We're going to get called "soft" and other terrible things for writing this by people who love the fact that Zac Rinaldo injured one of those hated Pittsburgh Penguins last night, and love the fact that he gloated about it afterward.
But this shit is embarrassing.
(please excuse the background noise in that Vine)
I think I am going to get suspended. Especially it being Letang, a star player, and me with some history, and him getting hurt doesn't help me and my situation either, so I'm just going to take it with a grain of salt.
I changed the whole game, man. Fuck, who knows what the game would've been if I didn't do what I did?
Look, Rinaldo very well may be right. Maybe his hit sent this game into chaos and that's what helped propel the Flyers to a win. Or maybe more directly losing Letang is what helped the Flyers win, since the Penguins went 0-for-6 on the power play, of which Letang is an important piece for them. But gloating -- and that's what he's doing, look at his face when he says he "changed the game" -- about an injured player in a post-game media scrum is a god-damned embarrassment.
It's not like Pittsburgh is absolved in any of this: they had three guys in their lineup who are all professionals at doing the exact same thing Zac Rinaldo is paid to do -- Zack Sill, Bobby Farnham and Steve Downie. Three of 'em! Farnham was called up specifically for the game yesterday. And the argument has been made in the past that having that sort of player in your lineup -- let alone three of them -- actually puts your own players in danger. The Penguins contributed to the mayhem in that game just as much as Rinaldo and the Flyers did.
But that doesn't make what Rinaldo did OK -- not even a little bit. It doesn't matter if the guy who got hurt is Wayne Gretzky or if he's Dan Kordic. It doesn't matter if they were playing the Penguins or a pee wee team. This was a bad hit, illegal to the letter of the law, no matter how Rinaldo or anybody else with giant orange glasses sees it. And to gloat about it afterwards is an embarrassment to the Flyers organization. It's not 1972 anymore.
Rinaldo doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. He has claimed throughout his career that he's more than just a shit-stirrer -- that beneath everything, there's a skilled hockey player just waiting for a chance to shine. We've written something every single year since he's joined the Flyers about his desire to become a better hockey player, giving him a fair look every time. And well...
- in 2011, we wrote: "The potential is there. If he can cut down on the minors he takes, if he can fight to stand up for teammates and change momentum, if he can lay big hits without charging, he can become a productive pest. Until then, he's just another guy."
- in early 2012, we wrote: "Rinaldo can say he wants to be a complete hockey player. ... But as long as he's in the running to be the most penalized player in the entire league -- regardless of what league that is -- it's really hard to buy what Zac Rinaldo is selling."
- in late 2012, we wrote: "To become a legitimate option as a grinder in the NHL on a consistent basis, there's just one thing he needs to do: cut down on his penalties."
- in 2013, we saw some positive trends with his game and his effectiveness on the ice, and we wrote: "That he's managed to take that step ahead is, no doubt, progress ... and who knows -- the guy's only 22, so maybe, just maybe, there's still some time for him to develop some other skill that will allow him to really make his name in the NHL as more than just an agitator."
- yet a year later in 2014, it was back to the same, and we wrote: "What we saw as the worst-case scenario [for Rinaldo's season] seems pretty close to what actually came to fruition ... Rinaldo's just 24 next year, he's got a great work ethic, and he's got the physical tools to be a productive fourth-liner if his head's in the right place. But after a step-back year in terms of discipline, they need to be really sure about his head being in the right place."
His head isn't in the right place, and it never will be. We've given Zac Rinaldo chance after chance to prove that he can stay on the right side of the line, and yet every time something like this happens with him, we're back to saying the same old things. Four years worth of the same things.
"Zac is an emotional player, and he wants to be physical," coach Craig Berube said after the game last night. "And I said before he is on the edge there and he's got to be on the edge, but it's a fine line."
Rinaldo has 905 minutes in penalty and suspension time in his NHL career. He has 1,592 minutes of time on ice. Suspend him just 12 more games and he'll have spent more time being disciplined by the NHL than playing in it.
He probably won't quite get 12 games for the hit on Letang last night, but he's getting an in-person hearing with the Department of Player Safety, so he's likely to get more than five and given his status as a repeat offender, could push towards a double-digit suspension.
After four years, we know what kind of player Zac Rinaldo is. He's not an effective skill player, and he can't keep himself under control enough to be an effective agitator. And he clearly doesn't give a shit when he injures an opposing player. He's an embarrassment to the Flyers and to the NHL, and that'll be the case as long as he's in the league. Hopefully it's not much longer.