5 things: How bad is Zac Rinaldo?

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:56 am by Ryan Lambert

So just how bad is Zac Rinaldo really?

1. Someone gave up a half-decent asset for this guy

Earlier this summer, the Bruins not only acquired Zac Rinaldo from the Philadelphia Flyers, but gave up a third-round pick to do it. The logic behind this is… well, I was going to say it’s baffling, but it is in fact non-existent.

Rinaldo is signed for two more years at the low, low price of $850,000 against the cap, which isn’t a bad number except to say that the Bruins are better off lighting $1.7 million on fire than giving it to Rinaldo. This is because Rinaldo is one of the absolute worst players in the NHL, and some might even go so far as to say he’s the worst.

In 223 career games across four NHL seasons, Rinaldo has 24 points, and plays just 8:03 per night. He has also racked up 572 penalty minutes in those games. Of those PIMs, 160 have come from fights alone (32), not counting all the misconducts he’s racked up over the years. And he might have more points — and would definitely have more time in the box — had he not been serving three separate suspensions totaling 14 games. Do you know how hard you have to try in the slap-on-the-wrist, we’d-rather-fine-you culture of the NHL to have your suspensions average 4.67 games?

And boy, he’s deserved every one of them, and probably more.

2. Turning over a new leaf?

But with this trade to the Bruins (which still has hockey people typing “H” and then “A” over and over again for a tweet that has long since exceeded its character limit), it seems Rinaldo is determined to not be such an execrable and dangerous player. He’s not going to try to murder anyone this year, honest, mister.

And boy are the Boston media eating it up like Thanksgiving came several months early:

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Now, you would think that comparing a player in any way to Thornton, Campbell, and Paille — all of whom the Bruins have allowed to walk in free agency the last two summers — would be intended as an insult. These are players so bad even the fetishists that run the Bruins on Toughness and Accountability were like, “Maybe be tough and accountable somewhere we don’t have to pay you.” (This attitude, incidentally, may be what got Peter Chiarelli fired, haha.)

Everyone loves a redemption story, which is why so many people unironically praised Matt Cooke when he stopped trying to put someone in the hospital every shift. And if Rinaldo gets out of the month of October without getting a call from the Department of Player Safety, you can expect a wave of “Zac Rinaldo: A Changed Man” articles to explode out of the ninth floor of TD Garden like someone put a pin in an over-full water balloon.

3. But keep in mind this guy is awful

But in actuality, you’re paying Rinaldo a huge compliment — and
dramatically overstating his skill — if you compare him to Thornton, Campbell, and Paille, whose (over)usage by Claude Julien smart Bruins fans came to universally loathe over the last two years.

If you want to say Rinaldo fights like Thornton, that’s fine. Who cares. Fighting is for idiots so compare one idiot to another all you want. But even today, Thornton — at 37 years old and essentially useless at the NHL level — is probably still better in his all-around game than 25-year-old Rinaldo, which is amazing in and of itself.

If you want to say Rinaldo blocks shots like Campbell, you are just flat-out wrong. If we accept that corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 correlates pretty closely with offensive-zone possession time, we can pretty easily figure out how much time each spends defending rather than attacking. You take total TOI, then multiply by CF% to get “time defending.” Then divide that by the number of blocks to get blocks per minute, and multiply by 60 to get “blocks/60 when defending.” And by that metric, Campbell has been about 14 percent better at blocking shots than Rinaldo since 2011-12, when the latter entered the league. (I had to use 5-on-5 here because Rinaldo basically doesn’t kill penalties.)

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Now we have to compare him to Paille in terms of penalty killing. The point of killing a penalty is obviously to prevent the other team from scoring, and the best way to do that is to prevent them from getting shots on net. The best way to do that, then, is to keep them from attempting shots, or simply blocking those shots.

But again, Rinaldo doesn’t do it. The total number of minutes he’s been on the ice with the Flyers shorthanded in his career — again, that’s 223 games — is about 41:44. That’s less than 3 percent of all available Flyers PK time. Paille, meanwhile, played nearly 27.5 percent of the Bruins’ PK time in the same four-season window. I would dig into the stats here, but there’s nothing to compare. Paille kills penalties, Rinaldo never has.

Mainly due to the fact that he’s been in the box serving them, because he is a meathead.

4. Determining his value

Ultimately, the value of any player boils down to how many goals he provides versus what his opponents do. For a player like Rinaldo, whose job mainly entails taking penalties and getting suspended, the value is obviously lacking right from the get-go, because he’s not only putting you behind by giving your opponent power plays, but in getting suspended he also requires you to use call-ups who cost you more against the cap above and beyond what you pay him.

That, in turn, can be used to determine how many wins a given player adds to or subtracts from his team’s totals over his career. The numbers do not reflect well on Rinaldo. By pure career WAR (via War on Ice, of course), he ranks 32nd from the bottom among the 2149 skaters that have gotten even one game in the NHL since 2005-06.

Only looking at the guys below Rinaldo is a decent way of determining whether they’re NHL regulars; none below him have played fewer games, so the fact that he’s already 32nd-worst tells you a lot about how detrimental he is to the cause.

But that of course includes guys who played a lot more years — hundreds more games than Rinaldo has compiled in most cases — so saying, “Brendan Witt has the worst WAR in the last decade (minus-8.3 wins),” is true, but penalizes him for playing more than 100 more games than Rinaldo. So if you sort by WAR per 82 games played among this group, Rinaldo falls to fifth-worst in the last 10 seasons. Witt is still the worst in this regard at minus-2.06. And Luca Sbisa, Niclas Havelid, and Ethan Moreau come in at Nos. 2-4, respectively.

But what you’ll note is that three of those guys are defensemen, and defensemen play more than fighting-only forwards. So let’s even break this down per 60 minutes of ice time, because that levels the playing field for everyone. And by this metric, Rinaldo ranks fourth, behind only Raitis Ivanans, Colton Orr, and Brendan Witt.

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5. What’s the takeaway?

Yeah everyone knows Zac Rinaldo is terrible, but would you have believed he was the fourth-worst regular NHL skater of the last decade?

If you take those career numbers, it takes Rinaldo about 70 games to cost Boston two points in the standings. Which may not seem like a lot, really. But when you consider that this is versus the average AHL call-up — a guy Boston brings up in an emergency situation, basically — that’s telling. An AHL journeyman saves the Bruins two-plus standings points versus Rinaldo.

That number probably gets even worse if they expand his role, which it seems like they will. And the Bruins gave up a third-round pick for him.

This trade was such a disaster. Holy hell.