-lockout Stanley Cup than the Sharks have to win their first.
Thus, the Sharks basically gave up nothing for the ability to sign a player right away and move on. However little value they got in return, Detroit got that for something they were going to lose anyway.
Stuart gets to return home. Murray gets a chance to play for the best-run organization in the NHL.
In other words, this trade is win-win-win-win.