Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart  has been paying close attention to everything that has gone on this season regarding the Ilya Kovalchuk  contract saga, and not just because he’ll have a deal of his own to sort out following the season.
The team’s player representative last season, Stuart is invested in seeing that both the NHLPA and the league are on the same page. With the Devils tacking on extra years to what would have eventually been a 17-year deal, the NHL  blew the whistle on the contract, stating it circumvented the salary cap by paying top dollar up front and lowering the cap hit with additional, cheaper years. Through the ordeal it came to light that Stuart’s teammate in Marc Savard  had one of the contracts the league felt may not have been kosher. After agreeing to a revised calculation of cap hits, the league dropped the investigation.
“I think it was nice to get a rule in place, first of all so those players know whether they have deals or not, and also it helps the GM’s to know what they can and can’t do,” Stuart said. “It was kind of a grey area there. It always helps to have the rules in place. It’s pretty clear-cut now.”
Technically, the teams weren’t breaking any rules by signing players to such contracts. They were cleverly exploiting a loophole, to be sure, and in correcting it the league essentially patched up a problem on the fly. Stuart doesn’t look at it that way, and instead sees the rule change as a beneficial clarification.
“I think it was fair,” Stuart said of the rule change. “It wasn’t really specified before. I think the NHL  and NHLPA did a great thing by talking and coming to an agreement. Now there’s a rule in place that’s pretty clear-cut. There wasn’t anything in there before so it was kind of hard to really see if those deals were legal or not.”
Stuart said there is no news on former MLBPA leader Donald Fehr, who has been rumored to be in line for the same job with the NHLPA after serving as an advisor. The defenseman added that there is no planned vote in place to elect Fehr to the position.
“He’s been helping us out,” Stuart said of Fehr’s affiliation with the players association. “This summer, he’s been a huge help with the different things we’ve been looking at. We’re just talking right now and figuring out which direction we want to go in. ”
After playing 82 games each in 2007-08 and 2008-09, Stuart was able to suit up for just 56 games last season due to a broken sternum, a broken finger, and finally an infection to his hand. Missing time wasn’t something the team’s first round pick from the 2003 draft was exactly used to.
‘It wasn’t very fun. That was one of the hardest parts, was just mentally getting over it,’ Stuart said after Tuesday’s captain’s practice. ‘I think at first I didn’t handle it very well. It was just a miserable situation. But once you realize [that] it doesn’t help to get down about it and just try to get back, I think I came a long way, especially the third time, I guess.’
Now with a clean bill of health, Stuart is excited about the upcoming season. The players will vote on his re-election as player rep following training camp, something he is hopeful for.