Ron Hainsey didn’t expect the handoff so soon.
Not from Sidney Crosby. Not the Stanley Cup.
Matt Cullen, maybe. Or Chris Kunitz. Or Evgeni Malkin. Surely one of the Pittsburgh Penguins veterans would get their hands on the Cup first, after Crosby. Or so Hainsey thought.
But moments after being presented the Cup on Sunday, after the Pens had beaten the Nashville Predators and again won hockey’s ultimate prize, Crosby took a short skate around with the Cup, gave it a smooch and began looking for Hainsey. After the Pens captain, it would be Hainsey who would be the first to hold up the Cup.
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"I think it was just special to be able to pass it to him, somebody who has probably been through so much, played a long time and can appreciate it as much as he can,” Crosby told the media after the Pens’ 2-0 victory in Game 6 in Nashville, Tenn.
On Feb. 23, the day Hainsey was traded to the Penguins by the Carolina Hurricanes, the defenseman had played 891 regular-season games – 300 for the Canes – but had never been on a playoff team. That total was 907 games by the end of the regular season, and among active NHL players, he was the leader in the dreaded category of most games played without a playoff appearance.
The deal with Pittsburgh solved a big need for the Pens and brought back a second-round selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and forward Danny Kristo for the Canes.
“It’s never easy when you get around this time of the season and you have to make the decision like that, but it’s a good opportunity for him and a chance to get in the playoffs and have success,” Canes general manager Ron Francis said that day.
In joining the Pens, Hainsey was reunited with the general manager, Jim Rutherford, who first signed him as a free agent with the Hurricanes in 2013. He often was paired in the playoffs with defenseman Brian Dumoulin, offering another touch of irony.
Dumoulin was a second-round draft pick by the Hurricanes in 2009. He was traded — by Rutherford — to the Penguins in the June 2012 blockbuster in which Carolina sent center Brandon Sutter, its first-round pick in the 2012 draft and Dumoulin to the Pens for center Jordan Staal.
In 2012, Dumoulin was a defensive prospect for the Canes. Five years later, he has twice won the Stanley Cup with the Pens.
And Hainsey, his long playoff wait over, has won his first. In his first try.
Hainsey, who turned 36 in March, called winning and lifting the Cup a “tremendous honor.” Said Crosby: “I’m sure he's pretty happy to lift it, and I was certainly happy to be able to pass it off to him.”