PAUL BISSONNETTE (aka @BizNasty2point0), a candid tough guy with a history of protecting his teammates and baring his soul on social media, has more than 600,000 Twitter followers but no NHL contract. He and a bevy of fellow enforcers have found themselves out of work this season as teams and GMs across the league continue to downsize fighting. Bissonnette, 29, was cut by the Arizona Coyotes during training camp after seven seasons in the league, then spent eight games with the Portland Pirates of the AHL before being released from his professional tryout contract on Monday. BizNasty is still fighting to make it back to the big time -- he signed a professional tryout contract with Manchester, the Los Angeles Kings' AHL affiliate, on Tuesday -- and still defending the role pugilism plays in his sport. "I don't know what's going to come of this," he tells senior writer Craig Custance, who interviewed him on Nov. 24 in Portland, Maine. "I'm just trying to get my games in and see where it goes from there."
Custance: Your recent Twitter comment -- "At this point take fighting out of hockey just to shut up writers who have never been involved in a competitive sport in their life" -- helped reignite the fighting debate. What prompted it?
Bissonnette: I basically was saying "shut up" to writers who never played the sport. I didn't mean to be disrespectful. But how can you try to impose a major rule change when you've never been in that situation? Even the skill guys want fighting in the game.
But what about the damage? As [Hall of Fame player and current Lightning GM] Steve Yzerman likes to say, If we are trying to get concussions out of the game, why would we allow guys to repeatedly punch each other in the head?
If the main issue is player safety -- and you're worried about guys' brains -- there are way more injuries, even head injuries, from hitting than from fighting. So why wouldn't you take hitting out of the game too? What do you think a neurologist would say about guys who are skating at 30 miles per hour on blades, launching their bodies at each other?
But if you can eliminate something that may cut down that risk, why wouldn't you?
That's the whole argument -- is fighting necessary or not? I'm going to give you a scenario. Say Henrik Lundqvist is in net for the Rangers. [Flyers left wing] Zac Rinaldo comes down the ice. There's a play at the net and Rinaldo doesn't stop. He runs over Lundqvist. Now, could you imagine if, instead of fighting, everyone just kind of stood around and said, "Oh yeah, we can't fight. We have to let the refs take care of this one." And picture the backlash from fans, seeing Lundqvist get ran and those guys doing nothing about it.
But isn't a guy like Rinaldo doing that now, even with fighting in the game? So is it that a great preventive measure?
Is he doing it to that extent? When there are guys on the ice, he knows can beat him up? No. Has he run Henrik Lundqvist? I'd be curious to know what percentage of fans want to keep fighting in the game. I would guess at least 70 percent want to keep it. Even skill guys like [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane said the Blackhawks went out and got [enforcer] Dan Carcillo because they feel more comfortable and safer playing with a physical guy. These are the best, most influential players in the game. So the players want it and a majority of the fans still want it, but the writers don't -- so let's take it out? Maybe Yzerman does too, but Yzerman had a pretty good career being protected by guys, didn't he? It's hypocritical. It goes back to hitting. Most of the guys playing now who are getting suspended grew up watching guys like Scott Stevens hit guys and get praised for it -- the kind of hits they would get s--- on for making now. Gordie Howe was known for throwing elbows to heads.
But did we know in 1950 that concussions could lead to CTE?
Not to the extent we do now, with technology and advances in science. The game would be safer statistically if you took out hitting than it would be if you took out fighting because getting hit happens way more often. What happened to fighters like Derek Boogaard, it's terrible. Are there other influences that probably didn't help, as far as abusing medication and alcohol? Maybe Boogaard turned to that stuff because he was depressed because of the contact to his head and getting knocked out.
People say that Boogaard didn't necessarily like fighting.
I don't even like fighting. You know why I like fighting? I like to stick up for my teammates.
What if it's like baseball? A guy hits a guy with a pitch. Another guy gets hit and the bullpen empties with a fight. There's still accountability from the players without fighting being allowed and condoned.
Then it's completely organic. I'm for taking out the fighting that's just pointless. Are the days of two tough guys lining up and going at it done? Man, I hope they are. I think it's stupid too. Those are the guys inflicting most of the damage. Those are the guys doing it 20, 30 times a year. Sidney Crosby against Claude Giroux, that's happening once every two or three years maybe.
Would you have made it to the NHL without fighting?
Maybe as a D-man. But would I have made it as forward not fighting in the NHL? No. I understand that. I know I was a borderline NHL player for five years. Last year I proved, with limited ice time, that I'm not a liability out there.
So do you find guys taking runs at you in the AHL? You're the guy down from the NHL, big following on Twitter, big name.
I've had a couple guys ask me to fight, like, for no reason. At the time our team was up, so I didn't really see a reason.
What's your worst injury from a fight?
Broken nose. Have I ever gone black and came back? Not to the point where I got nauseous or couldn't ride a bike or do exercise. I'm 100 percent in favor of taking out the staged stuff. I think there's middle ground here. Say every player is allowed three fights organically, then after that [they get] a suspension. Find a good medium, say [you're allowed] three fights a season. Like if you're playing a rival team and you f---ing hate this guy, you're fed up with each other and you go. Not only now are the fans happy because you're fighting, but players' safety is [considered].
Can you describe what it's like to fight in an NHL game?
Knowing you're going into a game where the other team has [an enforcer], your anxiety gradually builds. It's not fun. Man, I wish I could just score goals and be a skill guy. That wasn't the reality. I knew in order to be at that level, I had to [fight].
Have you ever been told to fight by a coach?
No. Tip [Coyotes coach Dave Tippett] was awesome. He was big on the "Hey, if we're up, don't even engage; we have momentum." A couple of times even when we were up in games, I had to be like, "Can I go?" He didn't necessarily want me fighting when we had momentum.
Do you worry about long-term consequences from fighting?
Like the head? I've been fortunate. I wasn't like a mutant. I was pretty defensive, I would use the jab. People might say, "They don't fight like they used to." Well f---, I don't want to be drinking through a straw when I'm older.
What do you miss most about the NHL?
I miss the guys. There are awesome guys here in the AHL too. But it's nice getting paid more [in the NHL]. It's nice flying places and eating better meals.
What's the difference in your paycheck?
A lot. I would see about $30,000 every two weeks last year. And I'm on the low end [for the NHL]. One time, when I was with Pittsburgh, I was riding the bike next to Evgeni Malkin. One of the PR guys came up to Malkin and said to him, "Here, this is for you." I was like, "What is it?" He said, "Check." I said, "Show me." It was 900 grand -- a bonus check from the year before. One check.