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.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZxI73qhI4X/?hl=en&taken-by=biznastydoesbc

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.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

“It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

“Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

“I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

“On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

“It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

“(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

“It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.