What to do with Stu: The curious case of Mark Stuart

When Boston selected defenseman Mark Stuart 21st overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, there was a lot of calibre to his name. The stay-at-home defender proved to be a strong performer at Colorado College, serving as the captain, racking up PIM, dominating the game physically, and serving as a leader.

After a few years developing with the Bruins and playing with their AHL-affiliate in Providence, he was finally ready to enter the NHL in 2005. Providing a strong performance in the defenssive zone, combined with hitting and shot-blocking ability, Stuart was proving to be a solid defender to have on the bottom-pairing. 

The Jets (then the Thrashers) got their hands on him in 2011, in the very deal that landed Blake Wheeler, but cost them Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. Though Wheeler thrived, Stuart’s performance headed in a downward spiral. After positing five points (one goal, four assists) 23 PIM and a plus-8 rating in 31 games with Boston, he managed a lone assist, a minus-8 and 24 PIM in 23 games with Atlanta, while also posting a -10.4 Rel. Corsi.

At best, Stuart now serves as a bottom-pairing defender, but is also one that brings the performance of his teammates down. Let’s take a look at just how horribly Stuart impacts just a few of his linemates on the ice.

Stuart Impact on Teammates Rel. Corsi With Stuart Without Stuart Stuart Without
Jacob Trouba -3.93 3.60 -6.97
Ben Chiarot -9.88 -0.47 -3.72
Alexander Burmistrov -9.10 -1.63 -3.03
Mathieu Perreault -4.28 9.66 -6.09
Mark Scheifele -0.79 4.91 -6.96

Looking at the statistics, playing with Stuart seems to be a burden. He even makes Schiefele look like he’s having a hard time when it comes to overall back-checking and puck possession, but in fact, it is the 32-year-old defender bringing him down. Trouba, an RFA looking for a bigger role on the top-pairing, struggles greatly and fails to show his true potential when playing with Stuart.

While he struggles when it comes to possession (his Rel. Corsi is a -4.4 for his career and has never been in the positive), there is some upside. His physicality and ability to throw big hits and block shots is impressive. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defender also has the ideal size to be an asset when it comes to the physical, rough-and-tumble aspect of the NHL, and averages 7.5 hits per 60 and 6.2 blocks per 60 in his career. This past season, he managed 9.3 H/60, as well as 6.9 B/60.

Along with impressive hit and blocked shot statistics, Stuart is also a proven leader, a strong voice in the locker room and a role model alternative captain who puts his team first, and plays an old-fashioned stay-at-home style that benefits the team on that bottom pairing.

However, in my opinion, there is no point for Winnipeg to hold on to him, at least not if they want to increase their defensive depth and return to the playoffs. The Jets recently signed Brian Strait, who is not much better, but does not bring down his teammates as much as Stuart, and could be a decent replacement. With Ben Chiarot on the rise, he could also serve as a replacement to Stuart on the left side, and if all else fails, there are better options sitting out there in free agency.

Unfortunately for Winnipeg, his contract is not the easiest one to dump. Stuart signed a four-year, $10.5 million deal for the Jets prior to the 2014-15 campaign, and with that contract, has a modified no-trade clause. He will hit free agency in July 2018. The Jets could also try waiving him, then, there is always the buyout option. If he were to be bought out, it would result in the Jets paying $2,966,667 for the buyout, then paying Stuart a base salary of $741,667 per season for the next four years.

  • Eddie O rules!

    Brian Strait isn’t a “decent replacement” for anyone.

    It’s always interesting seeing the numbers behind Stu’s crummy play. This article needed some serious editing, though. Hard to read.

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    Stuart’s shot-block stats aren’t impressive. Stuart blocks only 10.39% of shot attempts against. He’s 47th in the NHL this past regular season. That’s including players who only saw limited action. Some of said players who saw limited action are the only ones who blocked more than 15%. Kris Russell, the current poster boy for shot blocking, was the most efficient blocker, and still only blocked 13.66%. Nobody’s shot blocking stats are impressive.

    • Eddie O rules!

      think of it like shooting percentage. Is shooting 13.66% a hell of a lot better than shooting a league average 6%, yes it is. is 10.39% a good shooting percentage, yes, and it’s a good shot blocking average too.

      Less playing time, means smaller samples. Could mean more time in the D zone cause they’re not star players, could be that they were pk experts…

      Is being a good shot blocker as important as being a good passer, skater, shot generater? No.

      • Dr. Rocktopus

        A 10.39 S% means quite a lot of goals. And a player who scores goals usually has other skills, like passing and skating with the puck.

        Most of the players in the higher end of block% are just shot-blockers. If a player isn’t capable of skating or passing the puck out the defensive zone and getting his team on offence like a good defence should (like how Stuart can’t do that), and can’t score points (like how Stuart can’t do that) then no, 10.39% isn’t good. It’s not a thing unique to Stuart. It’s not enough to make up for getting hemmed in regularly regardless of who the player is.

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    “The Jets recently signed Brian Strait, who is not much better, but does not bring down his teammates as much as Stuart, and could be a decent replacement.”

    Do you happen to have the numbers behind this? If he doesn’t drag people down like Stuart does, that’s at least something…

  • FishWhiskey

    Oh Stu, Stu, Stu.

    Even his supposed strengths are “not even”.

    Big hits, yes, but often at the price of taking him self out of the play and leaving his defensive partner to cover the play alone.

    Shot blocking? He stands like a scarecrow in front of shooters and deflects shots, often into his own net or he stands at the top of the crease and screens his own goalie. Once again deflecting shots into his own net if he is not cross checking an opposing player into or on top of his own goalie.

    Opposing teams have “book” on Stu and target him mercilessly when he is on the ice, much to their success.

    If the Jets are planning on this as being the year they start “really” trying to develop through trying to win then Stu needs to be waived and bring some of his leadership skills to the Moose.

    However, there is just something plain creepy and un-natural about the Jets relationship with Stu and Pavs. So who knows.

  • FishWhiskey

    Here is an idea.

    Get Stu off defence and put him on wing. Between deflecting pucks into his own net and outright swatting pucks past his own goalie I bet he scored 20 goals on the Jets last year. (not a joke)

    If only he could be creating that kind of havoc at the other end of the ice! Just put him out as a winger and tell him his job is to “help” the opposing goalie instead of his own. He could be a 30 goal man!

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    I don’t mind Stuart on the third pairing and as a character guy. But they really need to stop playing Trouba with him if they want Trouba to get better and bring more offense.

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    Stu’s days as a player on the Jets are numbered. Try and trade him or wave him and send him down to the Moose where he can help motivate and develop the younger players. What he lacks in skill he makes up for by being a loyal team player. He may be a person the Jets can keep in the organization in some capacity.

  • FishWhiskey

    No mention has been made of yet on the impact Stu has on the Jets net minders.

    I would suspect that all of the Jets goalies would see about a 5% improvement in save percentage and goals against without the “The Stuart Effect”.

    Perhaps one of the fancy stats chaps could take a stab at this?