A Number-less Argument for Stuart

Travis Hrubeniuk
March 05 2014 06:01PM

Gazing Stu

By this point in time I'm sure you are all aware that the Jets have signed defenseman Mark Stuart to a 4-year, $10.5 million contract.  As I'm sure many of you know, I've been more than willingly to express my distaste with a lot of Stuart's play this season.  But for right now, I'm going to put that behind me and do my best to defend the extension without using a number at all....or using the words "character" or "shot blocking" as an argument.

I'm sure many of you will be shocked to learn that I'm actually somewhat okay with Stuart being back with the team at this point.  I don't like the four year term, mostly because he is 30 this year and is a depth guy.  The dollars are fine, and well, I honestly think it was obvious the guy wasn't going anywhere. Keeping him around was definitely better than seeing another asset walk out the door.  

To address the obvious, I'm not using numbers in this article because well...they aren't pretty.  Nor has Stuart's play on the ice been throughout a lot of this year.  But as Garret of Arctic Ice Hockey (@garrethohl) pointed out today, Stu has played below his career norms throughout the majority of this season.  It's not hard to point this drop off to the fact that he's played too many minutes too far up the lineup (he's a 5-6 D, not a 3-4), but I'm not getting into that stuff for this article.

What I am going to talk about is the detrimental effect of losing a guy like Mark Stuart from your locker room.  One thing we on the "stats" side of the universe often get criticized for is our inability to account for the "intangible" side of sports.  While I don't feel this to be completely true on a day to day basis, I hope to prove it a little bit here.

I've played sports my entire life.  No, not at any sort of elite level but I've played enough and won enough to understand how roles work.  When you're a successful team, players understand the roles they have.  You get to know where you fit in, what you can provide, and what your teammates provide for you.  One thing I've seen through my experiences playing and coaching, is that the good teams have that "guy".  He may not be the one out there in a skill role, heck he might not even play very much. But the team loves him. He may provide humour, he may provide advice, or in this case he may provide a silly helmet for the player of the game to wear after every win.  Whatever it may be, it's the role that he fills.

The point is once you find that guy, he is near impossible to replace in the room. Is Mark Stuart replaceable on the ice? Of course. That's why I get so frustrated when people try to sell us on his hockey ability. There are many players in the NHL that could walk onto this Winnipeg Jets team and provide equal, if not greater production. But to find someone that the locker room apparently would kill for? That's not so easy.

I for one wouldn't have wanted to walk into that Jets dressing room trying to explain why I shipped out a guy that everyone loved at the deadline.  Sure, hockey is a business.  But in Winnipeg, the business model is built around a "familial" atmosphere. Building a place where guys want to stay. A sense of faith that if you belong here, you'll stay here. A feeling that guys want to fight for one another, and not let anyone down.  A family. That's likely what sold Ladd, Wheeler, Little and company on sticking around and growing their own families here. What message are you sending if you change that mentality now, shipping out a favourite of the group who wasn't asking for outrageous amounts of money?

Obviously a guy in this role is not worth breaking the bank for.  You can only spend so much money on a guy with the flaws that Stuart has, or you're never going to have success (Chevy made a larger mistake in giving Pavelec the dollars and term he did). In this case, both parties understood the worth and the dollars worked out.  The term, not so much. But that's an article for another day.

My point is this. It's been clear since the Jets came back to Winnipeg that they needed to build an organization that "cared". One that gave the players a reason to fight and an even better reason to stay. Bringing back Stuart may not be the best on ice move and it honestly makes me wonder why Clitsome was brought back, but it was a sign to the players of the organizations mentality. It's an organization that cares about the players. As someone who watches and evaluates as many Jets games as I do, I don't think this is a deal you want to make.  He's an aging defender whose best "qualities" are things they generally do nothing for anybody on the ice.  But as someone who wants to see the likes of Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele to sign long term deals in Winnipeg one day, I see this as a sign of good faith that if they keep working they will be rewarded. God knows the weather isn't giving them a good reason to stay. 

 

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I write things, you read them. Then tend to yell at me for them. It's okay though, I'm from Winnipeg. I can take it. If you actually do like what I write, give me a twitter follow here (@thrubeniuk): https://twitter.com/thrubeniuk
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#1 X
March 05 2014, 08:01PM
Trash it!
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Nicely done Mr. Hrubeniuk.

I seem to be in a bit of minority in that my issue is not with the term but with the money. Mark Stuart's play is unlikely to regress between now and the end of this contract, his footspeed is not his main asset and I expect his brain to function just as well then as it does now.

$2.6MM a year is too much, that's my issue, probably at least 700K too much, maybe even a million too much. When this team is really good his pay is a lot to have in and out of the pressbox (which is where he should be at that point).

Now, let us take a moment to look at the big picture here. First of all, just like Jamie Wright, I am not a fan. But him and the Wrightinator have both put in a lot of minutes on an otherwise below-avergage defensive team's penalty kill that is somehow pretty consistently in the top ten in the league. Special teams are always hard to evaluate but the sample size is fairly substantial at this point - and they are doing it in front of a goaltender with a disasterous 4v5 save %. I am always willing to accept that there is value in players that current statistics and my limited hockey knowledge simply cannot capture. There are only 4 guys on the ice on the PK (most of the time) - if two of them are really bad at their jobs, it stands to reason that even the non-fancy stats are going to reflect that post-haste.

As to the money and the big picture I suppose we must consider the fact that the Jets are only a cap team this season for strategic reasons, Chevy has bet the farm on the RFAs he signed this summer and needed most of the cap to get them all inside the barn, now as the cap grows I expect that room to go mostly unused, left as both savings for the business and a buffer to be buyers when the draft-and-develop strategy is supposed to bear fruit. (2015-16 M I Rite? I hope so, holy crap.) I that case does it really matter if Stuart is 2.6 or 1.9 or 1.7 a year? It ain't my money!

Of course, the final consideration is the roster itself. Is Stuart a hinderance? Well, I for one am happy to see Zach Redmond plying his trade in the AHL instead of bottom-pairing minutes in the NHL, but if he ends up on another team next season I will certainly be disappointed. Is Stuart preventing the development of a young player that could have his NHL minutes or is he a useful 3rd pairing guy that ensures that some 23 year old that is better off playing 24 minutes a night in the A is getting the right kind of ice time for his talents? Highly situationally dependent if you ask me but I suspect this will turn out all right. Kitchton looks ready for the NHL, I don't think Stuart is going to stand in his way. On the other hand what of Paul Postma? Are we wasting a contract and a decent easy-minutes guy that we could pump-and-dump asset management-wise. This deserves thoughtful consideration, something I leave to the superior minds that might read my lowly text.

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#3 X
March 09 2014, 12:49PM
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@Travis Hrubeniuk

My only quibble with this is that, when not suffering through a back injury, Clitsome is quite a bit better than Stuart and even brings a little offence to the table.

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