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Ron Hainsey Analysis

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This is a very long post, so I'll begin with the conclusion for those of you with ADD or burgers to flip on the 4th of July. I was not excited about this when it was first announced. The Thrashers really need elite talent and Ron Hainsey doesn't belong in that category. The truth is I've only seen Hainsey play a few times mostly because I find Columbus games boring with their Ken Hitchcock trapping style. But I've been crunching the numbers and they say that this was a solid signing with the potential to become a very good signing with time. Hainsey is still relatively young and he has take some significant steps forward lately, if that continues this will be a great signing.

First of all he comes from a better defensive team than Atlanta. The Blue Jackets still haven't made the playoffs, but their defense has made big strides the the last two seasons going from poor (26th out of 30 teams) in 2006 to average (16th) in 2007 to good (8th in 2008). The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs last year because of a weak offense (29th), not their defense.

Now part of that major improvement on defense is the effect of hiring Coach Ken Hitchcock and his very tight defensive systems. It is noteworthy that as the Columbus D made steady improvements Ron Hainsey received more ice time, so hopefully he learned a few tricks from Hitchcock.

OK let's talk about some numbers. The most important number of all is this one: 27. Ron Hainsey is still in his peak years 25-30 and this five year deal ends with his age 32 season. I've ripped the Thrashers multiple times for throwing money at players entering their decline phase of their career, so I must give them credit for this--it appears they have learned from their mistakes.

"(Hainsey) is at the age now where you start to see the peak for a typical defenseman," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Since I've been here, we've seen his overall competitive level go up significantly, and that's allowed him to play more minutes against better players.

Another important number is 13, as in Hainsey was taken 13th overall in the 2000 Draft by Montreal. When a guy is taken that the scouts saw some serious potential. The problem was that Hainsey didn't live up to that potential. In fact, he spent quite a few seasons playing for Montreal's AHL club putting up some decent numbers but not really playing defense all that well. The Canadians had three regular defensemen out of the lineup and called him up in 2005-06 but Columbus snagged him under the re-entry wavier rule.

I have a lot of numbers below but one thing they doesn't show is maturity. It looks to me like Hainsey is a talented guy who just took a while to grow up. When he was in the Montreal system his nickname was "Hollywood Hainsey" for his partying ways. Columbus fans joke about his Orlando Bloom looks. But it seems that he started doing the hard work it takes to become a NHL regular.

: "I’ll never forget him pulling me into his office after last season and telling me how I had to get in better shape. He had Barry Brennan (Columbus’ strength and conditioning coach) work up a program for me to follow all summer. I didn’t know what to expect, but I started the training a lot earlier than usual – and I don’t remember ever lifting weights so many days a week as I did this summer." That fall Hitchcock commented: "To me, his fitness level is the big difference. This is the time of year last year when he started to run down. Well, he made dramatic improvement, and now he's seeing the reward."

Hainsey grew up a Whalers fan-I'm hoping that he just hates the Carolina Hurricanes for leaving his native Connecticut. He grew up a fan of Ron Francis and our own "Chicken Parm" Ray Ferraro. Give this man a "Chicken Parm" bobblehead!

Here is some praise from Central Division opponents: "You don’t want any team to just skate through center ice," said Blues wing Jamal Mayers. "When you have a player like Hainsey who is fast, has a strong stride and is good with the puck, well, it’s hard to slow him down." Hainsey’s skating stride seems effortless and his passes are quick and accurate.

OK, and now on to the numbers:

Ron Hainsey Even Strength Ice Time
2006: 13:32 6/of 7 on Columbus, 124/210 in the NHL (rankings, #1 = most)
2007: 15:31 3/6 on Columbus, 94/210 in the NHL
2008: 16:34 4/6 on Columbus, 71/210 in the NHL

Hainsey has seen his ES minutes per game steadily increase over the last three years as both he and Columbus improved. The last two seasons he has ranked in the to half of all defensemen in terms of ES ice time.

Ron Hainsey Even Strength Scoring Efficiency (points per 60 minutes of ice time)
2006: 1.49 2/7 on Columbus, 50/210 in the NHL
2007: 0.69 3/6 on Columbus, 160/210 in the NHL
2008: 0.59 3/6 on Columbus, 186/210 in the NHL

The interesting thing about Haisey is that his scoring at ES has really collapsed over the last three years, yet his total points have gone up? How can that be? Go see his Power Play numbers.

Ron Hainsey Power Play Ice Time
2006: 3:13 6/7 on Columbus, 83/210 in the NHL
2007: 3:44 1/6 on Columbus, 39/210 in the NHL
2008: 4:39 1/6 on Columbus, 17/210 in the NHL

Haisey has always gotten some Power Play ice time, but it really shot up the last two seasons. He ranked 39th among all NHL Defensmen a season ago and this last season he rose all the way to 17th. My assumption is that we will see both Enstrom and Haisey out their on the top PP unit and Kovalchuk will slide down to LW again.

Ron Hainsey Power Play Scoring efficiency (points per 60 minutes of ice time)
2006: 1.95 6/7 on Columbus, 144/210 in the NHL
2007: 3.53 2/6 on Columbus, 94/210 in the NHL
2008: 4.26 1/6 on Columbus, 71/210 in the NHL

Here is why Hainsey's total points have increased, he's receiving more time on the power play and he is become much more efficient in power play situations. Three season's ago his PP efficiency was below average for a NHL defenemen, then it jumped up to 94 which is close to average and last season it rose again to 71st. Nobody is going to confuse him with Nick Lidstrom, but Tobias Enstrom ranked 62nd last season, so they were had very similar efficiency rates last season.

Ron Hainsey Short Handed Ice Time
2006: 1:00 7th/7
2007: 3:37 3rd/6
2008: 1:30 5th/6

Ron Hainsey has never been a PK guy, nor do I expect him to become one.

Ron Hainsey Plus/Minus
2006: +13 1st/7
2007: -19 6th/6
2008: -7 6th/6

The Plus/Minus chart is a bit of weird one so let's try and put everything we have learned together here and make some sense out of it. In 2005-06 Hainsey was a 3rd pairing defensemen who scored at ES but not much on PP. His ES Plus/Minus was positive on a bad defensive team. In the next two seasons Hainsey took a big jump forward in terms of his ES and PP ice time and he he scored almost all points on the PP and very little at ES. His plus/minus got worse.

I'm going to make a guess here. I think Ken Hitchcock came to Hainsey and said "you've got offensive skill and I'll put you on the PP unit, but at ES I want you to calm down and play it safe." As Hitchcock used Hainsey more at ES, he ended up out on the ice against some of the elite of the NHL like Zetterberg and Datsyuk and his plus/minus declined as his usage pattern changed. (Edit: OK here's a direct quote: "When I got here last season, we had to hide Ron Hainsey," Hitchcock said. "We had to try to sneak him in here and there at just the right time during the game.)

Alan Ryder's Point Contribution Rating for NHL Defensemen
2006: 31 points, Percentile Ranking 60% (100% is the very best)
2007: 70 points, Percentile Ranking 92%
2008: 79 points, Percentile Ranking 96%

Alan Ryder has a point system that divides up credit for each standing point that a NHL team earns. Ron Hainsey comes out looking VERY good under this rating system. Roughly speaking it works like this. On offense you get a positive chit for every point scored and a negative chit for your ice time--so if you play a lot and don't score you are wasting your team's ice time. On defense it works the opposite, you get positive chits for each minute you play and a negative chit for being on the ice when the other team scores--so you get rewarded for minutes where you keep the other team off the scoreboard. If you find this stuff interesting visit Hockey Analytics, there's a link on the sidebar.