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Has Ron Hainsey’s NHLPA lockout ‘bad cop’ role blackballed him in free agency?

Greg Wyshynski
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There have been roughly 46 unrestricted free-agent defenseman that have signed new contracts during the NHL offseason, ranging from popular targets like Mark Streit to hired guns like Joe Corvo.

Ron Hainsey, 32, was a popular target back in July 2008, when he signed a 5-year, $22.5 million deal with the Atlanta Thrashers after two strong seasons as a puck-moving defenseman with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Thrash broke the bank for him after missing out on Brian Campbell, and Hainsey played five years with the franchise, including two with the Winnipeg Jets. After a 39-point season in 2008-09, his offense trailed off and much attention was given to his $4.5 million cap hit being an albatross.

Hainsey’s contract expired after last season, putting him back in the free-agent pool in an off-season in which the salary cap dropped. Less popular target and more hired gun, his skills-set seemed to fit several teams' needs.

As of Monday, Hainsey remained on the market.

Again: 46 of his peers have gotten contracts. Some of them are better than Ron Hainsey, and some of them aren’t. Some made more than he did last season (looking at you, Sergei Gonchar), and some significantly less.

Unlike his peers, however, Hainsey had another job in the last year: Acting as one of the lead player-negotiators for the NHLPA and reportedly in the role of “bad cop” in talks with the owners.

You know, the same owners that will determine where, and if, he plays in the NHL next season.

So is Ron Hainsey still unemployed because he bit the hand that feeds him?

Hainsey has become inseparable from his role with the NHLPA.

As his contract expiration neared, Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press all but demanded that he go to market instead of re-signing with the Jets for a discount.

“[He] must consider the optics of his actions so it's a safe bet he'll test the market,” wrote Lawless. “Taking the first offer sent his way, unless it included large gains that would elevate the marketplace, flies in the face of everything Hainsey has stood for in his off-ice politics.”

The NHLPA “bad cop” persona for Hainsey was born from an Elliotte Friedman article during the lockout:

"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.”

Hainsey also was rumored to have gotten into it with commissioner Gary Bettman, during a disagreement between defenseman Chris Campoli and Wild owner Craig Leipold. Hainsey denied it, and other sources told Friedman the situation was overblown.

Hainsey and Campoli were at the forefront of the negotiations. Campoli told Michael Grange of Sportsnet after the lockout that his role in the talks might affect his future in the NHL:

"If it affects me in a negative way I can look in the mirror and know that I did the right thing," he said. "Some people may say I'm crazy, but at the end of the day I spent numerous hours with some amazing people and have relationships that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

"[But] it could cost me -- if someone held it against me -- it could cost me a job. I hope they don't look at it that way."

After the lockout, Campoli signed with EHC Biel in Switzerland for the remainder of the season. This summer, while NHL teams scoured the world for cheap experienced labor under a plunging cap, Campoli remained in the Swiss league, signing a 1-year deal with HC Lugano.

Perhaps he felt the NHL’s owners might carry a grudge.

Have they carried one with Hainsey?

I called Matt Keator, Hainsey's agent, and asked if he felt his client’s role with the NHLPA has frozen him out of free agency.

“No. Not at all. We’ve had no conversations about that at all,” he said.

There are four teams that have shown interest in Hainsey, although like every NHL team under the tighter cap it may take some salary shedding before an offer is made to him.

Friedman, in his “bad cop” report after the lockout, said there was “a rumbling going around that Hainsey will never again get an NHL contract.”

It remains to be seen if that grumbling becomes gospel, but Hainsey’s still looking for work in August when 46 of his more apathetic union brethren have contracts.

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