Ron Hainsey: The NHLPA's 'bad cop?' | Hockey | CBC Sports

NHLRon Hainsey: The NHLPA's 'bad cop?'

Posted: Saturday, December 8, 2012 | 08:34 AM

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Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey has another role off the ice during the labour negotiations. According to an NHL negotiator, Hainsey is the players' Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey has another role off the ice during the labour negotiations. According to an NHL negotiator, Hainsey is the players' "bad cop." (File/Getty Images)

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There are no heroes in the NHL's "Implosion of 2012," but both sides have made sure that one or two of their opponents are known villains. On the players' side, that may be Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey.
As the NHL and NHLPA decompressed from "The Fight on 43rd Street," Ron Hainsey spent much of his day doing interviews.

Hainsey's been all over the news, since he was the one who said Thursday night the league called the potential re-insertion of Donald Fehr into the talks "a deal-breaker."  

The Winnipeg defenceman is a constant part of these negotiations. He hasn't always had a large public presence, but he's heavily involved.

There are no heroes in the Implosion of 2012, but both sides have made sure that one or two of their opponents are known villains. Even the Mashco-Piro are aware that Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs sent one Governor to the corner and made employees pay a hefty tax bill on their 2011 Stanley Cup rings.

Meanwhile, the Andromeda Galaxy can see how much the league loathes Donald Fehr -- the man "with no skin in the game who is about to ruin the season."

Full disclosure: I don't know Hainsey at all away from the rink, but I've enjoyed my limited dealings with him around practices and games. He's one of those players who likes to know what's going on around the league, so he's insightful to talk to.

But, something has gone very wrong between Hainsey and and the league's negotiating teams. It is believed one of the reasons Mark Chipman was added to the mix -- in addition to his moderate nature -- is that it was hoped the defenceman would be more "in line" with his owner present.

I stress I've never heard it on- or off-the-record from any owner, general manager or negotiator -- but there is a rumbling going around that Hainsey will never again get an NHL contract. (He is an unrestricted free agent next summer.)

When I brought it up to him on Friday morning, he nodded in anticipation of the question. Clearly, he's heard the rumours.

"Do you worry that, after your contract is completed, you'll never play in the NHL again?"

"My wife and I have talked about it," he said.  "If I play the way I'm capable of, everything will work out."

What happened?

"He's their bad cop," one NHL negotiator said. "Over the line sometimes."

It's difficult to pin down exactly what that means, because there aren't specific examples. The confrontation between Jacobs and Ryan Miller got a lot of attention Wednesday night, but word was Hainsey said something, too. (An NHL source said that, on Thursday morning, they expected him to tell the league the players were walking away.)

Hainsey admitted he didn't like when the NHL resisted Fehr's return, telling Gord Stellick and Ron MacLean on Hockey Night in Canada Radio, "They attempted to argue it. This was not a debatable decision. We do not tell them who to bring in and obviously they can't tell us. It was told to me directly [Fehr coming back in] could be a deal-breaker.

He added, "We're chasing a moving target here."

In our conversation, Hainsey explained that he thought the two sides were moving close to agreeing on a length for the new CBA (six years plus an option), one which would allow for a re-opener clause if revenues hit $4 billion.

"Many of (the players) thought we were really close to getting (the entire CBA) done...But it's difficult to finish it without a professional."

It was at that point things became heated, with the league threatening to walk and passion exploding on both sides. Hainsey agrees he was part of it, and was emotionally invested because he was responsible for presenting the offer. But he doesn't think he crossed the line in the way he called for Fehr.

"If that's impolite, I don't know what to do. I don't know how we can close this without using anyone trained to do it on our behalf."

My handicap here is that I wasn't in the room. It's certainly possible that Hainsey said something he didn't mean as offensive, but, in the anger of the moment, someone on the NHL side took it very badly. I don't know and don't want to pretend I do.

'The Campoli Incident'

Hainsey was also involved in what he sarcastically called "The Campoli Incident."

On November 9, Chris Campoli and Wild owner Craig Leipold had a disagreement. Gary Bettman, fearing things would escalate, tried to interject. Hainsey stepped in to say that it wasn't the commissioner's argument. Asked days later to confirm that's what happened, Hainsey texted: "I have no idea what you are talking about."

At the time, NHL people appreciated his discretion. Asked about it now, he says, "I wasn't lying. I honestly didn't know that's what you referring to."

"When that conversation took place, what was said was all polite. There was nothing personal whatsoever from anyone. (That's) not how it's portrayed out there." An NHL source agreed with his assessment.

(The only other time I've texted him during the lockout, I wanted to clarify something that was in an NHLPA memo. His response: "I don't release memos.")

Who he is

Hainsey has become one of Fehr's staunchest supporters, believing strongly that the players must hold firm. He's attended most of the meetings, and many players send him text messages asking for his opinion or information.

"He's represented us as well as anyone," one texted Friday.

"He is taking great personal risk," one team executive said. "Because not only is he battling some powerful owners, he's got to justify to players who want to play why the current strategy is the right one."

"He is very good at breaking down the issues for the membership," said another player. "He's got a very business-like way of explaining things."

That's not a surprise, because Hainsey's got a business-like attitude. The Canadiens' first-round selection in the 2000 draft (13th overall) played his first four professional games with AHL's Quebec Citadelles one year later.

The next fall, Hainsey had a good preseason for Montreal, putting him the conversation for a roster spot.  

"I was 20 years old and I can remember [then-GM] Andre Savard saying, 'We never saw it coming,'" he said. "He was honest with me: 'We never thought or prepared for you to make the team.' They had seven defencemen on a one-way contract so I wasn't staying.

"My agent had to calm me down...then I went to Quebec and injured my wrist. Andrei Markov was the next guy called up. Anyone could see what a great player he was."

Hainsey says that experience shaped his outlook, how it's a business. Yes, being on the frontlines of CBA negotiations can be emotional at times, but he says he doesn't take it personally because he understands what the professional game is really about.

It never worked in Montreal, as he played just 32 NHL games in four-plus seasons (including the 2004-05 lockout). The Blue Jackets took him off waivers in 2005, leading to a career turnaround -- 83 points in 213 Columbus games.

Hainsey is not Ted Lindsay risking banishment to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1957. When his contract becomes part of the conversation (five years, $22.5 million US), there's a grimace on his face. But, one of the reasons he believes so passionately in the NHLPA's fight for better contracting rules is what happened to him in July 2008.

"I knew my position in the (free-agent) system. There was Brian Campbell, then Wade Redden, then Michal Rozsival, then me. I sat and watched what happened. Campbell went for $7.1 million. Redden was next, for $6.5. Rozsival went back to the Rangers for 6. Then it was my turn. That's the way the market works."

It's the only time money comes up in our talk. Hainsey knows he's very fortunate, an example of how a "loose system" can set up a player -- and his family -- for life. Preserving that is important to him.

Like everyone else, he's looking to get back on the ice.

"It's the games you miss. The games are what's fun...going back to Winnipeg; the great crowd, the large groan you notice when you make a mistake," he laughs. (That's not an insult, Manitobans. He loved being in a place where every game mattered to the city.)

When this is over, Jeremy Jacobs is going to own a cap team with a $69 million payroll. Maybe he's not Mr. Warm & Fuzzy, but he's not shy about spending money. Some players who might hate him right now are going to take it.

I don't know exactly what Ron Hainsey's done to annoy the NHL's negotiators. But is he doing anything different for 750 players than Jacobs is doing for 30 owners?

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