"Forward Zac Rinaldo, who we signed to a two-way contract this summer, is not vaccinated and because of that -- and that's his decision -- the plan is to start him in the American Hockey League and he will not be coming to our training camp," team president John Davison said Tuesday.
Rinaldo, 31, signed a one-year, two-way contract with Columbus in August. Known for his aggressive physicality, he was expected to be an energy player as a depth winger for the Jackets.
Rinaldo made headlines when he spoke at a rally in Hamilton on Sept. 16, saying he supported the People's Party of Canada because it was against vaccine mandates. His unvaccinated status made him an outlier for the Blue Jackets, according to Davidson.
"We're going to have 67 players in our camp and they're all going to be vaccinated," Davidson said. "Everything we do, we do together as a team."
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said "the ball is in his court right now" regarding Rinaldo's future with the NHL team.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last week that around 98% of players are expected to be vaccinated by the start of the season on Oct. 12. Of roughly 700 players on 32 teams, that leaves 10-15 players unvaccinated.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association do not have a vaccine mandate for players, but unvaccinated players will lead starkly different lives in the league than vaccinated ones, from testing mandates to social distancing to travel. For example, there's no travel exemption for unvaccinated players going from the U.S. to Canada to avoid a 14-day quarantine. Teams will have the ability to suspend unvaccinated players who can't participate in hockey activities.
Davidson said the team has worked closely with the NHL and trusts their judgment on the protocols.
"When you read the amount players and percentage of [NHL] players that have been vaccinated, it's a big, big number. And that's the personal choice. I'm not going to sit here and tell them what to do, even if I want to see the whole world get vaccinated," said Davidson.
The decision could be a costly one for Rinaldo, who is playing for his sixth NHL team: His NHL salary is $750,000, while his AHL salary with the Cleveland Monsters is $275,000, according to Cap Friendly.