If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll notice that about 10% of my tweets during Bruins games are something like “WHY THE HELL IS ZAC RINALDO ON THE TEAM???!!!” I still don’t know what’s stupider between giving up a 3rd round pick for the type of player that you can pick up off the street for the league minimum, or playing Rinaldo 8 minutes every game. Unfortunately, that 3rd round pick is gone to the Flyers and it won’t return (although it’s a draft pick, so the Flyers are guaranteed to screw it up), but the issue of Rinaldo’s ice time is still salvageable. The team is in position for a playoff spot, and if they get Rinaldo off the ice in time for the 1st round series against the Panthers, Lightning, Red Wings, or whoever, then all will be well in Boston.
Why has Claude Julien, who has otherwise coached the team well this year, made the mistake of giving Rinaldo this much ice time? My belief is that Julien and Don Sweeny have tried to recreate the magic they had with Shawn Thornton on the 4th line in 2011. Thornton dropped off considerably in 2013 and definitely 2014, when he couldn’t skate with anyone else on the ice and prompted even Peter “I’ll Re-Sign everyone from the 2011 Cup team until they’re 75 years old” Chiarelli to pass on offering him a contract in the Summer of 2014. But don’t let that cloud your memory of how important he was to the 2011 Cup team. At a time when the NHL did still value enforcers, Thornton was one of the best, and even the biggest statheads in the world will admit that the Bruins’ identity as a team that the opposition hated playing against was an important aspect of their Cup Victory.
What Julien seems to forget is that Thornton’s toughness wouldn’t have been an asset to the Bruins if he couldn’t play hockey at a high level. Look at Thornton’s advanced stats and you’ll notice that, while he was absolutely horrendous in 2014, he was actually a very decent 4th liner in the regular season of 2011. He had a CorsiOn of -4.29, a CorsiRel of -7.10 — on a very good Bruins team, which drives down that number down a little bit — while starting his non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone only 48.1% of the time. For a 12th forward who doubles as the best enforcer in the league on a team that prides itself on beating the crap out of opponents, that’s a very valuable player to have. His numbers took a dive in the postseason, but you expect that to happen with better competition. There’s a reason that Claude benched him when Tyler Seguin lit the world on fire in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals and played his way into the lineup. All things considered, Shawn Thornton had every right to be on the Bruins roster.
Zac Rinaldo? Not so much. Let’s start with the fact that enforcers went out of style 2 or 3 years ago, and even if you (incorrectly) think that Rinaldo serves some purpose fighting other goons, he won’t provide such value in the playoffs against teams that actually have 12 forwards who can… you know… play hockey.
I would be more open to Rinaldo as an enforcer if he was an NHL caliber hockey player like Thornton in 2011, but he’s not. Take a look at Rinaldo’s advanced stats. While Thornton had CorsiOn/CorsiRel/OZS% of -4.3/-7.1/48.1, Rinaldo clocks in at -16.5/-19.9/50.3. That is horrendous. Somehow, that’s even worse than Thornton in 2014, when we all agreed that he had no business being on the roster anymore and that the Bruins had to say a tearful good bye to Thorty in the upcoming Summer.
Maybe Sweeney will make the common sense move of trading for another winger at the trade deadline, and maybe Claude Julien has no plans of playing Rinaldo in the playoffs when he would be a huge liability. But even for the final ~25 games of the regular season, Zac Rinaldo has no business being on the ice. He’s not 2011 Shawn Thornton, no matter how bad the Bruins want to pretend that is is.