That, however, was not at all the reaction inside the team’s dressing room according to defenceman Morgan Rielly.
“When we added him to our team, the players didn’t treat it as a small signing because we all knew how good he was and how good he is,” Rielly told Good Show with Ben Ennis and JD Bunkis Thursday afternoon on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “When we would play Carolina in years past and played Pittsburgh, he was a guy we talked about prior to the game in being very strong defensively and being a key part to their defence and so when we got him we knew what we were getting.
“I know your average hockey fan might not look at it that way but we knew how good he was and I was looking forward to playing with him.”
Mike Babcock has made a habit of juggling his lines on a near-nightly basis this season but Rielly and Hainsey have remained a steady pair on the blue line for the majority of Toronto’s 17 games. The pair has averaged close to 21 minutes of ice-time per game and both have a positive CF%.
“I think we have a good relationship,” Rielly said. “We’ve gotten to know one another off the ice [and] gotten really comfortable playing together. It’s been working well but we’ve got a long way to go.”
There is certainly much to be desired about the Maple Leafs’ team defence but Rielly for his part has been consistently solid. One contributing factor is the fact Hainsey, despite being a left shot like Rielly, is playing on the right side which frees up Rielly to skate on the left side of the ice.
“It’s obviously very helpful to play on your natural side and I think when you look at Hainsey and the job he’s been able to do on his off-side it’s that much more impressive,” Rielly said before adding, “he’s a great guy to watch [game film] with. He’s got a good grasp of the game, he’s got a lot of experience in this league, he’s played a long time and obviously that Cup run last year has done wonders for his outlook on the game [after] playing with some of the best players in the world.
“When you talk to him about the game and you talk to him about how me and him as a pairing can improve and the things that we want to get better at, he’s got a very clear idea of what it takes to win and what we have to do in order to improve.”
The Maple Leafs have won two in a row and are set for a home-and-home series with the Boston Bruins on Friday and Saturday.
“We want to be a lot better than we have been,” Rielly added. “We want to continue to be a big part of this, be hard to play against for the opposing team’s top lines.”