It seems as if everyone knew Zac Rinaldo had been traded to Boston, except for Zac Rinaldo.
The forward had been working with his “Fight For A Cause” charity when his agent, Todd Reynolds, called on June 29 to tell him he had been traded from Philadelphia to Boston for a 2017 third-round draft pick.
Unable to reach his client, Reynolds called Rinaldo’s mother, mom talked to dad, and by the time Rinaldo checked his phone, the news was only news to him.
After some parting words with Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, Rinaldo had a 20-minute conversation with Boston general manager Don Sweeney, a talk Rinaldo called “energetic,” and a boost of confidence.
That confidence was palpable Tuesday afternoon, as the 5-foot-11-inch, 169-pound center fielded questions from the Boston media for the first time.
“Every time I played against Boston, they’re always a hard team to play against — no matter what the scenario is, what the score is, what period it is, they’re always a hard team to play against,” Rinaldo said. “That’s why I’m here — to make it even harder for teams to play against us.”
Rinaldo, 25, joins Boston having built an unenviable reputation during his first four years in the National Hockey League, a player whose edge has planted him squarely on the blurry line between enforcer and dirty player.
Three times in four professional seasons, Rinaldo has been reprimanded for his play on the ice, most recently an eight-game suspension for charging and boarding Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang in January. That ban cost him $73,170.72 in salary. In 2014, he forfeited $15,384.60 as he sat four games for a hit up high on Buffalo defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.
Prior to his 14 missed games in the NHL, Rinaldo incurred five significant suspensions in the Ontario Hockey League and registered more suspensions (4) than goals (3) in his first full season in the AHL.
On more than one occasion Tuesday, Rinaldo was asked if his aggressive style of play was still viable in a league where the ice is clearly tilting toward speed and skill. To his credit, Rinaldo admitted change in his game will come, and that Boston may offer the perfect atmosphere for it.
“It’s going to change in a better way for the team,” Rinaldo said. “I don’t plan on getting suspended; I don’t plan on taking stupid penalties. That’s the last thing I want to do, to hurt my team. Changing for the better will happen. More opportunity — a different role, perhaps — and I’m open to anything to help the team win.”
Regular playing time would allow him to tinker with his offensive tool kit, Rinaldo said, perhaps as one of Claude Julien’s grinders on the fourth line alongside Chris Kelly and former Flyer teammate Max Talbot. Boston is in need of bottom-six regulars after trading Carl Soderberg’s rights to Colorado and electing to part ways with “Merlot Line” mainstays Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell.
Rinaldo is hopeful that a jersey swap changes his offensive fortunes, too. He has a line of 8-16—24 in 223 games at the varsity level, though his average time on ice (8:03) has been sporadic throughout his career.
His first goal is to prove his worth to the organization on the ice when camp opens this fall. Should he do it long enough, Rinaldo hopes his rash, impulsive moniker can stay in his past.
“That’s the last thing I want to come in here doing, is to give a first bad impression,” Rinaldo said. “You only have one time to give your first impression, and I want to make my first impression a memorable one.
“I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win. I’m up for anything to help the team win. Anything that they tell me to do, I’m going to be doing it.”