Hainsey, Rielly getting to know each other:
NIAGARA FALLS — They don’t have the makings of a great buddy film, just yet.
But the casting looks right — sardonic 36-year-old Ron Hainsey, a veteran defenceman with the dental damage to prove it, and Morgan Rielly, 13 years his junior, eager to learn from a Stanley Cup winner. Their pairing was one of the first ideas Mike Babcock thought of in the summer when Hainsey signed and the coach’s thoughts turned to further cutting down the Maple Leafs’ league-worst shots against.
“In my travels, I’ve played with a few guys over the years,” Hainsey said Saturday, his second day with Rielly at training camp. “In Carolina, we only had 21-year-olds, so we had no choice. I played with Zach Bogosian in Atlanta and in Winnipeg. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had a situation where its was: ‘Geez, this doesn’t really work.’ I don’t anticipate this being a problem.
“This is his (Reilly’s) fifth year. He’s a great skater, has great smarts. You’re probably just scratching the surface of his offensive ability. It’s so early in his career, you hope he’ll be here for 15 years.”
The two have had good discussions already.
“We’ve had time to get to know one another, play with one another, talk about how we want to do things,” Rielly said. “That’s the most important part about this time of year.
“He was on an amazing run last year (with Pittsburgh), he’s got a Cup under his belt and whatever he can do to help me is welcomed.
“Just yesterday, we were talking about the Cup, not so much the grind of winning it, but what it was like, how it happened, what was going on during that time. It’s cool to talk to him about that kind of stuff. You sit down and have a 20-minute conversation just about common interests and then you get to learn about what it takes to win.”
Both men shoot left, but Babcock’s plan is to move Rielly to the right side, where he should be more comfortable. Rielly’s busiest year as a pro — last season — was spent in large part with Nikita Zaitsev as his partner. But Rielly’s ankle sprain added to gradual incompatibility with the rookie Russian.
“We thought Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner played really well together (but) didn’t think Zaitsev and Rielly were a match made in heaven for whatever reason,” the coach said. “We’re just going to see where it goes. Right now, it gives us two really good pairs and obviously the play of (Swedish rookies Andreas) Borgman, (Calle) Rosen and has helped, too. We have much more depth, (Travis) Dermott looks really good, too. A few years a go, we had no depth.
“With Hainsey, Rielly is going to be on his forehand side and that is going to help him a lot. Hainsey has been around a long time. He’s smart and is probably going to free up some room for him that way.”
Rielly received a call from Babcock about the Hainsey plan in early July.
“It’s not night and day when you’re changing partners,” Rielly said. “It’s just getting used to his voice when he’s calling for the puck, his timing, my timing and where he likes to receive passes because he’s playing his offside. It’s my job to get used to the way he plays moreso than the other way around.”
One of the reasons Hainsey thought it would be a good fit for him in Toronto were burgeoning blue-liners such as Rielly, but also Babcock’s vision to improve the overall defence with the same tenets as Bill Peters, who was Hainsey’s coach in Carolina for a few years.
“Basically, using your skating, your stick play to not let the other team get in your zone,” Hainsey said, “and to control the puck and create offence. Things happen out there and no one gives up zero shots 5-on-5, but the idea is over the long haul, using your ability, the entire team and all five guys on the ice. That’s the name of the game.”
Morgan Reilly chases the puck during Saturday’s training camp workout in Niagara Falls. Right, Ron Hainsey (2) sticks to William Nylander in a scrimmage on Friday afternoon.