Ron Hainsey meets with the media on the opening day of 2017 training camp.
You played for Bill Peters in Carolina. He used to coach with Mike Babcock. Will that help ease your transition in terms of how those men coach?
Hainsey: I think so. A lot of the time, when we played Toronto the last couple of years, it was like playing a mirror of yourself. Tough games out there; not a lot of space. Both teams are very well coached in a system that is pretty similar. Hopefully that will make coming in and getting off to a good start easier.
Was that one of the attractions to coming to a place like this, that you could fit right into the system?
Hainsey: Definitely doesn’t hurt. I really feel that playing for Bill the last three years in Carolina, 5 on 5 wise, [my game] has been really, really good under that kind of system. I’ve said over the last couple of years that the best defence I’ve played is when we’re not letting anybody into our zone with control of the puck too often. I think that will be our philosophy and goal here. Hopefully that can continue.
Did you learn anything from your time in Montreal earlier in your career that might help you playing in this kind of market?
Hainsey: I definitely did. There are a lot of similarities, obviously. I was a much different person in my early 20s than I am now, than I was even in my mid-20s or later. Bob Gainey and Claude Julien were the guys in charge there and I wasn’t as prepared to listen and learn at that time as I probably was later on. I’ve said that before.
Market wise, they are two very excited, passionate cities about hockey. There are a lot of similarities there.
Some people don’t want to come to Toronto or think they don’t want to be here because of all of the attention and the fact that you can’t go anywhere and be anonymous. Do you see any of that?
Hainsey: It’s hard to say. Everybody is different. Some people would certainly not like a ton of attention. You can’t say that isn’t possible. Having said that, I think, in the past, could someone say, “Well, it’s a bad team,” and maybe use the market as an excuse. I’m just talking out loud; I have no idea.
For me, this system, this team, the entire staff that they’ve built here – this was the team. When I had to start picking a team, this was the team I wanted to come to; market big or small. That’s really it.
How much, if anything, do you know about Morgan Rielly?
Hainsey: Just from playing against him. Very little. And watching, whenever you get to see games on TV. Ins and outs of his game, and stuff like that – not a lot. I haven’t watched a ton, except as a casual fan for the most part. It’s been good getting to meet him and know him this week on a more personal level. I’d be lying if I said I knew a ton about him.
Mike Babcock talked about, with the additions of yourself and Patrick Marleau and Dominic Moore, how good of pros you are and how he looks forward to you guys being able to set an example for the young core of the team. How much do you embrace that part of the game? Being a leader that can help younger players?
Hainsey: I don’t know. As you’re around longer and longer, some guys are certainly more vocal than others. As you’re around longer, I think it’s kind of just natural that people start – teammate wise – to watch you a little more in terms of what you do day to day, what you do away from the rink to be prepared for 80 games. It’s not easier when you’re older, but I remember being 22 and it felt like 80 games was forever. Now, being in my mid-30s, it’s still a lot of games but with the way you prepare mentally throughout the week, it seems to go by a lot faster.
I’m going to be the same person I’ve been for the past 10-12 years. If guys can pick off things off of that, great. If there is a time and a place where I feel something needs to be said, sure. But I’m not big on that. We’re all pros here. You pick up on how to do things and how not to do things pretty quick, I think.
Having seen players like Jeff Skinner and Noah Hanifin acclimate so quickly, your feelings on getting to play with a bunch of youngsters here as well?
Hainsey: It’s similar. We had a ton of youth come in through Carolina the past couple of years – some maybe because of where they were drafted, and some guys just kicked the door down. We had a couple of defencemen who started in the American league and were going to be brought along slowly. We had injuries, they came in, and we couldn’t take them out of the lineup.
It’s similar in a lot of ways. A lot of good young players and high draft picks. They’re coming in and for a lot of them, last year was their first year. As the season went on, they got better and better. That’s what we’re going to hope for – that some of us who are new here are going to continue doing what we’ve been doing over the years and then the young players continue to improve and mature and see where we end up.
These opportunities to skate with Morgan – does that put you in a good place with him in terms of maybe getting a sense of knowing what he likes to do on the ice?
Hainsey: It’s just good to be around all of the guys, to get to know them and play around them. Let’s face facts: These are just kind of, “go out there, get your hands and get your legs” scrimmages. We’re not worried too much about how we play the game out there like we will starting next week when we start getting into some exhibition games. It’s really just more being around the guys and getting to know everyone; getting situated in a new place. That’s what is really important the first couple of weeks.