BRIGHTON — When the Bruins added the forwards they did this summer, there were ample questions about what it would mean for incumbents in Boston’s bottom-six. They’d signed David Backes, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore and invited Peter Mueller to camp, but what about Ryan Spooner? What abut Noel Acciari? Isn’t Seth Griffith still a thing?
Nobody asked about Zac Rinaldo. Maybe that’s because they already knew the answer and it’s awkward, but Rinaldo is still here, with one year on his contract with a team that decided they were better off without him last season. He’s also got a five-game suspension waiting for him if and when he ever makes it back to the NHL.
“I guess ultimately you could speculate to what might happen — there’s a number of different scenarios that could unfold — but any time that I’ve spoken to B’s management, it’s been, ‘We expect him to be here. Have a good summer, come back in here and be an important part of this club,’” Rinaldo’s agent, Todd Reynolds, told WEEI.com Wednesday. “That’s why they acquired him, for those reasons. It didn’t end great last year, obviously, but their hope is that that’s just a moment in time.”
Last summer, the Bruins traded a 2017 third-round pick to Philadelphia for Rinaldo, whom nearly every statistic alleged did not belong in the league. Hockey is a sport where decision-makers believe that numbers can lie, however, so the Bruins took on the speedy forward despite him having more games suspended than goals scored in his career.
It didn’t take long to see why the Bruins liked Rinaldo, because the B’s care more about personality than they probably should. For all of the dangerous plays he’d committed in his career, Rinaldo was quickly recognized as a high-character guy by teammates and his desire to strive for the relatively unglamorous role of fourth-liner and penalty-killer was respectable. Fans often (unwisely and inaccurately) gauge their liking of a player on their own perception of the player’s commitment, something that should have curried favor for Rinaldo with the locals more than it did. Never at any point, however, did it seem that trading what they did for him was a smart move.
One might argue here that was just a third-round pick (and a future one at that) and that it’s not worth lamenting the loss of such a selection. It is when you lose one for something worth much less, as Rinaldo was a sixth-rounder himself and had not dramatically improved his stock since coming into the league. No, the Bruins didn’t trade a top pick for the player, but elite players can be had in the middle rounds and the best way to get one of them is to pick as often as possible. If the Bruins traded a seventh-round pick for Rinaldo, it likely would have yielded a shake of the head and everyone would have moved on. It was harder to do because the Bruins made the stakes (and thus immediately unrealistic expectations) higher.
We all know how things turned out. The Bruins pulled the plug prior to the trade deadline, waiving Rinaldo with the intention of sending him to Providence if he went unclaimed. He did just that (meaning they spent a third-round pick on a player no other team would take for free), but, in playing one last NHL game that night while on waivers, committed a hit on Cedric Paquette that earned him a five-game NHL suspension. He was sent to Providence before he could serve it, but earned a five-game AHL suspension in his first game for the Baby B’s for a hit on Kane Lafranchise of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Rinaldo was never brought back up to Boston, finishing the season in Providence after having not played in the AHL since the lockout. Rinaldo has declined to speak with the media since arriving for captain’s practices last week, but players say he’s dealing with his situation well.
“I didn’t really get to know him that well [last season], but here, now, he’s a great guy,” Acciari said. “Very friendly, very vocal; he’s a locker room guy. Even when I went down to Providence [at the end of the season], he had hurt his ankle but he was always vocal in the playoffs down there and just a good locker room guy. He was great to be around.”
The Bruins showed by waiving Rinaldo last season that they don’t feel beholden to the player just because they traded a decent commodity for him. As such, the only way Rinaldo will end up on Boston’s roster this season is on merit. That’s an uphill climb for him given the number of bodies the Bruins have up front, but his teammates aren’t counting him out.
“He’s phenomenal,” Acciari said. “He’s a good player and a great person. Good things will happen for him.”