Toronto Maple Leafs: Ron Hainsey is just what was needed

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 6: Ron Hainsey /

Just half a season into his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ron Hainsey is helping solidify the back end.

If there’s one thing the Toronto Maple Leafs have been good at, it’s finding solid players in free agency for cheap.

Mason Raymond, Mike Santorelli, David Booth and P.A. Parenteau all signed on for cheap and found success during their time in the blue and white. There’s only one problem, none of them are defenders.

The Leafs have had a rough history of late, in terms of signing defencemen through free agency. Jeff Finger, Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda were all notable flops over the last 10 years.

This past offseason, however, the Leafs look to have finally found a hidden gem in the form of 36-year-old Ron Hainsey.

Looked over by most teams this summer, the Leafs snatched up the veteran defender on a two-year contract for $3 million. After the signing, Hainsey was looked at as a stabilizing factor for a Leafs’ blueline that featured a fair share of offensive-minded defencemen.

Paired alongside Morgan Rielly for the majority of the first half of the season, the veteran rearguard has allowed his 23-year-old teammate to show the offensive potential Leafs fans have been waiting for from him.

After only managing 27 points in 76 games last season Rielly already has 31 points this year. He currently sits 11th in points among defencemen.

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After Rielly went down with an upper-body injury in Philadelphia last week, the defensive pairings had to be juggled and players needed to step up in the absence of two of the Leafs’ top four defenders.

Enter Jake Gardiner. The Leafs’ best contributor on the back end last season had a lot of expectations coming into this year.

After spending the majority of the year with Nikita Zaitsev, Gardiner got his first opportunity for minutes alongside Hainsey. Since being placed on the top pairing, Gardiner has nine assists in the last five games

Chris Johnston was on Sportsnet 590 The FAN on Friday, where he elaborated on the value Hainsey has brought to the lineup this season:

"“He’s a guy that Mike Babcock trusts but you can still put with some of your skilled guys and its a good mix. He’s really crafted an interesting role for himself.“Even just watching when they get a penalty. He’s often spending two minutes killing the penalty. That’s not an easy thing to do. Most guys, even for the elite athletes they are, are sucking wind after a 40-minute shift, and he’s able to be out there in those high leverage situations.“Even though he was certainly not the signing that got big headlines. He wasn’t hugely sought after player last July first, but he’s been a very effective one for the Leafs.”"

The penalty killing has been a big part of Hainsey’s game. Assuming the Leafs add to their defensive core before the trade deadline passes, he shouldn’t have to shoulder an entire kill on his own.

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The longer Hainsey can stay on the ice for the Leafs, the better, as it looks as though the veteran is the glue that holds this young Leaf d core together.