Amidst all of the commotion on the first day of free agency, the Colorado Avalanche acquired a player who was not a free agent. On July 1, the day that free agency opened, Colorado struck a trade with the San Jose Sharks, sending them two future draft picks for defenseman Brad Stuart. The acquisition of Stuart was overshadowed by two other acquisitions that happened around the same time, namely the trade for Daniel Briere the day before and the signing of Jarome Iginla on the same day. Nonetheless, Stuart figures to be just as important of an addition to the team as anyone else acquired this offseason.
Much criticism has been made about Colorado's lack of top-caliber defensemen, some of it fair and some of it unfounded. It is true that the number of shots surrendered by the Avalanche defense last season was unsettling. But it is also true that even though Vezina Trophy Finalist Semyon Varlamov faced a constant barrage of shots, he was almost always able to get square to the shooter and gobble the shot right up, because the defensemen were not, in fact, flailing about helplessly. Still, the group of defensemen that Colorado has consists mostly of late bloomers who are proving themselves to be true NHL caliber players and young players still learning the NHL ropes. It is not a group that boasts any Norris Trophy candidates.
Realizing that the defense was in need of a boost, the Avalanche front office sought after a player who had the ability to disrupt oncoming offensive rushes with regularity, an experienced stay-at-home defenseman who would present a formidable obstacle to opposing forwards. Brad Stuart fits that bill. While he is no Norris Trophy candidate himself, he is a very good player who gives Colorado another legitimate top-4 defender to go along with Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda and Tyson Barrie. Between those four players, Colorado will have a top pair and second pair that are on par with what a group of NHL top-4 defensemen should be. Hejda and Stuart are the textbook defensive defensemen, Johnson is the highly capable two-way defenseman, and Barrie is the dangerous offensive defenseman that gives other teams headaches. That's a good mix for the top 4.
Bringing in Brad Stuart did not generate much excitement, but he is a piece to the puzzle whose presence should make a significant improvement on the play of the whole group. He is 34 years old with a whopping 142 career playoff games under his belt. He has been an integral part of many playoff teams and he is by far the most playoff tested part of Colorado's defense. That experience can only benefit the younger players in the group, even those in the developmental system who have yet to debut for the Avalanche. It is fitting that Stuart will now be playing for Colorado, considering that he has twice been on a team that eliminated the Avalanche from the playoffs (San Jose Sharks, 2004 and Detroit Red Wings, 2008). Now, he will instead aim to help Colorado advance.
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