As the pucks splash the ice and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Saturday morning skate gets underway, Matt Hunwick glides over to the boards to shake hands with Mike Babcock, his former coach and a man who tried to keep the defenceman in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform this season. "We were always impressed by him. We tried to sign Hunny again," says Babcock. "He got a better deal here in Pittsburgh. That’s what you gotta do as a player. I was real excited for him when he got a three-year deal here." Toronto essentially swapped out the 32-year-old Hunwick on July 1 for another veteran, stay-at-home, left-shot, penalty-killing defender in Ron Hainsey, who left the Penguins with an expired rental agreement soaked in champagne. Hunwick says he had multiple suitors as a free agent, beyond Toronto and the two-time defending champions. He ultimately signed with Pittsburgh for three years and $6.75 million. "We talked to quite a few teams," says Hunwick, now on his fifth NHL team and fourth in five seasons. "There’s a lot of factors that go into it. I wanted to go to a good organization, a team that had a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup, and I thought this was one that had that opportunity." The Leafs inked Hainsey, 36, for a relative bargain: two years and $6 million. You have to believe term was a significant factor when Toronto did not retain Hunwick, who served as an alternate captain. "A real intelligent player, good person. I think Hunny was so important for us kinda like Hainsey is. His first two years when we were going through lots of players and figuring things out, he was a real role model for people," Babcock says. A fixture in Toronto’s top pair and essential to its penalty kill, Hainsey is playing his off-side and has made good on the plan to unlock the offensive threat within 23-year-old partner Morgan Rielly, who has 19 points already and is on pace to eclipse his career-high of 36.
Maple Leafs tried keeping Hunwick, but Hainsey is ‘newfound gold’
Sportsnet | Dec 9