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Penguins

Penguins notebook: Defenseman Ron Hainsey returns with Maple Leafs

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, 11:27 a.m.
Toronto Maple Leafs' Ron Hainsey (2) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in San Jose , Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Toronto Maple Leafs' Ron Hainsey (2) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in San Jose , Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey skates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Nashville Predators in Game 6 to claim the Stanley Cup on Sunday, June 11, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey skates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Nashville Predators in Game 6 to claim the Stanley Cup on Sunday, June 11, 2017, at Bridgestone Arena.
Kevin Czuczman #24 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Barclays Center on September 23, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Getty Images
Kevin Czuczman #24 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Barclays Center on September 23, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

It's hard to imagine a trade-deadline transaction that worked out better for both player and club than the Penguins' deal to pick up defenseman Ron Hainsey last February.

It's no exaggeration to suggest the Penguins don't win a second consecutive Stanley Cup championship without him.

Without the 21 minutes Hainsey averaged per playoff game in the absence of injured defenseman Kris Letang, it's hard to imagine the team surviving a two-month, four-series grind to the sport's ultimate prize.

“If someone's going to step up and trade for you at the deadline, you want to do well obviously, but part of you wants to make it worth their while, whatever they're giving up to bring you in,” Hainsey said Saturday. “It is a short period of time. You could be out in 10 days. I think the first round, for us, took 10 days. Or you could be there a couple months. Having it work out like it did was certainly best-case scenario.”

For Hainsey, the three-month stint also changed the way his game was perceived.

When the Penguins traded for him, Hainsey was considered a quality two-way depth addition who could help out on a team's second or third defense pair.

Instead, in the playoffs, he emerged as a blue-line cornerstone on the top pair with Brian Dumoulin.

In July, he signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Maple Leafs. He has spent most of this season on a featured pairing with rising star Morgan Rielly.

Hainsey planned to pick up his Stanley Cup ring after Saturday night's game between the Penguins and Maple Leafs.

“Obviously a special group over there,” Hainsey said. “A special place.”

Could he imagine the clubs facing off again in the spring with the opportunity to compete for more jewelry?

“It's a long way to go,” Hainsey said. “We're all fans at some level. That would be a cool series to go to the final or whatever, but we have a long way to go before that. It's about putting ourselves in the best position we can. I'm sure they're going to do the same thing over there.”

Simon says

Tom Kuhnhackl sat out Saturday's game with an upper-body injury, giving Dominik Simon a chance to make his season debut.

Simon, 23, is an interesting prospect for the Penguins. At his core, Simon is an offensive player. He's a shifty, 5-foot-11 winger who was leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 16 points in 20 games at the time of his call-up.

“He's got great offensive instincts,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He's got a very deceptive shot. We can use him a lot on power play if we wanted to. I could move him up and down the lineup. He's had a real strong start to his season in Wilkes-Barre. He's playing extremely well.”

With two-plus seasons in the AHL under his belt, however, Simon probably won't be a liability defensively. He could slot into a bottom-six role in the NHL fairly comfortably. That's a plaudit top prospect Daniel Sprong has yet to earn.

“I think I've been working hard on defense and how to play responsible,” Simon said. “I think I'm ready for it.”

Blue-line shuffle

The Penguins swapped out seventh defensemen Saturday morning, calling up Kevin Czuczman from Wilkes-Barre and sending down Frankie Corrado.

A 26-year-old with 13 NHL games to his credit, Czuczman (pronounced Church-man) leads Baby Pens defensemen in scoring this season with 14 points in 22 games.

Sullivan said the timing of the swap was waiver-related. By making the move when they did, the team didn't have to expose Corrado to waivers to send him down.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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