When the Carolina Hurricanes resume their attempt to climb into the playoff picture Wednesday night at the Calgary Flames after an eight-day break for the All-Star Game, there will be more on the line than merely a return to the postseason.
With every game defenseman Ron Hainsey plays, he makes a little more NHL history. And not the good kind.
When Hainsey played in his 800th NHL game last month, he set a new NHL record for most regular-season games played before making a playoff appearance, breaking the mark of 799 previously set by Olli Jokinen, who made the playoffs with Calgary in 2009.
Hainsey’s new record is now at 805. And counting.
“That number, it’s just not something I really spend much time with,” Hainsey said. “I will say, I’d much rather have won three Cups by now and played 120 playoff games, but that just hasn’t been the way it’s gone, you know? We’ve got enough to worry about day after day in every season.”
In 2004, Ron Hainsey played in 11 regular-season games for the Montreal Canadiens but didn’t appear in a playoff game for the Canadiens as Montreal beat the Boston Bruins in seven games before getting swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Hainsey is going to own that record for a while whether the Hurricanes make the playoffs this season or not. But if they can get into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, Hainsey would avoid breaking Guy Charron’s more ominous record of 734 regular-season games without ever making a playoff appearance, set from 1970-81.
Hainsey came close once, years ago. In 2004, he played in 11 regular-season games for the Montreal Canadiens but didn’t appear in a playoff game for the Canadiens as Montreal beat the Boston Bruins in seven games before getting swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After that, he played for a succession of some of the NHL’s sadder-sack franchises – the Columbus Blue Jackets and Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets – before joining the Hurricanes in 2013. The ThrashJets and Blue Jackets have combined for two playoff wins ever – wins, not series wins – while the Hurricanes are trying to put a tourniquet on a six-year drought.
Those circumstances have conspired against Hainsey, a first-round draft pick of the Canadiens in 2000 out of UMass-Lowell who has carved out a lengthy and lucrative career entirely within the confines of the 82-game regular season, but never beyond.
“I certainly recognize how fortunate I am to have done this for that many games,” Hainsey said. “I’m not sure what it means. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.”
At this point in his career – he’ll be 35 in March – the clock is ticking for Hainsey. He’s under contract with the Hurricanes through the end of next season, and even if the Hurricanes don’t make the playoffs this season or next, he could end up traded to a no-doubt-about-it contender at some point.
But Hainsey also knows as well as anyone not to take anything in hockey for granted. This season might be one of his last, best chances to get into the playoffs, the way the Hurricanes are playing right now – 7-2-1 over the past 10 games, 15-7-4 since early December, one point out of a playoff spot going into Tuesday’s games, albeit having played more games than the other contenders.
“We’re playing with anybody, and playing well,” Hainsey said. “We’re upset if we have a period where we’re outshot by three or four, which has not been the case – that’s a different feeling than maybe we’ve had here in the last couple years. That’s the most exciting part. The standard is moving up for us.”
Jokinen broke through at age 30, after 12 seasons in the NHL. Jay Bouwmeester made it after 762 games in 2013, with the St. Louis Blues. He was 29. Both players finally made the playoffs after trade-deadline moves to contenders. That may be what it takes for Hainsey, although he believes he can make it with the Hurricanes, here and now.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock