The NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Wednesday evening that Arizona Coyotes forward Zac Rinaldo, who earned a match penalty on Saturday night for his punch to Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard, has been given a six-game ban for his infraction.
Per the league’s official video:
“As the video shows, following a neutral zone turnover, Rinaldo delivers a clean body check on Nathan MacKinnon, which stuns the Avalanche forward.
After hitting an opposing player who appears to be injured from the check, Rinaldo is now on alert, and surveys the ice - anticipating a confrontation. Girard skates in Rinaldo’s direction while pursuing the play, and extends his stick outwards towards Rinaldo. Rinaldo then drops his gloves, and delivers a forceful, bare-knuckle punch to the face of an opponent who had given no indication that he was anticipating a fight, or was in any way a willing combatant.”
The explanation goes on to explain that this is, in essence, a textbook definition of a punch to an unsuspecting opponent.
The league confirms that Rinaldo, as many suspected, stands by the explanation that he was expecting Girard to come after him by the way he approached, particularly given the reaction MacKinnon had to the clean check moments before.
They follow up, though, with the reasoning that many others saw - which is that, while Girard did approach Rinaldo, he didn’t do so in a way that in any manner suggested he was preparing to fight.
The onus, they conclude, is on Rinaldo - as the player who actually delivers the punch - to ensure he is facing a willing combatant before he initiates the confrontation in that manner.
With four prior suspensions and two fines throughout his NHL career thus far, Rinaldo is more than qualifying as a repeat offender. As such, he’s gotten six games, putting the question of whether or not the Coyotes will look to replace him permanently certainly out there.
So far this season, Rinaldo has racked up two goals and three points in 31 NHL games, which now go with 32 penalty minutes (of which just under half were earned in his last game alone). He’s playing a career-high 11 minutes a night, and so far hasn’t been a drag on shot differentials despite starting just 35 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone.
The way he handled his reaction to Girard, though, is a pretty good example of why he’s been suspended so many times in the past. Six games, where some players get just one - and some get just a fine - seems about right.
The Avalanche will now play Arizona again tonight, hosting their conference rivals in Denver at 7:00 PM MST.