It’s not terribly surprising that Zac Rinaldo did something gutless, chickenshit, and worthy of scorn. That’s all he’s done, for his entire ignominious career. He’s been suspended many times before at both the AHL and NHL levels (once, the suspensions were simultaneous, which is impressive in its own way), and has more career NHL games lost to suspension (24) than goals (11).
The fact that he only has 24 games worth of suspensions is a mild surprise in of itself, and in my opinion, evidence that the NHL is far too soft on the garbage that Rinaldo peddles. At this point, further discipline is only punitive. Rinaldo is what he’s been his entire career - an undisciplined, hot-tempered player who is a danger to the players around him, who actually have skills worth watching, enjoying, and paying for. He’s not going to change now. His willingness to be a psycho on the ice is the only thing differentiating him from a hundred other players of similar skill. Frankly, that’s the only reason his career is still alive.
Rinaldo himself is an easy target for scorn, and a very deserving one. The guy is a shithead, who would be out of the league if I was running the NHL. However, culpability must also be placed on the people signing his paycheque. To be clear, this goes for all teams who employ players that consistently commit dangerous infractions. They need to be punished. Every team knows (or should know) exactly what they’re paying for when they employ a Rinaldo-esque player. They’re paying for someone who has consistently shown disregard for the safety of others, who brings no value to the league, and who generally just doesn’t belong in a league with the best hockey players in the world. Arizona’s penalty for Rinaldo doing exactly what he’s always done is that their team gets better for the time that he’s suspended, and the fact that they’re still on the hook for his salary.
Taking a broader view, the NHL has done a piss-poor job of coming down hard on players for bad hits and other dangerous plays. A combination of inconsistent judgement, lenient sentences, and mixed messages will do that. There simply isn’t a strong enough penalty to players for being reckless. And there’s essentially no penalty for teams, aside from missing players for (generally) short periods of time.
I feel like a stronger deterrent would be to punish the team more thoroughly. Which leads to my (extreme) proposal. The details need to be tweaked and adjusted, but the core of it is this. If a NHL team accumulates more than X games of suspensions in a season, they lose their first round pick (if they have traded it away, they lose a first in the following year)owing year). It’s that simple.
There are obvious flaws with this idea, which I’ll discuss, but aside from forfeiture of salary cap space (which has highly variable utility depending on the team), I can’t think of a more punitive measure that will make it so that suspensions really hurt the offending player’s team. Imagine if Arizona got put over the threshold because of Rinaldo’s idiocy. Suddenly, their entire year blows up in smoke, and they literally have a lost season with nothing to show for it. That’s a hell of an incentive to ensure your players toe the line, and that would be a mandate that comes from the top of the organization. A player who stupidly got suspended would be ostracized. A coach who plays a player who is a constant suspension risk would be putting their job in jeopardy.
Now, as alluded to earlier, there are issues. Determining exactly what number X should be is tough. Too low and suddenly a team with any suspension is in danger of losing their pick. Too high and it’s not a deterrent at all. Along with that, it’s very possible that such a rule being instituted would impact the suspensions given out, which would defeat the purpose. To combat that... well, we’d just need for the Department of Player Safety to do their jobs properly. But that’s easier said than done.
Another possible issue is that a single threshold puts a huge amount of weight on the X-th suspended game. If X is 20, then there would be no penalty for 19 suspended games, and a huge one for 20, which is sort of odd. This could be rectified by adding increasing penalties with total suspensions.
Regardless of the exact mechanics of this type of system, I think it’s clear that teams need to be further disincentivized from playing and employing suspension-prone players. This is a way to do that, and for the NHL to make their game safer and better.