Posted by: Feldman
The announcement on Tuesday that the Atlanta Thrashers have been sold and are relocating to Winnipeg, was just another twist in an odd three months for Rochester native Mark Stuart.
On Feb. 18, he was traded from the Boston Bruins, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2003, and for whom he played 283 games over six season. He was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers and 10 days later, he signed a three-year, $5.1 million contract extension. He became an instant hit with the Thrashers players and fans, even wearing the "A" as the team's alternate captain for a handful of games late in the season.
Last month, Stuart, a former Lourdes player, wore another letter -- this time the "C" -- as captain of the U.S. team at the 2011 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia, where the U.S. was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Since coming back to his offseason home in Minneapolis, he has seen his former team, the Bruins, advance to the Stanley Cup Finals (they play Game 1 tonight at Vancouver) and has current team, Atlanta, get sold to a group that will move it to Winnipeg.
Stuart couldn't be reached Tuesday, when the announcement was made. I put in a call to Rob Tillotson with the Thrashers media relations department, and Rob called me back this morning. He said some players are hesitant to comment on the move right now because they don't want their emotions to speak for them. So, I may hear from Mark today, or may not. It's understandable if he doesn't want to speak emotionally right now; he obviously really enjoyed his short time in Atlanta.
I did reach Mark's brother, Colin Stuart, who was a 5th round draft pick of the Thrashers in 2001, and played 51 games for them from 2007-09. He also helped the Thrashers' AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, win the Calder Cup in 2008.
Colin said he had talked briefly with Mark on Tuesday when the announcement was made in Winnipeg by True North Sports and Entertainment, the group that purchased the Thrashers and will move them to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
"I think Mark's disappointed they couldn't make it work in Atlanta; he liked it there," Colin said. "It's confusing anytime something like this happens. But he's excited to play in Canada, in front of some of the most die-hard hockey fanatics."
Mark Stuart did speak to the Globe and Mail, one of Canada's two or three biggest newspapers, yesterday. Here's some of what he had to say:
“I saw it coming. After Phoenix went through and they were going to stay, we became the topic of conversation. So I expected it, but there was kind of just a waiting period until it became official. It doesn’t really come as that big of a surprise.”
“I’m excited to go (to Winnipeg), I’m excited for the fans there. Everyone can see how excited they are to have an NHL team back and they’re very deserving of that.”
“(Bruins defenceman) Shane Hnidy texted me today saying I’ll really enjoy it there. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve heard stories about Winnipeg from guys that had a chance to play there and really enjoyed it. About the support and the fans. That’s very exciting for a player.”
C. Stuart enters free agency ... again
For a second consecutive summer, Colin Stuart will enter unrestricted free agency, on July 1. A year ago, he signed with the Buffalo Sabres organization and was a key player all season for their AHL affiliate, the Portland (Maine) Pirates.
He played three games for the Sabres, bringing his career total to 54 NHL games (he has 8 goals and 5 assists in those games).
In Portland, he played 72 regular season games and was the seventh-leading scorer for the Pirates (16-28--44). He also had 3-4--7 in 12 playoff games for the Pirates, who lost to the Binghamton Senators in six games in the AHL Atlantic Division Finals. Binghamton went on to sweep Charlotte in the Eastern Conference Finals and the B-Sens are now playing the Minnesota Wild's AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, in the Calder Cup Finals (that series is tied 1-1, with Game 3 coming up tonight at Binghamton.
Colin isn't ruling out a return to Portland/Buffalo. He said, in a way, it's nice to be an unrestricted free agent and be able to choose where you want to play. But, he said, it's also stressful to not know if what teams, if any, will be interested in him.
"I would have obviously liked to have spent more time in the NHL," he said. "Buffalo is a great system to be in. I was fortunate to play under a couple of great coaches in Portland (Kevin Dineen and Eric Weinrich). They respect their players and make it a joy to come to the rink every day. And Portland was a great city for me and my wife."
Now, Stuart will wait and see which teams show interest in him on July 1. He's 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and is a left-handed shot. And, at just 29 years old, he'll surely help a team, either in the AHL or NHL, next season.
"We'll wait and see what happens on July 1," he said. "It's exciting, but a little nerve-wracking to be looking for work. You just hope your reputation is good and your play speaks for itself."