Uhhhhh…. If I’m seriously answering my own question, it was probably last November that was too early, but by January when it became evident that Hainsey’s slumping numbers were more of the story than his October/November bump, then yeah, it was time to move on.
That being said, here we are still playing Ron Hainsey on the top pairing. Good grief.
I think I’ll need to start off by saying what this post isn’t. There’s not going to be any pining over Connor Carrick. Connor had numerous chances to show that he’s more valuable to the Leafs than Ron Hainsey, and if anything he seemed to further play himself out of a job. I get the argument that Ron Hainsey was also playing himself out of a job. That’s what this post is, an acknowledgement of that, but a case can be made that all of Dermott, Borgman, Holl, and Rosen showed a lot of promise in that time, and perhaps we should consider playing those guys more instead of trotting out player who’s last true value comes as the veteran presence in the room.
Beyond what you saw there, I’m not making a case for any of those defensemen. Or Marincin. Although Marincin does seem like the obvious replacement.
We’re Talking About Ron Hainsey Not Being Good.
To start, let’s look at his rolling game score (via Corsica)
I guess you could say that over the past decade, the common theme is that even if Hainsey starts strong, he runs out of gas at some point in the season and stops producing. Or he’s generally not that great to begin with, although game score does lend itself to offensive contributions ahead of defensive ones.
The rolling game score about is based on 25 games, but if we shrink that number down to a five game rolling average, Hainsey doesn’t look much better…
There were a couple of late season flashes of brilliance, but generally this is not what you’d hope to see from a top pairing defender. By comparison here’s Morgan Rielly…
Awwww yeah, that’s the stuff. Of course, this leads to the obvious argument that Rielly and Hainsey are very different types of defensemen, and that’s very true. Rielly, for example, is good, but let’s look specifically at what Hainsey should be doing and that’s repressing shots…
Nope. That’s not happening either. Hainsey and Zaitsev are the two players giving up the most shot attempts. They, along with Roman Polak also have the unfortunate luxury of starting in the defensive zone more often, but I still feel like it’s worth noting that defensive specialist Ron Hainsey isn’t something we should be comfortable with, and should explore other options (this is me not mentioning Martin Marincin.)
Last season at 5v5, Hainsey played over 1022 minutes with Morgan Rielly, his next most common partner, Jake Gardiner, he played 126 minutes with. The impact on Rielly was that Hainsey was a boat anchor. Away from Hainsey, Rielly’s CF% jumped from 49.39% to 56.14%. This is also likely due to Hainsey not getting offensive starts in those situations, but away from Rielly, Hainsey’s 49.39 CF% dropped to 41.73%. That’s gross, and again can be partially contributed to defensive starts, but if he’s doing that bad at those, why continue to give them to him?
BUT WHAT ABOUT HIS PENALTY KILLING?
Yeah, Ron Hainsey kills penalties. So do a lot of other defensemen who aren’t very good. Generally since there is a lower expectation about controlling the puck, you trot out guys like Hainsey who you just hope are good with standing in front of the puck, or could potentially clear a path for a goaltender to see the puck better. Doing what Hainsey does the Leafs had the 11th best penalty kill in the league last season, and we shouldn’t scoff at that, especially after the Wilson and Carlyle years. What this does say is that you think that Ron Hainsey is a critical part of the penalty kill, he’d probably be even more efficient if he was rested and he probably shouldn’t be playing top pairing minutes.
IS IT TIME TO GIVE UP ON RON HAINSEY?
The answer is still yes, if we’re talking about a top pairing defender. Really he never should have been in that role, but the divide and conquer approach with Rielly and Gardiner seemed necessary and there was definitely an appetite at the beginning of last season to get Rielly back on the left side of the blueline.
If we’re looking at this from does Ron Hainsey still belong in the roster at all? I think the answer is more complicated. While I’d still lean towards yes, giving Ron Hainsey a bottom pairing assignment isn’t something I’d object to at this point, especially if you are someone wanting to make the case for him being a unique penalty killing talent (I’m not making that case, but if you want to, I’m not going to stop you here and now.) If you want Hainsey to be that veteran presence, let him be that presence next to a less experienced player, like Justin Holl or Igor Ozhiganov, or Andreas Borgman. Hell. Pick on Travis Dermott if you want to, but let’s try to give Rielly a fighting chance.