Ron Hainsey is part 6 of a 7-part series ‘7 D in 7 days.’
On a Carolina Hurricanes blue line that is young and getting younger, Ron Hainsey is 1 of 3 elder statesman along with John-Michael Liles and James Wisniewski. He brings experience and a veteran presence that mixes in with the rapidly emerging young players already including Ryan Murphy, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce right now and likely to add more real soon.
The future of the Canes blue line
During this time of transition, Ron Hainsey sits right in the middle of a couple huge initiatives that will dictate the future of the team:
- First and foremost, he has been Justin Faulk’s partner on the first pairing. With as good as Justin Faulk already is, it is easy to forget that he is still very young for a defenseman at 23 years old and is still growing as a player. Faulk is the leader of the blue line and the first pairing, but it is important to offer him support in going against the NHL’s best on a nightly basis.
- His ability to eat up a bunch of minutes and play quality/good team NHL top 4 minutes is critical to the Canes being competitive now and not chucking the fan base into the hard time version of rebuilding.
- He also has a role to play in mentoring the other young defensemen.
Ironically, Ron Hainsey might not be included when Ron Francis’ master plan for the defense comes together in a couple years, but that is not to say that he does not have a significant role in it being successful.
His skill set and its fit for the Hurricanes
I have long pegged Ron Hainsey as a serviceable stay-part of a top 4 defense pairing with the key disclaimer being that he is the stay-home part of a pairing that includes a more skilled puck mover. I just do not think he brings enough in terms of moving and distributing the puck and helping create offense. His scoring totals are limited in part by his role and lack of power play ice time, but even still he has averaged only about 12 points per season (in 81 and 82-game seasons) over the past 2 years. That just is not enough offensively for a player who logs significant minutes often with the Canes scorers on the ice. At a skill set level, I think he actually fits okay with Justin Faulk. Hainsey can be the stay-home partner which pushes the job of moving the puck and creating offense a bit more to Faulk which is fine. Ideally, I think the Canes would have been better served adding a more all-around veteran defenseman to play with Faulk. (I really liked Christian Ehrhoff on a short-term deal.) But I think Hainsey can work in this role.
What I am not a fan of is what is happening right now which is Hainsey sliding down into the second pair with rookie Brett Pesce. Why fix what is not broken? I actually think that Liles is playing better than Hainsey right now and might be better with Faulk, but I think the huge risk is upsetting the apple cart in terms of Pesce’s development which is going very well so far. Pesce is playing well but is also benefiting from Liles’ heady play and ability to do the heavy lifting in terms of moving the puck. This just is not Hainsey’s game as evidenced by some of the struggles he has seen when paired with Brett Bellemore awhile back. The Hainsey/Bellemore duo was fine in its own end but played too many shifts under repeated duress when they could not move the puck up the ice, and it also impacted the Canes offense playing too many shifts with no chance to actually play offense. Brett Pesce’s skills moving the puck up the ice are better than Bellemore’s, but I would be inclined not to put those under stress this early in his adjustment to the NHL level especially trying to make a big step up from college hockey to a top 4 NHL role. He is right at that stage when the ‘I’m in the NHL!’ adrenaline rush wears off and the NHL grind kicks in. I think it is risky to separate him from a partner with whom he seemed to have instant chemistry and start over. But I digress…
Shorter version: I view Hainsey as a serviceable top 4 defenseman of the stay-home variety who pairs well with a partner who can move and distribute the puck. I am not fond of playing him with another stay-home defenseman or a rookie who could use a bit more help while he gets up to speed.
The here and now
Thus far Ron Hainsey’s 2015-16 season has been a strange mixed bag. In terms of making key plays, the light scoring stay-home defenseman has scored 2 huge game-winning goals and has a respectable 4 points. On the other side of the ledger, he has had a couple ‘oopses’ that have resulted pretty directly in goals against and contributed to losses.
For yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, I offered a subjective measure of plus/minus directly related to players’ direct roles in Hurricanes goals for and against so far this season. You can read that HERE if you missed it. The short version is that the impression of Hainsey as a steady stalwart defenseman who does not make give up much has not been matched so far this season when you break down the Hurricanes goals against.
Per my unofficial count, Ron Hainsey has had a direct role in the most Canes goals against at 13. The way that I think of that is that he has a direct role in a game against nearly once per game. A goals against per 60 minutes metric for Hainsey would clock in at roughly 2.60 goals against per game. That is not horrible, but I think it is a bit high when you consider that some goals are just the result of good plays by the other team and those get added on top of the goals caused by mistakes.
The Canes have a number of things that must come together for the team to push up in the standings. I think Ron Hainsey playing the vast majority of the season at his peak level is 1 of them. With half of the blue line very young, Coach Bill Peters will need to lean heavily on the few veterans in key times and in key games and they absolutely must respond. Here is hoping that Ron Hainsey can continue on his solid scoring pace especially the clutch variety, but he also needs to tighten up his defensive game a bit as the season rolls forward.