After a team wide rough start and an injury that kept him out of the line up Brad Stuart is starting to settle in with the Colorado Avalanche. The hamstring injury suffered by Stuart kept him out of the lineup for 16 games throughout November and December. The team reached the midway point of the season when it beat the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, that was Stuart’s 25th game played this season.
The Stanley cup winning veteran defenseman was brought over to Colorado in the off season via a trade with the San Jose Sharks. Stuart was required, and willing, to waive his no trade clause for the deal to be completed. The Avalanche is the sixth different NHL team Stuart has played on since 1999 and Stuart was honored by the Avalanche earlier in the season for playing in his 1000th game. Stuart has now played 11 consecutive games since returning from his injury and the Avalanche are 7-3-1 in that span.
While getting healthy has helped the Avalanche tremendously, improved play is visible up and down the line up. It is clear from watching Stuart play he is more comfortable in his role and he has started playing like the shut down defenseman he has been through out his career. Stuart tallied his first goal wearing an Avalanche sweater in the win against Ottawa which puts the Avalanche above .500 for the first time at any point this season, 17-16-8. That lone goal as a member of the Avalanche gives Stuart 78 for his career, along side 250 assists. His single season high is 10 goals which he has done twice at the NHL level.
Previous 8 Games
With his goal against Ottawa, Stuart now has 6 points in the last eight games. In that same stretch he has 27 hits and is averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time a night. There is no question that Eric Johnson is the number one defenseman on this team but Stuart is now doing exactly what he was brought in to do. Solid play night in and night out as a stay at home defenseman who, while still able to keep up, may be past the prime of his career. With the first half of the season now complete the Avalanche are back to over .500 and are no longer last in the Central Division.
If Stuart does not miss a game the rest of the season he will have played in 66 games out of a possible 82. While this may seem low to some, this is about on average how many games Stuart has played each season through out his career. In his 17 previous NHL seasons Stuart has only played all 82 games three times. Excluding those seasons Stuart has played 70 or more games just three seasons as well. Other seasons have been cut extremely short for different reason, one season as a member of the Detroit Red Wings Stuart only played in nine games.
Stuart signed a two year extension before the season even started which keeps him tied to the Avalanche until 2017. Stuart’s play early in the season had some critics questioning both what the Avalanche gave up to get him, a 2nd round and 6th round draft pick, as well as the extension they offered the injury prone defender. The Avalanche have changed their defensive scheme from a man to man style earlier in the season to a zone style which appears to have helped all the defensemen, especially the older Stuart since his return. Stuart remaining healthy and his play remaining strong will help solidify the Avalanche defense which is why the Avalanche acquired him in the first place.