Ron Hainsey played his very first NHL game on Oct. 11, 2002.
Five teams, 14 seasons, and 907 games later, he’s about to embark on another first: the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hainsey’s long wait for the post-season isn’t just rare, it’s historic. No other NHL player has ever played more regular season games without taking part in the post-season.
Now 36, the veteran defenceman will make his playoff debut on Wednesday when the Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1.
Hainsey was traded to Pittsburgh on Feb. 23, an affordable rental for the defending Stanley Cup champs’ often-injured blue line.
“It’s certainly something to be excited about with this group,” Hainsey told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday. “I’ve been in the league for over 16 years. My second year in the American Hockey League, I made the Calder Cup finals and played until June.
“Even that was in my second year, you kind of think that’s going to happen all the time. Not having a great opportunity like this for so long, it’s something to be pretty excited about.”
The 13th overall pick in 2000 started his career with Montreal in 2002 and has skated with six different clubs: the Canadiens, Blue Jackets, Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets, Carolina Hurricanes and now the Penguins.
“He’s a veteran player who has played a lot of games in the league,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s been through a lot. I think he can share those experiences with our group.”
While Hainsey holds the longest streak, several other NHL players had to wait a while before getting a taste of the playoffs.
Olli Jokinen’s 1,231 career regular season games were split into two separate streaks (799, 432) with just six playoff games with the Flames separating them.
Jokinen’s former teammate, Jay Bouwmeester, just missed that short 2009 playoff run as he joined Calgary the following season. Before making the playoffs with the St. Louis Blues in 2013, the decorated defenceman had played 764 regular season games split between the Florida Panthers and Flames without setting foot in the post-season.
Other notable players in a similar position include Columbus’ Sam Gagner, who played 615 contests before hitting the playoffs with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2016, and Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, whose 507-game streak will be snapped on Wednesday when he finally makes his post-season debut with the Oilers against the San Jose Sharks.