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Paul Bissonnette on personality in hockey, transitioning to radio (PHT Q&A)

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NEW YORK — After a few years away, Paul Bissonnette returned to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a different role. Now retired after 12 seasons as a professional, “Biz Nasty” has taken on the job as the team’s radio analyst and community ambassador.

That was the start of a busy summer for Bissonnette, 32, who also filmed “Biznasty Does B.C.,” a five episode web series that will debut on VIKTRE.com in November. It will feature over a dozen NHL players and other athletes documenting his travels through British Columbia.

Bissonnette chatted with Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday as the Zamboni hummed along the ice inside Madison Square Garden.

Enjoy.

Q. How did the opportunity to join the Coyotes as radio analyst come up?

BISSONNETTE: “I’ve always loved Arizona, they gave me my chance. I’ve always remained good friends with a lot of guys, especially in the media side of it, just because I spent so much time in the press box and bag skating and hanging out with them afterward. [Coyotes PR man] Rich Nairn, we’ve been talking about it for a few years but I still wanted to play. And then I blew both of my ACLs out last year and it was just time. Luckily, I was able to move in as the color radio guy. I’m obviously thankful now to be back on planes and back in the NHL.”

What made you decide against going through rehab for the ACLs and deciding to hang them up?

“It was just time. I’d met a girl and she [asked] ‘How long are you going to keep doing this?’ And to be real, I knew I was eventually going to get into the media stuff. I don’t want to say I became irrelevant, but I was fading out; whereas when I was in the NHL and I was Tweeting, I was in [people’s] faces because I was around. When I went to the [AHL], it was good to get away. I got to win a Calder Cup with the LA farm team [Manchester Monarchs] and I got to have some fun my last couple of years winning. I got to ride it out on my own terms and then it was just time to hang them up.”

If a different organization had come calling, would you have had the same feeling?

“I don’t know. I never really exercised any of my options because I’ve been talking with Rich for at least a year and a half about it. Last year, when I tore my first ACL I was pretty sure I was going to hang them up. I didn’t get surgery right away. I tried to rehab it to finish my career for my last season last year, and then my first game back I tore my other one. So it was a year from hell. I think that was someone up top’s way of saying, ‘Bro, f—off. You’re done. We’ve given you 12 years of pro, now beat it.’ So it’s time to let the kids play, so to speak.”

What’s been the learning curve for you in the booth so far?

“It’s way more difficult than you think. There’s a lot of preparation that’s involved. I’m fortunate enough where I get along with all the media staff. [Fox Sports Arizona’s] Todd Walsh has been around a long time. Tyson Nash was in a very similar situation that I was and he’s done a great job and been successful at it, so I’ve just been asking a lot of questions and shadowing them. They’ve done a great job of helping me out and taking me under their wing.”

What’s the normal game day routine for you?

“I just like to come [to the rink] and chat and sometimes pick opposition’s media’s brains and see how their team is doing. There’s another thing, the NHL Network people, I don’t know how the f— they keep track of 31 teams and all these guys. I have a hard time just doing ours. I’ll get here two hours before [the game] on the bus with [radio play-by-play man] Bob Heethius, who’s been awesome to me, I just prepare with him. We talk about the notes. We look back what their record’s been against this team in recent memory, how the team’s been playing, stats and then just prepare ourselves for the game. Like I said, it’s nice to have a guy and follow him around and do it properly. And even at the beginning, I wasn’t sure I was preparing enough, where the last couple of games I’ve been doing it more and you’re never left with times where you have nothing to say because you always have a little nugget… That’s a term they use, by the way. I learned that one.”

Yeah, you’re catching on.

“Yeah, see? You know what nuggets are. I didn’t know what nuggets were.”

A lot of guys step away and don’t know what they want to do. It must be nice for you remain around a hockey team on a daily basis.

“That’s the one thing I’m most thankful for, is you see these guys, a lot of us don’t have education. We were too busy playing hockey our whole life and all of sudden it’s taken away from you. A lot of guys don’t get to go out on their own terms. I was fortunate to be able to do that and I was fortunate to have a job lined up where I didn’t have to sit around waiting like where am I gonna see my next paycheck, even how am I going to stimulate my mind. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not even the money. I’ve been fortunate.”

What duties are part of your ambassador role with the team?

“One thing as a player that I never had a problem doing, especially because I didn’t play a lot, was going to do all of these events or charity meet and greets. These guys have a long schedule. It’s hard on them, and I told [the team] if these guys are tired and they just got off a road trip and they have a hospital visit, if one guy’s been lugging a lot of ice time and he’s banged up a little bit, send me instead. I know it might not have the same impact as Oliver Ekman-Larsson being at a hospital rather than me.”

Did you have an idea during your career of what you wanted to do after hockey?

“I’ve always one to be a clown. I don’t take myself seriously at all. Lately I’ve been reading on Twitter guys get ragged on, especially hockey guys, for having no personality and I’ve kind of sat back and been like, yeah, because anytime something’s not going well hockey-wise fans and media will use that against them if they show any type of personality. So they use it to their convenience.

“For instance, we got [Connor] McDavid in our mockumentary for the finale. Well, now I’m a little concerned because do I want to put this thing out where maybe Edmonton’s not doing so great and then now people are going to be like ‘Well, shouldn’t you guys be focusing on hockey?’ It’s like, you can’t please anyone now.”

But it was filmed in the summer. It’s not like you’re doing it now.

“But you know it’s coming. We’ve been trying to do some media stuff with the Coyotes and it’s hard because the team’s not winning. You don’t want to also put guys in a vulnerable situation where fans are attacking them because they’re having a little bit of fun off the ice. You’ve got to remember it’s just a game. If any time, especially now, you need to lighten up and try to remember you’re playing a game for a living.”

What did you want to get out of the project?

“Other than the fact that I’m thankful that these guys took the time. Shane Doan jumped in for a full day; so did Morgan Rielly. It was at a charity golf tournament where Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Brendan Gallagher jumped in for 20 minutes each. This is more of hey, I hope hockey fans realize that these guys do have personality. We just have a very humble sport where guys tend to not come outside their shell because they don’t want to come off as abrasive. There’s a lot of reasons. They don’t want to give people fuel and open themselves up in a way where someone can use that negatively towards them.”

Jaromir Jagr had a great quote on Hockey Night in Canada recently where he said he avoided media at times because he didn’t want to have all the attention on himself and felt it might rub some guys the wrong way. He justed wanted to be part of the team.

“That’s just being self-aware. I guess it was different for me because when they interviewed me they just wanted me to be a clown and it was different, as opposed to if you’re interviewing a star and you’re having individual success and the team’s struggling a little bit. Yeah, you never know what other guys are thinking. Maybe there’s a little animosity towards that where I think maybe guys would overthink it when it’s really not like that. That’s just how humble hockey guys are. That just goes to show that they’re more concerned about what their teammates feel and how that might look towards them or make them feel than of them just being themselves and being like hey, these guys want to interview me.”

Finally, now that you’ve stepped away and said it was the right time, do you miss the game?

“Yeah, I didn’t think I would miss it as much but as I’m around the rink more… Because I’m part of an organization, so when you see a guy get hit or taken advantage of you want to get down there and get involved. I’ll always miss it.”

Still have a little enforcer in you.

“Maybe I’ll come back like [Michael Jordan] with the 45 or something.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Previewing the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: The Oilers have a new GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett), but as far as personnel changes go, this was a very quiet offseason.

Considering some of the blunders of the Peter Chiarelli era, there might be a feeling of “no news is good news,” although try telling that to Connor McDavid, who didn’t get much of a bright side to look on beyond hoping that Mike Smith channels his solid playoff production, rather than Smith’s more troubling body of work.

The Oilers are almost the same team as last year, although James Neal could be a nice upgrade over Milan Lucic.

Strengths: McDavid! OK, thanks for coming!

Alright, the Oilers also have Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and maybe some help coming – eventually – with prospects such as Evan Bouchard.

And, hey, having the best player in the world is a pretty big strength.

Weaknesses: … And squandering McDavid’s talents almost takes talent in itself.

You know you’re weak on the wings when people are hoping that James Neal is a solution, and crossing their fingers that Alex Chiasson can approach last season’s numbers.

This team is weak on the wings, and that’s far from their only issue. Their defense doesn’t play the sort of modern game that you’d want to propel McDavid in transition, and lacks elite skill overall. Maybe Tippett can scheme this group to competence, but it’s unclear how much potential has been untapped after Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan tried their hands at the same.

Oh yeah, their goaltending duo of Smith and Mikko Koskinen is a bowl of “meh,” too.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Consider this: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is about to enter his ninth season in the NHL, and Tippett will be his ninth head coach.

The Oilers have been the definition of dysfunctional for a distressingly long period of time, and while there’s the feeling that McDavid and others are far beyond the point of being tired of losing, it’s time for some stability. That’s what Tippett represents: a steadying presence, something that must appeal to the deliberate approach Holland also seems to prefer.

That said, Edmonton’s also subject to about-faces, as that seems to be their M.O. Let’s put Tippett at a three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: McDavid, Koskinen, Darnell Nurse

Number 97 would be a pick every year based on his captivating speed and skill alone. Maybe eyes are fixed on him a bit more now, though, as he’s shown signs of frustration, occasionally actually letting that be known in vague media comments. If the Oilers unravel again, will McDavid vent in an even bigger way?

Re-signing Koskinen tied a baffling bow around the Chiarelli era. Along with Smith, it’s tough to know what exactly we should expect from Koskinen. If Tippett’s system dumbs games down and makes it all a slog, that might actually set the stage for some redemption. (James Neal is another fascinating redemption story.)

The Oilers have precious few defensemen of merit, so it’s crucial for them to see Nurse take additional steps forward. Then again, he’s entering a contract year, so they also probably don’t want to break the bank for the RFA. That should make Nurse intriguing to watch.

Playoffs or Lottery: It’s tough to pick against McDavid, especially since Draisaitl and RNH give him some support. One can imagine a decent formula of McDavid + stingy defense and goaltending = grinding out wins.

Hockey teaches us time and time again that one superstar rarely is enough to mask a ton of blemishes, though. While a weak Pacific gives some hope for Edmonton sneaking in, I’d lean closer to the lottery than the playoffs with Edmonton.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Agent surprised Point, Lightning are so far apart ‘this late’

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The thought was that Mitch Marner finally signing with the Maple Leafs would set off a flurry of other big RFA signings, but that appears to only be partially true.

Much like the Winnipeg Jets with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be at an impasse with star forward Brayden Point. Point’s agent Gerry Johannson admitted as much to Sportsnet 650 on Thursday.

The interview is a mix of good and bad for anxious Lightning fans. The bad is that Johannson said more than once that the two sides aren’t very close to a new deal. On the other hand, Johannson didn’t seem to give the threat of an offer sheet much merit. He comments on both subjects around the three-minute mark, while Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston transcribed this key bit:

“We’ve been sort of ready to go since last July,” Johannson said. “It’s just I’m a little surprised we’re this far apart this late, but on the other hand every negotiation is a bit different and there’s different pressures and different circumstances and all sorts of different things.”

Johannson didn’t give much of an indication regarding whether Point preferred a longer-term contract like something Marner received, or a “bridge” deal like what Brock Boeser signed for with Vancouver.

Via Cap Friendly, the Lightning have about $8.477M in space as of this writing. That honestly feels a little bit low for a 23-year-old forward who generated 41 goals and 92 points in 79 regular-season games last season, even if you account for Point losing less money playing in a tax-friendly state like Florida.

Marner is younger, and Toronto doesn’t have that state tax edge, but you could make some very reasonable comparisons between the two players, especially since Point is a center while Marner is a winger. They’re both impact scorers, and Point may be a little bit more well-rounded, as you may believe when considering metrics such as Evolving Hockey’s RAPM even-strength comparison charts:

Of course, where the Maple Leafs have been paying premiums for Auston Matthews and John Tavares, multiple Lightning players are receiving AAVs below their perceived value, including Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman.

Combine that notion with the feeling that Point very much wants to stay with Tampa Bay – Johannson doesn’t deny that at all – and you can see why the Lightning might be almost brazen about nickel-and-diming Point.

Johannson is right in saying it’s fairly late, with less than two weeks remaining until the 2019-20 regular season starts. Yet Point’s agent himself said that a deal can get done if the will is there, so it wouldn’t be that surprising if Point and the Lightning hash something out soon. Maybe media appearances like these might even speed things up ever so slightly?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jaromir Jagr is still scoring goals at age 47

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Jaromir Jagr can’t quit playing hockey, and we’re all better off for it.

After saying years ago he’d like to play beyond 50, Jagr can’t stay away from the ice. After returning to Rytiri Kladno, his hometown club that he owns, in 2018 after injuries ended his time with the Calgary Flames, the future Hall of Famer tried to get healthy but managed only 27 total games in a year as he helped the team get promoted from the Czech second division, which included a four-goal game.

An injury kept him out of the lineup early this season, Kladno’s first in the Czech Extraliga since 2014, but on Friday the 47-year-old (!) Jagr was back in action. Playing over 22 minutes, the fifth overall pick in the 1990 (!!) NHL Draft scored a goal during a 7-4 loss to HC Energie Karlovy Vary.

Kladno is winless through three games early in the season.

As for Jagr, the stories of his dedication to training are legendary, which makes the fact he’s playing so late in his 40s not entirely a surprise. Hockey is his life, as he told Sportnet’s Kristina Rutherford in 2015.

“The time between when I quit hockey and I die, I want it to be the shortest,” Jagr said. “It’s not going to be as exciting, that time. So as long as I can play, that’s what I’m doing. If I can play ’til I die, that’s what I will do. What else are you gonna do? Even if you retire, you will still have to go work out, and maybe harder than you do when you play hockey because you don’t want to look ugly and fat. At least I don’t want to.”

Stick-tap Derek O’Brien

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Previewing the 2019-20 Calgary Flames

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: This was an offseason of mostly lateral moves for the Flames, exemplified by Calgary bringing in an uncertain but slightly younger goalie (Cam Talbot) for an aging and all-over-the-place netminder (Mike Smith).

The Milan LucicJames Neal trade seems like a loss for the Flames, but then again, Neal just didn’t fit for Calgary, to the point that things bordered on awkward.

Let’s consider the Flames marginally worse. In all honesty, the biggest hits came in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they were embarrassed by the Avalanche.

Strengths: When you look at the best of the best in Calgary, the Flames boast talent that can hang with just about anyone. Mark Giordano‘s been considered an uncrowned Norris Trophy defenseman for some time, and he finally sat on that throne after 2018-19. Johnny Gaudreau is one of the most sublimely gifted playmakers in the NHL, and thus helps his top line usually rank among the best in the league most seasons. Matthew Tkachuk isn’t just an antagonist; like Brad Marchand, he’s also a player who annoys opponents because he’s also really good.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the Flames are still a bit lacking when it comes to depth at both the forwards and defense positions. If Gaudreau’s line falters and Tkachuk’s trio cannot score, the Flames are in trouble — and there’s quite a bit of a drop from Giordano to other blueliners.

Goaltending remains a big question, too. Can Talbot form a strong tandem with David Rittich?

[MORE: Under Pressure: Treliving | 3 QuestionsTalbot the X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): For the most part, Bill Peters’ first season in Calgary was a success, although the postseason was rough, and you wonder if some blame Peters for lacking answers as Colorado mopped the floor with his Flames.

Peters’ seat warms up in part because his “riverboat gambler” GM Brad Treliving has made a lot of big bets, and many some are wondering if Calgary should cash out. Coaches often get sent out with fired GMs, so that’s something to consider.

Overall, I’d put Peters at about a four.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Cam Talbot, Matthew Tkachuk, Milan Lucic.

Talbot went from being a fantastic backup with the Rangers to a workhorse early on for the Oilers — to the point that Edmonton wore him out like an NFL RB who saw far too many carries. Talbot’s stature in the league plummeted, yet at 32, he’s not so old that a rebound is totally out of the question.

Tkachuk stands with a handful of high-profile RFA stars who still need new contracts. He’ll be fascinating to watch as those negotiations play out, whether we’re debating the merits of a deal soon, or watching as things drag out into the season. Either way, he’ll draw attention, especially when he has that mouthpiece dangling obnoxiously out of his maw.

Every now and then, a “change of scenery” really does work out, at least if you keep expectations in check. The Flames may end up playing to Lucic’s strengths more effectively than the Oilers, or Lucic may simply have needed a reboot. Or he’s just washed. It could be that last one.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. It seemed like a few Flames played over their heads, and Giordano’s getting up there in age at 35, so there’s a risk that Calgary lags behind the Sharks and/or Golden Knights during the regular season. Still, with the Pacific being as weak as it is, it would be a surprise if the Flames missed the postseason altogether.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.