Sharks veterans in familiar territory
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- They sit beside each other in the practice facility dressing room, old buddies carrying on just like it's 1999 all over again.
Two old pals back together.
"Just like old times," Stuart said Saturday. "A lot of years have gone by, but it felt like nothing changed when he came back."
Hannan, eavesdropping on the interview Saturday, pipes in:
"I offered to put a cot in his hotel room for our first road trip."
"It's nice to have my own room now," Stuart retorted.
It's also nice to be home again, where it all began for both veteran blueliners, both Sharks first-round picks Hannan in 1997 (23rd overall) and Stuart in 1998 (third overall).
"Yeah, it's cool, you know, we kind of broke into the league together (in 1999-2000), we're old roommates, it's been a while, but in many ways it's like we never left," said Hannan, 34.
The two have been paired together on this playoff run, an effective, veteran duo, both of whom play a composed and physical game.
"Hannan has surprised me, he's actually played above what he was in the last year or two," a veteran NHL scout from a rival Western Conference team told ESPN.com on Saturday. "He keeps the game simple, doesn't get himself into a lot of trouble.
"Playing with Stuart, they're a good shutdown pair. And Stuart, he's a horse, he's a warrior. He comes to play every night. He knows his role and plays it as well as any defenseman in the league."
The Sharks signed Stuart last summer to a three-year deal worth $3.6 million a year, jumping at the opportunity to bring him back.
"I don't know who the idiot was that traded him out of here to begin with," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said Saturday with a smile.
Wilson packaged Stuart to Boston early in the 2005-06 season in the blockbuster that netted the Sharks Jumbo Joe Thornton.
The Bruins traded Stuart to Calgary just a season later and, after a brief stop in Los Angeles for most of 2007-08, Stuart found a good spot in Detroit, winning a Cup with the Red Wings after joining them at the 2008 trade deadline and then signing an extension to stay on until last season.
But for personal reasons -- his family living in San Jose the past few years -- Stuart informed the Red Wings last season that he'd be leaving. That's when the Sharks stepped in.
"I got a chance to come back, it was the best-case scenario for me," Stuart said. "I got to be with my family and play on a good team. That was all I could ask for.
"I had spent the last three years away from them a lot. There was a lot of commuting for them. The Wings were great about letting me come home every now and then. I didn't leave Detroit because I didn't like it. I loved playing there. But I just had to find something that worked better on the personal side."
The Sharks were awfully happy to bring him back.
"Brad is a huge part of what we do here," Wilson said. "He's a true professional. He has been even beyond what we expected of him."
Stuart's thunderous hit on Justin Williams in Game 3 was a reminder he still brings it.
Hannan, meanwhile, was a surprise deal, especially to him.
"I was in shock, really, because I didn't have any inkling," Hannan said of his April 3 acquisition from Nashville. "Everybody knew I was on injured reserve at the time. I didn't know what was going on. But when I heard, I was real excited to come back to San Jose. I have a lot of close ties here, my wife is from here. So it was obviously a good move for me."
Wilson said the familiarity of acquiring a known commodity was important.
"And the quality of guy that he is," the Sharks GM added. "He's just a character guy, loves to play the game. No integration time with this group, we know him, he's played with some of our guys, just tremendous respect for him as a competitor. He's a team-first guy, which was really important, too."
Hannan is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it's not clear at this point what the future holds for him. He left San Jose as a free agent in July 2007, signing a big-money contract in Colorado.
Six years later, one thing hasn't changed, Hannan said.
"The fans here are passionate," he said. "It was the same when I was here before. It was the start of that, then. You can see it around the city, there's real excitement. We'd like to win a few games here for them as much as for us."
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