San Jose Sharks Re-Sign Brad Stuart: Where Does That Leave the Blue Line?
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Though it falls short of ensuring Stuart ends his career in San Jose as he had hoped, he signed a three-year, $10.8 million deal that is generally viewed as below market value. But both parties made sacrifices along the way for their own peace of mind.
The 32-year-old defenceman wanted to return to California to be nearer to his family. However, the only real option was San Jose once the Sharks showed interest. Sure, Phoenix and the Valley would be just an hour away, but why sleep under another roof if you can be together?
You could say his public declaration was the first gesture, as it lost him literally millions of dollars in bargaining power. But the first action by either party was the Sharks engaging in what seemed to be a head-scratching trade with the Detroit Red Wings.
Because of this signing, San Jose gave up a seventh-round pick. In all likelihood, whomever they would have taken in the final half of the last round would still be available when it ended. If not, the next best option is as likely to be a good one.
For it, they received far more than 12 more days of knowing they have the flexibility to trade someone from the blue line.
In giving Stuart the ability to finalize his affairs and submerge himself in family time, they gave him something priceless that does not count against the cap. And that paid dividends by making him all the more amiable in contract talks.
Should the Sharks choose to re-sign Justin Braun and keep the rest of the unit intact, they could have a blue line among the best in the NHL. Braun, Jason Demers and Douglas Murray would form a stout rotation for the third pair and provide depth in the event of injury, with one legitimate No. 5 defender scratched each night.
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Stuart's two-way play would easily work on either top pair and place him ahead of those three (unless one of the youngsters breaks out) for the third or fourth defenceman role. His ability to hit, block shots and use his stick well, enough experience to know where to be and above average skating ability have made him an excellent defender.
In fact, his defensive quotient was higher than any Sharks defender: 78.3 to Murray's 73.8 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's 70.9.
You can tell from the formula at the link that it rates the total contribution on both ends, thereby favouring those who play every game. Vlasic played 82, Stuart 81 and Murray only 60.
Stuart also played more than 21 minutes per game, third on his team. That would have ranked him right behind Vlasic for third on the Sharks, as well.
Adding in average offensive production, he had a better season than anyone else on his new blue line but Dan Boyle. While it is unlikely he will perform better than Brent Burns this upcoming season, the Sharks would be strong top-to-bottom.
Boyle is among the top 12 defencemen in the league. He was in the top 10 of his position in both minutes and points, and his skating makes him an above-average defender (DQ of 61.3 ranked third on the Sharks). While he may not be as good next season at 36, he is not going to go from that kind of production to being over the hill in one season.
Burns struggled in the first half of the season but was the Sharks' best defenceman come playoff time. He has been an All-Star and is strong enough on both ends of the ice to be a true No. 1 defender, making him among the best No. 2 guys.
Vlasic can eat enough minutes to be a No. 2, but he lacks the impact on either end. While a great defender, he does not alter the game in either end. But Stuart can, and they make the ideal third and fourth players of their unit.
However, it is likely that the Sharks are looking to deal one of their depth players in part of a package to upgrade at the forward position. It was at its weakest since 2006, and the results showed.
With Stuart in the fold, the team can do that without being exposed and would only need to sign a minimum-contract veteran if no one from the minors is ready to step up to give the blue line depth.
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