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Wheeler, Stuart say their goodbyes

Posted by Fluto Shinzawa, Globe Staff  February 18, 2011 02:37 PM

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Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart returned to Scotiabank Place earlier this afternoon to gather their gear. They both got the word from GM Peter Chiarelli earlier today after they returned to the team hotel following the morning skate.

Wheeler and Stuart are awaiting a ride to the airport. They will meet up with the Thrashers in Edmonton. Atlanta will play the Oilers tomorrow.

"I had no idea until after the game last night," said Wheeler, still carrying a Bruins backpack from the Premiere Games in Czech Republic. "My wife was texting me throughout the game and calling me after the game with all the rumors of maybe going to Toronto. That's when I had the inkling that something might go down. I guess I didn't think it was going to happen this soon. I was kind of surprised this afternoon to get the call. That's the way it is."

Wheeler was at his best as a rookie in 2008-09, when he scored 21 goals and 24 assists. Wheeler signed with Boston as an unrestricted free agent after opting out of his opportunity to sign with Phoenix, which drafted him fifth overall in 2004.

Wheeler has 11 goals and 16 assists this season. The guess is that with more offensive freedom, Wheeler could translate his speed and skill into more production.

"I think I've come a long ways, certainly with the complete game and both ends of the ice," Wheeler said. "I think I've transformed my game in a lot of areas. Offensively, I have a lot more to offer than I've maybe done so far this year. I just want to keep doing those same things I learned here about being a complete player. I think Claude [Julien] definitely taught me how to be more responsible in that area of my game. If I can continue doing that and start to tap into what I can do offensively, I'll be a little more satisfied."

From Oct. 5, 2007, to Dec. 14, 2010, Stuart appeared in 214 consecutive regular-season and playoff games. But a string of injuries derailed Stuart (sternum, finger, infection, hand, finger) and made him the odd man out.

"I guess I've saved all my injuries for the past few years," Stuart cracked. "That definitely didn't help my cause. That's just how things work out sometimes. Maybe it happened for a reason, getting hurt like that. I'll definitely miss it here. Great guys, great organization. It's the only team I've known. But I'm also excited about the opportunity."

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