Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hainsey not near as soft off ice

Union man displays courage of convictions

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Go ahead and boo Ron Hainsey.

But do it because he's a soft, overpaid defenceman and not because of his union politics.

The Winnipeg Jet is drawing the vitriol of some fans for having inserted himself into the heart of the CBA battle between his union brethren and NHL ownership.

Emails and tweets directed my way in recent days have vilified Hainsey and some fans in Winnipeg are preparing to give him an earful, if and when, the Jets get back on the ice.

Hainsey has been outspoken, committed and courageous on behalf of his NHL peers. I don't agree with a lot of what he's said or the way he says it. But I commend him for taking a stance on behalf of his co-workers.

Put in the same spot, I'd hope there would be a Ron Hainsey among my fellow journalists to step forward and take on ownership.

If every employee who felt they were being treated unjustly laid down, there would be no progress in working conditions. History has shown, including hockey's, the world needs its Ron Hainseys. Ted Lindsay and his union activism invokes praise from players of his time to today. The union named its highest honour, MVP, selected by the players, after Lindsay. His contribution is not forgotten.

Hainsey believes he is continuing that important but difficult work. Owners didn't like Lindsay in his day and one can be sure Hainsey has made a few enemies on the league side. So be it.

NHL players believe ownership is trying to take advantage of them. Agree or disagree, that's what they believe.

While some have packed their bags for a few dollars in Europe, Hainsey has had the courage of his convictions and the commitment to do the heavy lifting.

Let's not get carried away and consider him a modern day Norma Rae battling for minimum wage -- Hainsey is already a millionaire fighting for more millions -- but give him his due.

The NHL picked this fight with its players. Hainsey has fought it. He can be smug and condescending, but those aren't new character traits where he's concerned.

Truth be told, if Hainsey showed this kind of battle in his everyday game as an NHLer, he'd be a lot more useful.

There are reasons why Hainsey the hockey player is in disfavour with Jets fans. Last season he was paid $5 million while contributing no goals and 10 assists in 56 games. Not good value.

Hainsey plays a small game with virtually no edge. OK at a bunch of things but excellent at none. He's a depth player being paid top-end money.

One theory being passed around the last little while is that Hainsey, because of his role in negotiations, won't be signed by any of the NHL's 30 teams when his current contract runs out. I don't believe this.

Hainsey will never again be handed a contract similar to the five-year, $22.5 million pact he's been working off. But he still has value as a fifth or sixth defenceman on a low-end team's blue-line. Hainsey is still an NHL player, albeit on the fringe. He'll find work for a few more years at a much reduced rate.

Hainsey will also face some difficult times with his peers. Word is he's been disrespectful in the players' room when others have disagreed with the position of union leader Don Fehr.

Hainsey has been the caucus whip and at times can lord his knowledge over others. Don't be surprised if an opponent or two takes a run at him once the NHL gets back in action.

There are going to be wounds when all this is said and done. Players, owners and fans will all have some making up to do.

Winnipeg's passionate fans, just a year ago the most jubilant mob in hockey, have a right to be surly.

The NHL as a whole has treated its fans poorly and retribution, whether it be economic or emotional, is their right.

But Hainsey isn't alone in this or deserve any special mistreatment. Not for standing up for what he believes in.

Nope. Boo Ron Hainsey for poor play if it continues. Not for showing what this country has been built upon. Courage. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2012 C1


Updated on Monday, December 10, 2012 at 7:07 AM CST: Fixes typo, adds art.

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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