On Monday, the NHL Department of Player Safety announced that Philadelphia Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo has been suspended for the remaining four games of the regular season. Rinaldo will not be eligible to return to action until the opening game of the playoffs.
The suspension was due to Rinaldo’s hit on Chad Ruhwedel during Sunday’s home game against the Buffalo Sabres. Rinaldo received a match penalty for his actions.
The Flyers released a tweet with a statement from general manager Paul Holmgren:
"While we view the four-game suspension to Zac [Rinaldo] harsh, we respect the league's decision." -#Flyers GM Paul Holmgren— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 7, 2014
Holmgren was clearly defending his player and trying to earn leniency for his team the next time a player comes before the department of player safety.
Some experts, such as Bleacher Report's Dave Lozo, thought Rinaldo deserved an even lengthier suspension:
Zac Rinaldo got four games. What a shock that that's how many games the Flyers have left this season. I'm sure he'll reform in no time!— Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) April 7, 2014
Rinaldo clearly deserved to sit out a few games for this play, as explained in the league’s official video announcing the suspension.
Without Rinaldo, the Flyers will be lacking some grit and toughness in their lineup. The 23-year-old native of Mississauga, Ontario, leads the Flyers this season with 153 penalty minutes (no other player has more than 106) and leads their forwards in hits with 231—41 more than second-placed Brayden Schenn.
Rinaldo is the personification of an energy-line player. He may not log a lot of minutes or put up a lot of points, but he makes the Flyers a much tougher team to play against.
His style also prevents opposing players from taking liberties with his teammates.
Coach Craig Berube explained Rinaldo’s value to Damien Romaine of CSNPhilly.com. “He takes the body, hits, he disrupts people. He’s a physical player with the skating,” he said.
But he also goes too far at times and takes foolish and unnecessary penalties. Rinaldo himself admitted to Rob Parent of the Delaware County Daily Times that the hit on Ruhwedel was not wise.
“I shouldn’t have done it. There was no need for it. We were up 4-0. There was no need for that hit but it is what it is,” he said.
In the meantime, the Flyers are fortunate that Steve Downie, another player who plays a checking role, will be able to return to the lineup.
Look for Downie to replace the suspended Rinaldo tomorrow vs. Fla. #Flyers— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) April 8, 2014
Downie will now have four games to play himself back into game shape and make his case for rejoining the lineup once the playoffs get underway next week. He has not appeared in a game since March 22.
Then, Craig Berube will have a choice as to whether or not to put Rinaldo back into the lineup. Obviously, once the playoffs start, Rinaldo cannot hurt the team by taking foolish penalties that create power-play opportunities for the opposition. He needs to walk that fine line between intense physicality and recklessness.
Rinaldo suspended but will be back for WHEN the Flyers are in playoffs. His intensity is great and they need it back #FlyersTalk— Ryan Armstrong (@RyanCArmstrong) April 8, 2014
The Flyers are a better team with Rinaldo in the lineup, but only if he's under control and plays smart hockey. Whether or not he can do that may help determine how far the Flyers get in the playoffs this year.