March 19, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) skates with the puck as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart (23) defends at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
In perhaps the least surprising move of the offseason, the Sharks acquired exclusive negotiating rights to former Shark and impending Red Wings UFA defenseman Brad Stuart. This is a move that has been telegraphed extensively since rumblings first surfaced last summer about Stuart wanting to move back to Northern California where his family still resides, most recently in an Ansar Khan post on mlive.com suggesting Stuart's priority as a free agent was to secure a deal with the Sharks. Although the team has yet to officially announce a contract with Stuart, I thought it might be helpful to review Stuart's 4.5-year career in Detroit to see where he fits on the Sharks' blueline.
The first thing to consider is what Stuart's role on the Wings has been since he landed there shortly before Detroit's most recent championship. Using the invaluable behindthenet.ca, I pulled both the raw numbers and his team rank each season in the following categories: TOI/60 (his 5v5 icetime per game), Corsi Rel QoC (a measure of the quality of opposing players he faced, weighted by the amount of icetime he spent against each of them) and DZone Start% (percentage of non-neutral 5v5 shifts Stuart began in the defensive zone). Rankings are among Red Wings defensemen who appeared in at least 40 games that season, with 7 qualifying each year.
|Season||TOI/60||Team Rank||Corsi Rel QoC||Team Rank||DZone Start%||Team Rank|
As you can see, Mike Babcock used Stuart as a second-pairing defenseman at even-strength every season save for 2010-2011. That year, Stuart played easily the toughest 5v5 minutes of anyone on the Detroit blueline and, as a result, posted the worst underlying numbers of his Wings career. Thankfully, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns on the roster, the Sharks won't need Stuart to be any more than a #4 defenseman but it's helpful to know that one of the best coaches in the league trusted him in a first-pairing role over a full season, even if the results were less than satisfactory.
So now that we have an idea of the amount and difficulty of minutes he was playing, how did Stuart perform over his tenure wearing the Winged Wheel? I looked at Stuart's results in four areas (with the same ranking criteria as deployment): Corsi On, the difference between all goals, shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots in favor of the Red Wings and against the Wings when Stuart was on the ice per 60 minutes of 5v5 time; Corsi Rel, the difference between Stuart's Corsi On rating and that of the Red Wings when Stuart was on the bench; PDO, Stuart's on-ice shooting percentage added to his on-ice save percentage at 5v5; and +/- per 60, Stuart's plus/minus per 60 minutes of 5v5.
|Season||Corsi On||Team Rank||Corsi Rel||Team Rank||PDO||Team Rank||+/- per 60||Team Rank|
Ouch. Stuart has finished 7th (among 7 defensemen) on the Red Wings in raw Corsi every season except 09-10, when he finished 6th. Ditto for Relative Corsi, save for the 07-08 year which is accompanied with a bit of an asterisk since he spent the season with the then-atrocious Kings before being dealt at the deadline. As covered in the analysis of his deployment, it's not like he was playing extremely difficult minutes any of these seasons except for 2010-11.
If there are positives to be drawn from that chart, it's that, despite his abysmal possession numbers relative to his teammates, Stuart did manage to finish in the black in terms of raw Corsi every year except the one he was used as the team's premier shutdown defenseman. Then again, very few regular Wings players have been underwater in possession since 2007, which is why it's important to emphasize team rank and relative numbers.
Additionally, Detroit has outscored the opposition with Stuart on the ice 5v5 each of the last two seasons although, as you can see, that's largely been courtesy an uptick in PDO--a combination of the bounces working in Stuart's favor the past two years (after pretty clearly working against him the three seasons prior) and Detroit employing a starting goaltender nowhere near as horrendous as Chris Osgood.
But what kind of impact does Stuart have on his teammates at even-strength? Using David Johnson's stats site, I compiled Stuart's 5v5 performance with his six most common Red Wings defense partners over the past 4.5 years, from both a Corsi and goal difference standpoint. In a blatant effort to further confuse people reading this who aren't familiar with advanced stats, Corsi is represented as a percentage here (for example, Stuart and Kronwall were on the ice for 2345 Corsi events for and 1981 Corsi events against, giving them a (2345/(2345+1981)) 54.2% Corsi percentage together, with the same idea for goals.)
Not particularly surprising given the numbers above, but every regular Detroit defenseman Stuart was paired with during his Red Wings career controlled possession at a better clip when he was separated from Stuart. With the exception of former Maple Leafs whipping boy Lebda and the youngster Kindl, that was the case for goal percentage as well. Obviously there are confounding factors to consider here; when guys like Kronwall, Ericsson and Rafalski were away from Stuart they spent a chunk of time with Lidstrom which will help anyone's numbers. Additionally, it's likely Ericsson and Rafalski were seeing easier competition and zonestarts when on the ice without Stuart. Still, these are pretty concerning numbers considering the Sharks' primary objective with Stuart is finding a guy they can pair with Burns at EV and not have shit all over themselves a la Douglas Murray this past season.
It's no secret the Sharks' PK efficiency has been bottom-of-the-barrel the past two seasons and any acquisition Doug Wilson makes this offseason should partially be judged by his potential to help the team's dreadful shorthanded unit. Of course, it's worth arguing that as long as the Sharks' current, passive system is in place, personnel is somewhat irrelevant but with Daniel Winnik having been shrewdly targeted at the trade deadline and going on to appreciably improve the Sharks' kill, I think the right additions can help the Sharks out in this area.
So does Stuart qualify as one of those players? Here's a look at his 4v5 icetime, the number of shots the Red Wings surrendered when he was on the ice 4v5 per 60 minutes and the number of goals the team yielded with Stuart on the ice per 60 shorthanded minutes along with team rankings among defensemen who appeared in at least 40 games and averaged 90 seconds a game on the PK that season (4 qualified each year except 2011-12 when there were 5 and 2007-08 with 6).
|Season||TOI/60||Team Rank||4v5 SA/60||Team Rank||4v5 GA/60||Team Rank|
Stuart has logged a ton of shorthanded minutes for the Red Wings over the past few seasons but I can't really say that the results have been spectacular. To use Douglas Murray, who Stuart would most likely replace if signed, as a comparison, Stuart's raw PK numbers (both in terms of shot and goal suppression) have been worse than Murray's every single year. With Babcock making a concerted effort to curtail Lidstrom's 4v5 minutes the past few seasons, Stuart has been relied on heavily in this situation more out of desperation on the part of the Wings than any type of penalty killing talent on his part. I don't know what the answer is for the Sharks' PK but it's probably not Stuart.
Stuart's 4-year deal averaging a $3.75 million cap hit expires on July 1st. While the 32-year-old is probably looking for a raise, UFA contracts signed by comparable defensemen in the recent past suggest he doesn't really deserve one. Jan Hejda, another defensive defenseman who was 32 when he hit free agency last summer, got a 4-year deal from the Avalanche averaging a $3.25 million cap hit and I'd take Hejda over Stuart in a heartbeat. Eric Brewer signed a deal in the exact same circumstances as Hejda (as a 32-year-old free agent defenseman) and got four years and $3.875mil/yr from the Lightning although the numbers paint him as a definite step up from Stuart. Other comparables include Cory Sarich ($3.6mil/yr, 5 years), Barret Jackman ($3.625mil/yr, 4 years) and Rob Scuderi ($3.4mil/yr, 4 years).
Free agent sweeps always bring out the worst in general managers but I really don't think Stuart should expect any more than a 4-year deal or a cap hit much higher than the one his current contract carries.
The Sharks have leverage here. Stuart has repeatedly indicated he wants to play for San Jose to spend more time with his family and Doug Wilson should use that to his advantage in contract negotiations. Acquiring him now rather than wait for July 1st was a smart move since if talks break down, it gives Wilson the opportunity to make a move at the draft on June 22nd.
Based on the evidence presented here, I don't think Stuart represents much of an upgrade on Murray in any facet of the game and, unless he's willing to take a substantial pay cut, it makes more sense for Wilson to let him test the market. As I mentioned in the Brent Burns season review, if the team is looking for an ex-Shark to replace Murray on the blueline, it should be the vastly superior free agent Matt Carle. Stuart was a passable second-pairing defenseman on the Red Wings but there are a slew of better and/or cheaper options out there for San Jose from the likes of Carle, Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, Sheldon Souray or Bryan Allen on the free agent market to someone like Paul Martin or Carl Gunnarsson via trade.