During Stuart’s 18-game hiatus due to a broken finger, his fellow defensemen Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Steven Kampfer played well together. Stuart knew once he was healthy and given medical clearance to play that his job wouldn’t just be handed back to him. In the three games he has played since his return, Stuart posted a goal and an assist and applied his usual physical presence.
But, he’s been the odd-man out of late.
“I was out for a while and guys built chemistry when I was gone and played well together,” Stuart said. “That’s the way it goes. The team that has the best chance of winning will be put on the ice."
Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted following Thursday’s morning skate that he’s not about to change his defensive core. Then he added he wasn’t about to punish a player who is playing well by not having him in the lineup.
“I’m not going to mix anything up right now,” he said.
“You hope the player doesn’t get comfortable, which he won’t. I’m talking about comfortable with the situation, saying ‘That’s OK.’ Because it’s not OK and you don’t want to be a healthy scratch, but at the same time I think he understands what the situation is. We’ve played well with our back end the way it has been during his absence.”
When Stuart was injured, Kampfer and McQuaid took full advantage of their opportunities. Stuart said he's happy for their success, and the team’s, too. But he would rather be playing than watch from press level.
It’s a tough role for any player to handle.
“It definitely is because you want to play the game,” Stuart said. “That’s what you love to do and that’s what you get paid for, so when you’re not doing that it seems like you're not doing your job.”
Of course, there’s been speculation that the Bruins could be in trade talks with other teams that involve Stuart, but nothing has been confirmed.
“I’m trying to stay positive. If I’m walking around the locker room with a negative attitude it doesn’t help the guys out,” he said. “The No. 1 thing is that the team is winning. You can be selfish and think you should be in there, but at the end of the day you’re part of a team. We all play a role and right now my role is to be the extra guy. I’m just trying to do that the best I can.”
While Julien said he’s happy with the defensive core right now, he won’t be afraid to make changes when needed, and that’s why Stuart needs to stay ready.
“What he’s going through right now is not easy, but [Stuart] is one of those guys who puts the team first,” Julien said. “If there’s one thing he won’t do is disrupt the club for his own sake. There’s no doubt he’s not enjoying this, and I wouldn’t expect him to enjoy it, it’s just the way it is.”
Stuart will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and it’s a safe bet numerous teams will be interested in his services. In the meantime, he said he’ll do whatever is asked of him in Boston.
“I’m just trying to work hard and stay ready,” Stuart said.