Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Rinaldo Contract Extension, Prospect Updates, Quick Hits

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FLYERS SIGN RINALDO TO TWO-YEAR EXTENSION

Yesterday, the Flyers announced that they had signed left winger Zac Rinaldo to a two-year contract extension. The new deal kicks in for the 2015-16 season. Rinaldo makes $750,000 under his current deal, which runs through the end of 2014-15. He will get a $100,000 per season raise come the following two seasons.

Rinaldo can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017.

Under the NHL’s collective bargaining rules, a player is eligible for a contract extension when he is in the final season of his current contract. In recent years, most NHL teams have tried to get their prominent forwards, starting goaltender and most of their starting defensemen re-signed ahead of free agency. It is less common for role-playing forwards like Rinaldo to receive pre-emptive contract extensions, especially when they are still in the restricted free agency phase of their careers.

As such, even Rinaldo himself admitted to being caught a little off-guard by the contract extension coming quite this far ahead of his restricted free agency next summer.

“I’m surprised that we’d even started to talk about it so early, but I am thrilled,” Rinaldo said in a statement. “Philadelphia is where I started my NHL career and this is where I want to be so I am really happy. This definitely gives me a lot of confidence by the Flyers showing that they have confidence in me. I know they want to see me get better as a player, and this is the place to do it.”

Rinaldo is one of the most polarizing players on the Flyers roster. Supporters believe that he is a valuable “energy” forward who gets under the skin of opposing players. Detractors feel that he is more of a liability than an asset.

Pound for pound, Rinaldo is one of the NHL’s best bodycheckers. He is an above-average skater with good balance and can bowl over much bigger players. Averaging just 7:41 of ice time per game and dressing in 67 regular season games this season, Rinaldo ranked 14th in the NHL with 31 credited hits. In last season’s lockout shortened campaign, Rinaldo ranked 16th while dressing in 32 of 48 games.

Rinaldo, who was second in NHL in penalty minutes during his rookie season of 2011-12, was fifth in the League this year with 153 PIM. To some degree, Rinaldo is susceptible to receiving “reputation penalties” on otherwise clean hits but he still brings much of it on himself. The four-game suspension Rinaldo drew late in the season for a needless high hit that concussed Buffalo Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel was a setback in the player’s efforts to erase an image of being a player who could not be trusted on the ice.

One of the most important measurements for Rinaldo’s value to the Flyers is how many penalties he draws on the opposition versus how many times he leaves the team shorthanded. Rinaldo actually took a step backward in that area in 2013-14.

During the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Rinaldo took an average of 2.3 penalties per 60 minutes of ice time. He drew 3.2 penalties on the opposition per 60 minutes of ice time. That ranked 2nd in the NHL among players who dressed in at least half of their team’s games.

Last season, Rinaldo’s penalties taken per 60 minutes creeped up to 3.0. Among all NHL players who dressed in at least 40 games, only Buffalo’s John Scott was more heavily penalized relative to his ice time. In the meantime, Rinaldo’s rate of penalties drawn on the opposition dropped to 1.7 per game.

For several years, Rinaldo has expressed an interest in improving as a defensive forward and becoming part of the Flyers penalty killing rotation.

During the Peter Laviolette coaching regime, the coach would often say during training camp that he’d consider giving Rinaldo the opportunity he craved. Nevertheless the player very rarely got on the ice in those situations (and, even then, usually at the tail end of a kill with an offensive zone faceoff). Rinaldo did get a bit of penalty killing time for Terry Murray’s Phantoms in Adirondack during the lockout last season but remained solely an even strength energy player for the Flyers after the lockout ended.

When Craig Berube was elevated to head coach and Ian Laperriere became an assistant coach in charge of the penalty kill, the Flyers experimented for awhile with Rinaldo on the penalty kill. Laperriere pledged to help Rinaldo become a viable NHL penalty killer and the player was eager to put in the work to do so.

The experiment did not last long. The forward had some growing pains in his expanded role, which was to be expected. With the Flyers scrambling to erase a 1-7-0 start to the season and scuffling to score goals early in the season, they needed more seasoned penalty killers to help fill the gap left by the early season trade of Max Talbot to Colorado.

It is possible that the experiment could be revisited at some point during the 2014-15 season. However, that is not a certainty. Berube will probably do some experimenting during the preseason but Rinaldo is going to have to earn an expanded role.

In the bigger picture, Rinaldo needs to find other ways to bring value to the team beyond just being a hitter and agitator. For one thing, he needs to play with more discipline. Secondly, he needs to chip inHe is never going to put up many points nor is he ever going to be a player with good advanced stats.

Agitating Dallas Stars forward Antoine Roussel is currently a better version of the same style of “energy line” player that Rinaldo embodies. While Roussel takes a lot of questionable penalties (3rd in the NHL with 209 penalty minutes and 13th in penalties taken with 1.6 per 60 minutes), he brings other value to the table.

First and foremost, Roussel has offered some opportunistic offense to his team. In a checking line role in 2013-14, Roussel posted 14 goals and 29 points. Secondly, Roussel is a regular part of the Dallas penalty kill, averaging 1:40 of penalty killing ice time per game. While the Philadelphia penalty kill was superior to Dallas’ both in personnel and performance, Roussel’s ability to absorb significant PK time was notable. Overall, Roussel pulled down an average 13:19 of ice time per game for the Stars.

It would be a boon to Rinaldo and the Flyers if he can accelerate his development as a penalty killing option, especially now that he is signed through the 2016-17 season. That is still his most reachable goal for increasing his value to the team. Rinaldo is a good forechecker as well as bodychecker but lacks the size to wear opposing teams down over the course of the game by grinding and cycling the puck along the walls.

Although he sometimes shows more puck skill at practice than he displays in games, it is unlikely that Rinaldo will ever approach double-digit goals in an NHL season. That will never be his role in the NHL, and was never even his role at the junior hockey or AHL levels.

Ultimately, it will be up to Rinaldo to continue to improve defensively and show increased discipline to go along with his hitting game and above-average skating ability. If he does those things, he will be an effective role player on a budget-friendly contract. Conversely, he can’t afford to stagnate if he is to have long-term value beyond a very limited role.

********* FLYERS PROSPECT UPDATES

* The KHL regular season opens this week. Defenseman Valeri Vasiliev, whom the Flyers drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Draft, will make his official debut for Avangard Omsk today when the team takes on Metallurg Novokuznetsk. Vasiliev’s former club, Spartak Moscow, will not participate in the KHL league the 2014–15 season because of financial issues. Earlier this year, the 20-year-old Vasiliev told the Russian media he had interest in coming to North America. However, the Flyers decided the player was not ready yet for the pro game over here, and Vasiliev ultimately signed with Avangard. Now-former Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson also signed with Avangard this summer.

* In SHL preseason action yesterday, Flyers 2014 fifth-round puck Oskar Lindblom suited up for Brynäs IF Gävle against Leksand. Lindblom skated on BIF’s fourth line left wing, along with Adam Brodecki and Jonas Nordquist. He did not record a point but Brynäs prevailed 3-2 in overtime. Lindblom and Brodecki recently played for Team Sweden at the Under-20 Four Nations tournament in Jönköping.

********* QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 3

* Flyers Alumn birthday: Gerry Meehan turns 68 today. The Flyers acquired Meehan,Mike Byers and Bill Sutherland late in the 1968-69 season in the trade that sent fan favorite Forbes Kennedy and Brit Selby to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Meehan dressed in 12 regular season games and four playoff games for the Flyers, recording zero goals and four assists. Meehan is better known for his time with the Buffalo Sabres, both as a player and later as the club’s general manager. In 670 NHL games for six clubs, Meehan scored 180 goals and 423 points.

* Phantoms defenseman Matt Konan turns 23 today. As a second-year pro last season, injuries limited Konan to just 23 games. The previous season, he also dealt with injuries but ultimately dressed in 45 AHL games and five ECHL games. Late in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season, Konan dressed in the final two games of the regular season for the injury depleted Flyers. The Flyers signed Konan as an undrafted rookie free agent on April 2, 2012.

* Today in Flyers history: Per Flyershistory.net, on Sept. 3, 1993, the Flyers hired Zack Hill as their public relations manager. The club also hired Jill Vogel and Joe Klueg on that day.

* Today in Flyers history: On Sept. 3, 1999, the Flyers signed 23-year-old center Daymond Langkow to a two-year contract extension. Acquired along with Mikael Renberg in the deal that returned Chris Gratton to Tampa Bay along with Mike Sillinger, Langkow was coming off a season in which he produced 10 goals and 23 points in 56 games in a third-line role for the Flyers after the trade with Tampa. That year, Langkow captured the Pelle Lindbergh Trophy as the Flyers’ most improved player from the beginning to the end of the season.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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