The Philadelphia Flyers are pushed around by no one. If that means the Flyers penalty minutes are tops in the National Hockey
League so be it. The orange and black have built their culture around tough and competitive hockey teams, but if they want to contend for the Stanley Cup, they have to become a more disciplined unit.
During the last five seasons, the Flyers have been one of the most penalized teams in the NHL. Since the 2009-10 season, they have placed 2nd, 7th, 1st, 2nd and 1st in total penalty minutes and penalty minutes per game. During that same time span, eight different Flyers have cracked the 100 penalty-minute plateau.
With players like Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds, their power-forward style of play often walks hand-in-hand with a rather high total in penalty minutes. This is tolerated because players like Hartnell and Simmonds can be depended on to produce 20 goals and 40 to 50 points a season. When players rack up penalty minutes but do not produce that is where a problem lies.
Let’s go back to the eight different Flyers who have totaled more than 100 PIM since the 2009-10 campaign.
As the chart illustrates, the Flyers have always employed an enforcer who is guaranteed 150 penalty minutes per season. Zac Rinaldo is the latest Flyer to step into this role.
Rinaldo has made great strides in his development since his rookie season. He has learned how to control his emotions and learned how to pick his spots when someone challenges him to fight. The lockout-shortened season was an incredible turnaround for him. He drew more penalties than he took and played with controlled emotion. His game had taken a 180 and he became a valuable energy player on the fourth line instead of a detriment. He built relationships with the referees and started to show signs of becoming the league’s best at getting under the other team’s skin.
But Rinaldo seems to let his emotions get the better of him at times. When he takes a few steps forward, he will take another step back and despite his improvement, he still takes more penalties than he draws. During Game 7 against the New York Rangers, he took a stupid interference penalty against Brad Richards. The Rangers did not score on the power play, but Rinaldo took that penalty during the first ten minutes of the first period. The last thing a player should do is give the opposing team a chance to score and give the opposing fans a chance to get excited.
Zac Rinaldo Penalties Taken vs. Penalties Drawn
What separates Hartnell and Simmonds from Rinaldo, other than point production, is their penalties taken-penalties drawn numbers. During the 2013-14 season, Hartnell drew more penalties than he took and Simmonds drew as many penalties as he took. Hartnell placed second on the team in penalties drawn. Rinaldo placed first, but Hartnell averaged 1.3 penalties per game as opposed to Rinaldo who averaged 3 penalties per game.
It must be noted that some calls on Rinaldo are borderline and sometimes ridiculous, but Rinaldo needs to acknowledge the referees will always watch him closer than most players. He must adapt and cut down on his penalty minutes, otherwise the Flyers should consider parting ways via trade or not re-signing him after the the 2014-15 season.
Taking so many penalties every season should have drowned the Flyers in the standings but thanks to a superb penalty killing unit, the orange and black manage to compete for the playoffs every year. Penalties, though, can disrupt the flow of a game. Two minutes down is two fewer minutes of even-strength time and two fewer minutes to put the puck in the net. With the exception of the 2011 Boston Bruins, the Stanley Cup champions of the last four years have been in the middle of the pack or are near the top of the NHL in least amount of penalties taken.
Playing a rough and in-your-face style of hockey can win games in the NHL, but there is a thin line between playing reckless hockey and playing aggressive, disciplined hockey.