To say that Brad Stuart is having a down year would be a massive understatement. This season has been perhaps the worst of Stuart’s 14-year NHL career, despite the fact that he plays for one of the best teams he has ever played for. The San Jose Sharks currently boast a record of 39-17-6 and are ranked fourth in the tightly-contested Western Conference, but Stuart has been a non-factor all year.
The 34-year-old defenseman isn’t the offensive force he used to be, but he’s usually good for at least 20 points. This season, though, he’s managed just nine points in 51 games. This ranks Stuart behind the likes of Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard and Scott Hannan in offensive production.
It wouldn’t be fair to judge Stuart’s play solely on his point totals, though. That’s not what he’s paid to do anymore. The rearguard evolved his game several years ago when he joined the Detroit Red Wings organization. His puck skills and skating had declined, but Stuart managed to transform himself into a reliable shutdown defenseman capable of carrying top-four minutes against quality forwards. That’s what attracted the Sharks when they acquired him from Detroit in the summer of 2012.
Unfortunately for San Jose, Stuart’s defensive abilities have taken a hit since then. He turns the puck over with regularity, he misses his assignments, and he is no longer an imposing physical presence on the back end. With his age beginning to show, various nagging injuries have plagued Stuart this season and it shows when you watch him on the ice. He doesn’t skate as swiftly as he used to and he shies away from punishing opposing forwards with his signature hip-check.
Stuart simply isn’t a top-four rearguard at this stage in his career. He has a couple of years left in him, but he’s better suited for a depth role as a sixth or seventh defenseman. The Sharks are lucky to have decent depth on the back end, allowing them to limit Stuart’s minutes as needed.
Still, he was brought in to play a shutdown role on one of the top two pairings and he hasn’t done that this season. Stuart gets a “D” on his report card, and that would have been an “F” if he hadn’t scored three game-winning goals earlier in the year.