Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Respect due for Hainsey

Writers pick blue-liner for prestigious Masterton nod

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What Ron Hainsey did, he did for his fellow players and for the game of hockey.

There wasn't much in terms of personal gain for the Winnipeg Jets defenceman and, in fact, the downside has been both real and damaging.

Hainsey's work for the NHLPA, stepping forward into a role of leadership during the recent lockout, took courage, commitment and dedication. It was a mostly thankless job but one Hainsey took on anyway and executed in an effective manner. Hainsey was an architect of the agreement reached that will provide a 10-year solution and got the game back on the ice.

For this work and the solid brand of hockey he's played since getting back to his real job, the Winnipeg chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association has nominated Hainsey for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

Hainsey's body of work as a player and member of the union throughout his eight-plus seasons in the NHL make him a strong candidate for this award.

The honour is named after the Winnipeg-born Masterton and is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

The trophy is often given to a player returning from a catastrophic injury but has also been used to honour players such as Hainsey for having shown great dedication to the game.

Based on the premise that Hainsey's work with the union required a rare level of commitment to hockey, the seven writers who make up the Winnipeg chapter of the PHWA -- Tim Campbell, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe, Paul Friesen, Ed Tait, Ted Wyman and myself -- unanimously chose Hainsey as our Masterton candidate. Hainsey and his work will be judged against the selections of the 29 other league chapters.

In many corners, Hainsey was reviled for his role in the lockout and CBA negotiations that pre-empted the start of this NHL season.

Some fans and management types still spit his name out. He became a lightning rod and a symbolic figure for the union, who many viewed as millionaires drunk on greed and bent on destroying the game.

Toward the end of the lockout, some wondered if Hainsey had affected his future marketability as a player. As recently as the trade deadline, there was discussion about whether the Boston Bruins and their hawk owner Jeremy Jacobs would avoid trading for Hainsey due to his position with the union.

The Jets, however, showed their respect for Hainsey's value as a player by not trading him despite his impending unrestricted free agency status. Surely, the Jets could have exchanged Hainsey for draft picks but they elected to keep him for what he brings to the team right now while risking losing him for nothing come July 1.

He's played top-four blue-liner minutes throughout the season and been a big part of the Jets and their push for a playoff berth.

Hainsey gained the respect and admiration of both his fellow players and his adversaries on the ownership and league side.

"Ron committed himself regularly and selflessly through what was obviously a very difficult and prolonged collective bargaining process," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. "He deserves tremendous credit, in my view, for his willingness to assume a leadership role in working to achieve a solution that ultimately ensured the return of the game to the ice.

"While we didn't always see eye to eye on specific issues, I greatly respected Ron's perspective and his passion throughout the negotiation."

Hainsey is not without his flaws. He can be combative and his personality and intellect sometimes lead to condescension. But there's been less evidence of that this season and it appears working with so many players and media during the lockout allowed Hainsey to be more patient.

There is no questioning Hainsey's commitment to his fellow players. He's gone well beyond words and made real and tangible sacrifices to forward their cause.

Hainsey represents some of the best things we can ask for in our professional athletes. Courage and passion.

Hainsey stood up to ownership and against popular opinion to do what he believed was right. That should always be commended.

One might not agree with some of the things Hainsey stands for but it can't be argued that he's disinterested in the future and health of the game.

Ron Hainsey is for hockey and the game is better for it.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2013 D2

History

Updated on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 6:39 AM CDT: adds photo

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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