There are few topics less exciting on the Leafs than Ron Hainsey, and that’s probably a compliment to Ron Hainsey. When Hainsey was brought in last summer much dust was kicked up over what value he’d bring to the Leafs, and initially Hainsey seemed like he made a lot of people eat their words.
Then a funny thing happened, the 82 game season started catching up to the 37 year old defenseman, who averaged 21:52 minutes per night over the season and we started to question whether playing him top pairing minutes was in fact a good idea (note: no one ever thought this was a good idea, it was making due with what the Leafs had.)
The trend over the past three years definitely supports that Hainsey trends downwards as the season progresses, but hasn’t happened as early, and previously we’d see him recover for periods of time as well.
|Avg Time on Ice||21:52|
|Corsi For %||47.78|
|Corsi For % Rel||-2.81|
|Expected Goals %||49.88|
|xG % Rel||-1.54|
Additionally to Hainsey’s decline is that when it came to his relative numbers Hainsey was only behind Zaitsev for the worst results on the team. Only Roman Polak was worse when it came to Corsi Against/60, and Hainsey had the worst expected goals against/60, just ahead of his most frequent defensive partner, Morgan Rielly.
A lot of this can be explained away by the fact that Ron Hainsey was facing the toughest competition, being paired with Morgan Rielly. It can also be assumed that if Hainsey’s role is adjusted to playing in second or third pairing situations, his numbers would likely improve. The same could be said for if he was given a chance to play on his natural side instead of being forced into the right side out of necessity.
Ron Hainsey is comfort food. He’s a veteran presence on very young blueline, and he enjoys the confidence of Mike Babcock whether you agree with that or not. He plays pretty much every second of the penalty kill, and is as safe as safe can be. Hainsey has also proven that he can play on either the left or right side, and for a team that presently only has question marks on the right side, eating minutes and playing safe has some appeal.
There is also the fact that Ron Hainsey only has one year left on his contract, at a $3M cap hit. With the significant cap increase this season, that amount isn’t going to put the Leafs out, and comes off the books next season when the team is ready to count its pennies. Hainsey also makes the perfect placeholder for Timothy Liljegren, who no matter how excited you are for, you should probably avoid counting on him being the defensive saviour of the Leafs in the 2018-19 season. Even if Liljegren does pan out and is ready to go on opening night, Hainsey could be dropped into any situation on the blueline, including being an ideal seventh defenseman on the roster.
The free agent market is also pretty sparse, especially if you are focusing on right handed defensemen. Giving up Hainsey without a replace in place makes a bad defensive situation worse. If Toronto is making a separate trade for an upgrade on the position, or have decided to pay John Carlson’s ransom that’s what makes the section below worth reading, if not, keeping Hainsey seems smart.
As I just mentioned above, the unrestricted free agent market for defenseman is pretty limited, especially for ones that can play on the right side of the blueline. That’s what might make Hainsey an attractive option to a number of teams.
A low commitment, minute eating defenseman, who’s salary is $2.4M while his cap hit is $3M has to carry some value around this league, though a significant return on Hainsey is unlikely. The win for the Leafs would come in the form of immediate cap space, which is especially valuable if they will be aggressive in other trades and free agency, over whatever the actual return would be.
The majority of the teams that could use an upgrade on defense probably fall into Hainsey’s 15 team no trade list, so guessing at what the market for a player like him could be becomes a challenge. Considering that Hainsey will be 38 before the season ends, and a free agent next season, Hainsey’s list will probably exclude all teams that don’t stand a chance of being in contention. The problem with that is if your team is pushing for a playoff birth, there’s a good chance that Ron Hainsey isn’t a significant upgrade to your blueline, or you don’t want to commit $3M of cap space towards Hainsey. That could limit his value.
In contrast to that last statement, Ron Hainsey is a guy who has “been there.” He’s got his cup ring, amazingly on his first playoff run at age of 35. There was no shortage of people singing the praise of Hainsey during Pittsburgh’s cup run, and that’s part of how Ron Hainsey became a Leaf. In a league that loves the veteran playoff performer narratives, Hainsey should be able to ride a similar high to what we’ve seen Joel Ward and Justin Williams enjoy in recent years.
Who’d Be Interested
I don’t pretend to fully understand the needs of each team around the league, but I could see Hainsey as fit for Dallas for sure. I could also see Pittsburgh wanting to bring back a familiar asset that worked out for them, but the price might be bothersome. Florida has expressed interest in adding a veteran defenseman, and the Oilers clearly need someone to come in so they don’t play Kris Russell so much.
Additionally New Jersey seems like a potential landing spot and if we’re speculating about Leafs that Lou could want in New York, Ron Hainsey seems like he could have some appeal there too.
I’m sure Hainsey isn’t necessarily open to all of these teams, nor are they guaranteed to be interested, but it seems likely that there should be a reasonable level of interest him if the Leafs start to upgrade their blueline.
So What Should They Do?
When I started writing this, I found myself leaning towards trading Hainsey, but I have pushed myself back a significant way towards the middle on this. Personally, if the option is there to wait and see, I hold onto Hainsey past free agency. I’d also be more inclined to trade Nikita Zaitsev before Hainsey if that was an option. Not having a commitment beyond this season is huge, and without knowing what the Leafs defense will look like next season it seems reasonable to keep Hainsey at least past the opening of free agency to see what transpires as far as upgrading or other defensive shuffles.
With Rielly, Gardiner, Dermott, and Borgman on the left side of the blueline, it seems that the Leafs only need to consider Hainsey on the right side of their depth chart, unless a trade occurs and makes him a potential 7D who platoons in with Borgman. Looking on the right side of the defense, it’s unlikely that Polak will be returning, it seems likely that Carrick could be moved as well, and both Liljegren and Ozhiganov are not certainties for Leafs roles. It’s pretty much just Zaitsev left, which is a scary thought unto itself. Even if the Leafs bring in a top pairing RD, there still seems to be a place for Hainsey on either the second or third pairing, or again, he could be an excellent depth option.
Saying all this also seems to establish that there should be some value associated with Ron Hainsey, and teams should be interested in him, so ruling out a trade isn’t a good idea either. Hainsey seems to be a player that you don’t bother to shop, but you are very comfortable listening to offers on.