BOSTON Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler both admitted it was difficult watching the Bruins win the Stanley Cup last season.
Both players were dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers for Rich Peverley and defenseman throw-in Boris Valabik prior to the trade deadline, and never got to take part in the best part after helping to build the Bruins back into a perennial contender from some modest beginnings.
Both players also live in Minnesota in the offseason and have more than a few heart-to-heart talks in the spring while their former teammates were battling against the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It was gratifying but it was hard at the same time. You wanted to be a part of it, said Wheeler. You get something out of it seeing the guys celebrate that you played with for a few years. That was the hardest part about getting traded. Stuart and I both knew it was very real possibility that winning the Cup was going to happen.
To see it come true was kind of a mixed bag of emotions. I was happy for the guys, they worked hard and they deserved it. Stuart and I had a few powwows in the summertime for sure. We live all of about 10 minutes apart, so we definitely met up a few times and talked about it. It made it a little easier to swallow. We were happy for the guys, but we wanted to be out there too.
Wheeler was always viewed as a project with good size, skill and speed levels that could just never put it all together, and perhaps didnt have the instincts or grit that was needed on a Cup contender. The talent is still there, however, and hes got 11 points in 22 games for the Jets while starting to play more consistent hockey with Winnipeg lately.
Thats not bad, but Wheeler still has a way to go to catch up to the surprising Kyle Wellwood leading the club in scoring with 17 points thus far.
Stuart, on the other hand, was a player the Bruins didnt want to give up on with his leadership abilities and physical tenacity, but he was also becoming a player in Boston made obsolete by a younger, cheaper alternative in Adam McQuaid.
So both players were shipped out for a player in Peverley with a little more offensive production and grittiness borne out of working his through the lower minor league levels, and theyve gone from Atlanta to Winnipeg along with the rest of the franchise. Stuart has taken to a leadership role with the Jets while Wheeler is getting accustomed to the zero degree temperatures that come along with living in Manitoba.
Hes also playing 20 minutes a night for the Jets and being allowed to blossom as a stay-at-home defensemen when it appeared that was never going to be possible during his time with the Black and Gold.
Is Stuart expecting any kind of ovation from the Bruins crowd that respected his thumping style of play?
I think I got one in my first game back last year with the Thrashers so theyve probably forgotten about me now, said Stuart. Theyve got a lot of stuff to celebrate around here.
I think its so hard not to think about if hed remained with the Bruins. But you try not to dwell on that too much because youll make yourself go crazy. That thought crept in, but you just move ahead. Im happy in Winnipeg. I think Im lucky with where Ive ended up. I was in Boston for so long in a great city and great organization, and Im very proud to be part of things in Winnipeg. Its a great hockey city with some great fans.
So Wheeler and Stuart have certainly moved on from the Bruins winning the Cup to life in Winnipeg.
But theyll have that lasting reminder every time they travel to Boston and see the Stanley Cup-winning banner hanging in the rafters, and that will no doubt serve as motivation to hoist a Cup of their own one of these days.