Philadelphia Flyers Zac Rinaldo

Philadelphia Flyers Zac Rinaldo (Image: Josh Smith)

Zac Rinaldo should not be suspended.  He should be expelled.

The Flyers’ tough guy is facing his latest suspension, the fourth of his NHL career, for boarding Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.  He obviously hasn’t learned anything from the previous three.

Sure, players have been suspended more often and for far more terrible offenses.  Some, like Minnesota’s Matt Cooke, have changed the way they play the game as a result.  How, though, can Rinaldo be asked to change the way he plays when he doesn’t even seem to understand that he did anything wrong?

Rinaldo’s Response

“I changed the whole game, man,” Rinaldo said after the game of his hit on Letang. “Who knows what would’ve happened if I didn’t do what I did?”

What would have happened?  Undoubtedly, a player with a concussion history wouldn’t once again be going through the protocol, unsure of if or when he’d play next.   Likely, Rinaldo would’ve racked up a few more penalty minutes. He probably wouldn’t have managed a shot on goal, though. Rinaldo’s the only Flyers forward averaging less than one shot per game.

The Flyers, leading 1-0 at the time, later trailed before coming back to win that game 3-2 in overtime.  Rinaldo’s hit and subsequent ejection deserves no more share in the credit for the win than Flyers’ public address announcer Lou Nolan for a exuberant goal announcement or Philadelphia anthem chanteuse Lauren Hart for a well-sung anthem.

Rinaldo wasn’t done commenting.

“More than likely I’m going to be suspended,” he said. “Just the way the league is going right now. Especially with it being Letang, a star player, it being me with some history, and him getting hurt doesn’t help me in my situation, either. I’m just going to take it with a grain of salt.”

If only Rinaldo could figure out why exactly Letang was injured on the play, maybe he’d be able to take some responsibility. It seems, though, that’s not going to happen.

“I hit him in the back of the shoulder,” added Rinaldo. “The power of my hit made his head hit the glass. I didn’t hit him from behind.”

Perhaps Rinaldo’s not aware of the rules.  You don’t have to hit a player from behind to earn a boarding penalty. Let’s clarify:

43.1 Checking from Behind – A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body

41.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously.

Referees Kevin Pollock and Kelly Sutherland nailed Rinaldo with a major for boarding, which carries a mandatory game misconduct.  Now the Department of Player Safety will add to that.

Repeat Offender

This isn’t the first time Rinaldo has been unapologetic for his blatantly dangerous actions. Back in 2012, after being fined for a late hit and a slew-foot in the same game, Rinaldo commented on his motives for his play.

“The slew-foot really shouldn’t be in the game, but we were down [6-0] and someone had to stir the pot,” he told ESPN.  “[Getting fined] comes with my style of play. As long as it’s not a suspension, I’m fine with it.”

So, in Rinaldo’s mind, a dangerous, unjustifiable play is acceptable to ‘stir the pot’, which is the reason he’s out on the ice.

It’s not like he’s doing much else out there.  In 201 career games, Rinaldo’s compiled seven goals and thirteen assists, along with a minus-28.  He’s also spent 545 minutes in the penalty box.    For a guy who spends an average of 2:42 in the box and only 7:44 on the ice, each night, it sure seems like the only thing he knows how to do out there is to find his way back to the penalty box.

He also clearly knows how to earn his suspensions. Rinaldo was suspended five time in the OHL.  He went on to rack up four suspensions in one season in the AHL.

Curb Your Enforcers

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart asked an interesting question about deterring chronic offenders by going beyond just penalizing the player:

What if the coaches themselves started to face suspensions after, say, three incidents involving players on their team in a single season?  Having the coaches take direct responsibility might be the best way to resolve chronic problems.

Even further, why not penalize the team? Force the club to dress one fewer player for the duration of the suspension. If the Flyers knew they’d possibly spend the next ten games with only 11 forwards, would that make them think twice about reinserting Rinaldo into the lineup?  (And, yes, I’m sure the NHLPA would never go for that one, losing a player slot and all…)

“I changed the whole game,” Rinaldo said.  It’s just too bad Zac Rinaldo can’t change the way he plays the game.  Since he obviously can’t, there’s no room for him to be a part of it.