The Calgary Flames love their deterrents.

From Tanner Glass to Ryan Lomberg, Brian McGrattan to Kevin Westgarth, and Anthony Peluso to Brandon Bollig, seldom a year has gone by over the course of the Flames’ 40-year history where they haven’t dressed a guy on at least a few occasions whose role is to bang, crash, and generally be scary.

This year, it was Zac Rinaldo’s turn to be the Flames’ designated spark plug. He did an okay job of it, too, even if the hockey part wasn’t necessarily all-world.

2019-20 season summary

Technically, Rinaldo was on pace for a 13-goal season in 2019–20 had he managed a full 82 games. He didn’t quite get there.

(Data courtesy of NaturalStatTrick)

19 3 2 5 8:16 43.23 -5.19 50.0 1.005

Zac Rinaldo played in approximately 3 of every 10 games the Flames played this year. One could make the argument that totaled out to a few too many games. He certainly didn’t do a whole lot of good from a statistical perspective when he was out there.

He finished last on the team in on-ice scoring chance percentage, at just 37.59%. His shot attempts percentage of 43.23% ranked third-last on the team, only behind the Flames’ two trade-deadline acquisitions who both played just seven games for the team. His expected goals percentage of 46.50% was sixth-worst on the team, with the Flames suffering at both ends of the ice when he played.

The Flames didn’t sign Rinaldo with the expectation that he would do all that well in those types of statistical categories. They signed him because, well, grit. Both of Rinaldo’s fights this year came in divisional games: he went toe-to-toe against Kyle Clifford and Nic Deslauriers of the Kings and Ducks, respectively (he didn’t win either bout, but he tried).

More importantly, though, the Flames signed Rinaldo to inject some energy into games with the occasional fast north-south shift. Rinaldo has great wheels and a good work ethic and he can surprise goalies from time to time with a hard shot if given enough time and space.

But… he doesn’t have any staying power. Rinaldo exceeded expectations this season when he was kept on his toes and given the odd game here and there with the assignment to wreak havoc. He was the equivalent of an energy drink: good for a jolt in small, sporadic doses, but generally deleterious if used consistently over long periods of time.

In the playoffs, however, the Flames made the baffling decision to dress Rinaldo for three consecutive games against the Stars. Dallas quickly adjusted to Rinaldo’s play and the Flames got smoked whenever they put him on the ice. His on-ice expected goals percentage of 14.44% (!!!!) in the playoffs was by far the worst on the Flames and the third-worst of anyone in the playoffs who played more than one game.

Compared to last season

At this point, Rinaldo is a known quantity. He split the 2018–19 season between Nashville and their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, posting a goal (against the Flames) and three points in 23 NHL games.

His on-ice impacts with the Predators were among the team’s worst across-the-board. Among players with 10+ GP, his CF% ranked dead-last and his xGF% ranked sixth-worst.

What about next season?

Rinaldo will probably get another one-year, two-way contract next season from a team that wants to be able to inject some grit into its lineup from time to time. Will it be in Calgary? It’s hard to know for sure. Given their track record of signing similar guys on the UFA market to contracts or PTOs, it certainly doesn’t seem out of the question.

A new contract for Rinaldo wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but the Flames also have guys in the system who they’ll want to see get some games next year. At the same time, they might not want those guys sitting in the press box; they wouldn’t have any qualms about making Rinaldo a healthy scratch on most nights (they didn’t this year).

As a 14th forward, the Flames could do worse than Rinaldo. But it’s also pretty likely that they could do better.