Around this time next year Zac Rinaldo will be a restricted free agent. He is only making $750,000 a year, but still, many fans are still calling for his head. His tendency to take stupid penalties, his lack of production, and his awful possession numbers make Rinaldo a risky player to have on the ice, no matter what his cap hit may be.
The truth is, he will most likely be on the Flyers next season. The organization does not see him as strictly a “goon” like some fans do. He has positive aspects to his game, but they are almost always overshadowed by stupidity. That said, he could improve quite a bit next year.
Expecting him to magically start producing or having great possession numbers is a futile exercise. He will never be a goal scorer and his possession metrics have never been good.
So what does Rinaldo to earn a contract after next season? Rinaldo needs to play to his strengths.
1. Draw Penalties, Don’t Take Them
After the 2013 lockout shortened season, it looked like Rinaldo had turned a corner. He had drawn three more penalties than he had taken throughout the season and his ice time was up over eight minutes per game. It looked like he had earned a bit of a leash from coach Peter Laviolette.
This past year, Rinaldo took a step back in this regard. He took 14 more penalties than he drew and the only thing he could be counted on to do was make stupid decisions. If Rinaldo wants to stick in the NHL, he will have to get back to drawing penalties. He has good speed for a fourth-liner and he can use that to his advantage.
Both Ron Hextall and Craig Berube have taken steps to ensure that the 2014-2015 Flyers do not spend a lot of time in the penalty box. They traded Scott Hartnell and did not sign UFA Steve Downie. The onus is on young, penalty riddled forwards like Rinaldo to clean up their act or leave town. have just turned 24, there is still time for Rinaldo to improve. But the window is quickly closing.
2. Kill Penalties (For Real This Time)
Towards the beginning of last season, Ian Laperriere became one of the Flyers assistant coaches. He began to teach Zac Rinaldo how to be an effective penalty killer. The exercise looked promising at first, but unfortunately, things never really worked out.
Rinaldo ended up averaging :27 seconds of SH time per game, but all of that came during the first 3rd of the season. Not only was Rinaldo ineffective on the PK, but there was always the sense that he was about to take a penalty while on the penalty kill (he did on a couple of occasions, forcing the team to kill off a 5 on 3).
Early next season, I would not be surprised if the Flyers give Rinaldo another shot on the PK. He has the speed and tenacity necessary for penalty killing duties. But the leash will be short and the task will be difficult.
Ultimately, Zac Rinaldo needs to be smarter and more disciplined. He is a decent skater and an aggressive player. If he uses those attributes to help the Flyers, he can become a solid bottom-six agitator for the years to come. If not, he may not even receive a qualifying offer next year.