The Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday traded veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a signal the team has become a seller leading up to the NHL trade deadline.
In exchange for Hainsey, 35, the Canes received a second-round selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and forward Danny Kristo. That was a good return on a player due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, but Hainsey’s departure left his teammates antsy, wondering what might happen next.
“We’ve been in this situation a few too many times,” defenseman Justin Faulk said Thursday. “It’s tough losing guys. When you end up losing guys it obviously tells you where you are in the standings and what’s going on.”
The Canes (24-24-8) were last in the NHL Eastern Conference standings after Wednesday’s game, 10 points out of playoff position. Barring a long winning streak, which seems unlikely, Carolina will miss the playoffs for an eighth straight season.
Hainsey, in his 14th season, has played 891 regular-season games – 300 for the Hurricanes – but has never been on a playoff team. Among active NHL players, he was the leader in the dreaded category of most games played without a playoff appearance, but that will end as he joins the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“Ronnie has been a good guy for us for a long time and a good leader for our young defensemen,” general manager Ron Francis said Thursday. “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.”
If losing Hainsey was a downer for those in the Canes’ locker room, there was some uplifting news Thursday. Forward Bryan Bickell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, was placed on waivers Thursday with the purpose of assigning him to the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate.
Bickell, who should clear waivers, has not played since Oct. 30 but has been practicing with the Canes after successfully undergoing treatments. The Checkers have home games Friday and Saturday.
“It should be emotional,” Bickell said Thursday. “There were a lot of friends and family who wanted to come down. There’s been a lot of support for me through the league. It’s going to be touching.
“It’s something me and my family have battled through. To get in a game will be special.”
There could be some roster spots opening for the Canes. Forwards Jay McClement and Viktor Stalberg, like Hainsey, are due to become UFAs after the season and could draw some interest from teams before the March 1 trade deadline.
The Canes, who host the Ottawa Senators on Friday, lost to the Penguins 3-1 Tuesday at PNC Arena, extending their winless streak to five games and making Francis’ decision easier.
“Five weeks ago if we win a game we’re in a wild-card spot in the playoffs,” Francis said. “It’s been kind of a disheartening and frustrating stretch for us.”
The Canes, almost as if planning for the trade, had Jaccob Slavin paired with Faulk instead of the Hainsey-Faulk pairing that often has been used by Canes coach Bill Peters. Hainsey averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time and was among the Canes’ best penalty killers.
With Hainsey gone, Noah Hanifin, the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2015, will move into a top-four defensive role and be paired with Brett Pesce. Hanifin, 20, has mostly been used in the third pairing with alternating partners, and with limited success.
“Ron was an awesome guy to have around, and we’re going to miss him,” Hanifin said. “It’s definitely a big challenge for me going up and playing against more skilled guys. These last (26) games I’m just looking to go out and improve and prove I can play in the top four.”
Kristo, 26, has played 40 games for the Chicago Wolves and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season and has six goals and seven assists.
The second-round pick obtained from the Pens will give the Canes a total of 10 for the 2017 draft, three in the second round.
A year ago, the Canes traded former captain Eric Staal, then Kris Versteeg and John-Michael Liles after Francis decided it was time to look to the future, make trades and try to stockpile assets.
“That was a tough one and this won’t be as emotionally trying for myself,” Canes center Jordan Staal, one of Eric’s younger brothers, said Thursday. “Still, it’s sad to see any teammate go.”
Canes vs. Ottawa Senators
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: PNC Arena