The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey to a two-year contract worth $3 million AAV, Pierre Lebrun is reporting.

The 36-year-old played a key role for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Cup run this past Spring, playing over 21 minutes a game on the right side next to Brian Dumoulin with heavy defensive zone starts against tough competition in key situations.

Over the past two regular seasons mostly spent in Carolina, Hainsey has averaged over 22 minutes a game, produced in the 15-20 point range, and posted a 50.8% CF (regular season only).

The Connecticut native has lost some mobility as he’s aged but remains a steady defensive defenceman who can move the puck, and he brings some size at 6’3, 210 pounds. He’s not the top-four right-handed solution of the future, but he can serve as a veteran stopgap and is capable of playing on the right as a left shot. As the Leafs‘ defensive depth chart stands today, it’s not hard to picture Hainsey playing some tough minutes for the team in the top four, possibly on the right next to Morgan Rielly. That’s by no means an ideal scenario, as Hainsey is better slotted as a bottom-pair guy at this stage, but the Leafs were in a position where they had Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Carrick and not much else lined up down the right.

Hainsey’s time in Pittsburgh will have familiarized him with the Leafs fairly similar style of play (fast-paced, lots of stretch hockey), and he also played under Babcock disciple Bill Peters while in Carolina.

Hainsey will also take on a substantial penalty killing role for the team with defenceman Matt Hunwick signing elsewhere today; he’s averaged 2:53 a game in shorthanded situations since 2015, which is top-20 in the league among defencemen in that time.

Hunwick signed in Pittsburgh — where he’s replacing Hainsey — on a three-year term worth $2.25 million shortly after Noon. While two years of term on a 36-year-old whose skating has slowed down raises some concern, the Hainsey option is preferable to the Leafs in the sense that it avoids tying money up in an older, declining defenceman for the 2019-20 season, when Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s raises will kick in and Jake Gardiner will be due up for a new contract. Keeping the term at two years no doubt came at the price of some extra dollars on the AAV.

Ron Hainsey Conference Call

What is it you liked about Toronto to sign here?

Hainsey: The system is a great fit for me. When Bill Peters got to Carolina and put the system in which is basically what Mike does, it really suited my game. It’s a system I’m really confident playing. That, coupled with everything that is going on there with all the young forwards who can create so much offense, and from Shanny on down, you’d be nuts if you didn’t want to be part of this group. You’d be nuts. I really believe that.

When did it start to become clear that Toronto was appearing to be the front runner in your mind? 

Hainsey: The week starts out and it seems like everybody is calling everybody, on Monday or Sunday, or whatever the first day. By Wednesday, I had it down to four teams. Honestly, after I had my conversations with Lou on the phone and with Mike, in my mind, talking to them and hearing their vision about everything, that pretty much sealed the deal in my mind that this was the place I wanted to be.

Can you elaborate on the conversation you had with Mike Babcock and the role he’d like you to fill on this team?

Hainsey: I’d prefer not to. I really think our conversation is [private]. If Mike wants to share that information, that’s up to him. I mean, it was all talk about the team and system and how we’re going to play; where we envision the team going. I have to say that our comments and thoughts were really very much aligned. As I said previously, after talking to him and Lou, I was confident that this was where I wanted to be.

Do you expect to take on a leadership role here, and is that something that you would relish?

Hainsey: Sometimes it’s overblown. In Carolina, we had a really, really young defence the past two-three years. I was kind of the older guy there. To some extent, players are going to need to learn some things and players are going to see some people who have done it for a long time, how they’ve done it day in and day out, to have a long career as a pro. There are a lot of things on the ice and off the ice that go into it. Really, I’ll be myself and hopefully set an example for these guys. These guys, as I said, are on their way. They got their first taste of it this year in the first round of the playoffs with a hell of a series against Washington. We’re all going to be on board here to push further than that coming up here next year.

How much did you see of some of the Leafs‘ stars throughout the season and the youth movement that maybe got you excited for coming to this kind of market?

Hainsey: We got to see a lot of them on the highlights, certainly. I watch hockey during the season when I’m not playing. I thought the Caps-Leafs first-round series was intriguing just because, once it was clear that Toronto was going to give them all they could handle, it really was a series. You didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. Having to play agaisnt these forwards, I’m pretty familiar with the problems they can give you with their speed, their creativity. It’s an exciting group to be a part of, there’s no question.