winnipeg jets ron hainsey

Much was made about Jay Bouwmeester getting his first crack at the NHL playoffs this year. Early in the 2013 season, Bouwmeester broke the record for most career NHL games played without having made an appearance in the playoffs. Of course, he had to go and spoil his shiny new record by playing six playoff games with the St. Louis Blues, conceding his new record back to its rightful owner, Guy Charron (no relation) whose record of 734 games without once playing a playoff game has to be one of the most untouchable records in sports.

Anyway, the guy who has the next best shot at catching Charron? Ron Hainsey. Hainsey came up with the Montreal Canadiens as a minor league call-up for two seasons. He began the 2003-2004 campaign with the Canadiens, but was sent down in November of that year after playing 11 games. That was the closest he’s ever been to the postseason, although he didn’t join the Habs in their two-round playoff run that season, instead playing 10 playoff games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

It didn’t get easier from there. Hainsey was waived by the Habs early in the 2005 season and picked up by the Columbus Blue Jackets (say, this sounds familiar) and spent three seasons with the Blue Jackets, scoring 16 powerplay goals. He wasn’t a very prolific threat, but 16 powerplay goals over those three years was good for 24th in the league among defencemen, giving Hainsey somewhat of a reputation as an offensive blueliner, a label he hasn’t appeared able to shake in the years since.

Hainsey cashed in on the perception, however, signing with the Atlanta Thrashers in the summer of 2008 for five years and a $4.5-million salary cap hit, which is insane (consider signing somebody like Hainsey to a $5.1-million hit this offseason). Hainsey was with the team when they made the move to Winnipeg in the summer of 2011 and has been fairly durable, missing just 30 games over the five years. Now, with his contract expired, Hainsey can’t seem to get a job despite still being at a potentially productive age—32—and coming off a year he led his team in ice time with 1074 minutes, or 22:52 per game.

Hainsey was one of the outspoken members on the NHLPA’s negotiation committee during Lockout III last fall, leading to some speculation that this is why he can’t seem to land a job this summer, but I’m of the belief that mindsets are changing in the cap crunch season. There are a lot of high-profile veteran players including Brad Boyes, Brenden Morrow, Mason Raymond, Simon Gagne, Tom Gilbert, Filip Kuba, Hal Gill, Wade Redden, all players that would be sought after in a normal offseason.

The first UFA contract signed by Hainsey represented an inefficiency in the system. Don Waddell presumably didn’t expect that powerplay opportunities would drop as much as they did in the years following the lockout, which made his play to get a defenceman with a booming shot long-term a poor one in hindsight.

In 2007-2008, the NHL began publishing more detailed play-by-play sheets that let users know who was on the ice for every single event taking place in a hockey game. Since that year, Hainsey has had a Corsi Rel QoC ranging from 0.118 to 1.144, indicating he has played against second line and first line competition for the better part of the last six years. His relative Corsi numbers are in the negatives, indicating he hasn’t been able to tilt the ice better when his team is on the ice. In four of the last five seasons, he’s also started the highest percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone on his team.

It’s tough to know what to make of a guy like Hainsey. Despite his Corsi numbers being in the red, he’s played with pretty brutal teammates over the last six seasons and has been put in difficult spots. This is a player who has spent over 1000 minutes in his time with the Thrashers with Chris Thorburn, after all. The majority of ThrashJets don’t seem to have better possession differentials with Hainsey on the ice, but it also doesn’t appear that he brings them down too much either. Occam’s Razor would suggest that Hainsey is a 3rd or 4th defenceman that’s been mis-cast as a 2 in spurts over the last few seasons and hasn’t lived up to the expectations.

There are certainly good reasons to sign a him or a guy like him, but Hainsey picked the wrong year to go to UFA coming off a big money deal. While he was serviceable, he was certainly not worth the $22.5-million he was paid on his last deal. There’s a non-zero chance he caught Scott Gomez Disease over the last five years. Certainly going from one of the more prominent offensive threats in the league to scoring 0 goals in his last 119 games doesn’t help him out, and the label as an offensive defenceman in the summer of 2008 could have come back to haunt him in the summer of 2013.

But some managers could have different reasons for not wanting to take a flyer on Hainsey. He seems like he could be a useful player, but a lot of teams probably have a player they see as good as Hainsey coming up in house that won’t cost so much against the salary cap.

I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Hainsey end up in the NHL in the future but I don’t see too many teams that have use for him as a second pairing player and the salary cap space available, unless Hainsey were willing to take a significant cut. Unlike Tom Gilbert, Hainsey doesn’t have buyout money coming his way, so he’s going to have to take a cut soon if he wants to play in the NHL this season or go over to Europe.

Still, as one of hockey’s remaining UFAs, particularly for a guy who has played so many minutes in the last few years, it’s odd he’s still available. Not that he’s been a world beater or my first choice of defenceman off the free agency wire that remain (Gilbert), but he’s definitely better than some players that have signed already. I think for next year, Guy Charron’s record is safe.