With the trade deadline quickly approaching, we will be profiling several players in the weeks ahead that are likely to be dealt by March 1st.
Two weeks ago, the Carolina Hurricanes had been one of the bigger surprises of the NHL season. They were flying high, riding a four-game winning streak and sitting in playoff position, when many thought they would be one of the NHL’s worst teams in 2016-17. Then they hit a rough patch that could derail any team: a four-game stretch that included two road games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and a visit to the Washington Capitals, sandwiched around a home game against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Hurricanes were losers of five straight entering All-Star weekend and are now tied for last in the Metropolitan Division.
Back when Carolina was in postseason position, no one was more excited than veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey. The NHL’s 39th-ranked leader in games played among active players wit 883, Hainsey holds the unfortunate mark of having played the most regular season games without ever going to the playoffs. After 14 years on bottom-dwellers, the 35-year-old Hainsey may want to be traded to a contender and the Hurricanes may be willing to deal him.
Hainsey is in the final season of a three-year, $8.5MM deal signed with the Hurricanes back in 2014. The deal hold a cap hit of $2.83MM, but only a salary of $2.5MM in it’s final year. With the majority of the cap hit accrued by the Hurricanes by the time the Trade Deadline rolls around, nearly any team would be able to absorb Hainsey’s contract, which will be worth under $1MM. However, he has a limited No-Trade Clause that allows him to select 15 teams he would go to. Since only 16 teams make the playoffs, Hainsey stands a pretty good chance of being moved to a contender if he or the team chooses to do so.
The Hurricanes boast one of the most impressive defensive units in all of hockey, led by All-Star Justin Faulk and highlighted by young phenoms Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce. However, it’s Hainsey that acts as the group’s mentor and ties everyone together. Usually paired with Faulk, Hainsey can still eat up minutes and knows how to sit back and play physical while Faulk handles the puck-moving. He can also be relied on for special teams responsibilities and makes the perfect outlet pass from time to time. Still a tough player who’s not afraid to block a shot or throw a check, Hainsey is capable of playing hard-nosed playoff hockey, if only given the opportunity.
48 games: 2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points, -10, 22:14 ATOI, 68 hits, 82 blocks
Even teams with ample defensive depth are often not opposed to bringing in veteran defensemen at the deadline to help out down the stretch and bring some maturity and leadership to the locker room. Although Hainsey has no postseason experience, he has played in close to 900 NHL games and has held leadership positions in Atlanta, Winnipeg, and now in Carolina. With a low cap hit and likely not a terribly high cost, Hainsey could be seen as very attractive to many teams.
The Toronto Maple Leafs in particular could be a logical destination for the left-shot blue liner. Though not as locked into a playoff spot as maybe Hainsey would like, their need for defensive depth and veteran leadership is clear. The Leafs are still a young, rebuilding team and may not be willing to part with much for a player of Hainsey’s caliber, but if their current starting six, which includes Matt Hunwick, Roman Polak, and Frank Corrado even resembles their playoff unit, they won’t go far.
The Dallas Stars are another fringe postseason team that Hainsey might hesitate to commit to, but that desperately needs a veteran with some ability on the back end. With Johnny Oduya injured and Dan Hamhuis struggling, the Stars could certainly use an upgrade over Esa Lindell or Patrik Nemeth come playoff time.
Likelihood Of A Trade
Dependent on how the Hurricanes perform from here on out, Hainsey may be more valuable to them than in a trade. If Carolina can take advantage of a February schedule that isn’t too difficult, they can creep back into the postseason conversation. If they hold on to Hainsey, they face another light schedule in March and could potentially make the playoffs. Hainsey would be one of the more valuable assets on the roster should that happen. However, it won’t be easy.
What makes Carolina’s defense so appealing is also what makes a player like Hainsey so expendable. With a young core and the likes of Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown, and Jake Bean waiting in the wings, the Hurricanes are not desperate to hold onto defensemen. If they’re not going to make the playoffs, it seems extremely likely that they will move Hainsey, for the good of the team and to give a long-time reliable player a shot at postseason glory. Besides, he’s a free agent; they can always bring him back if they want to.