Paul Bissonnette talks persona, anxiety, and analytics

Phoenix Coyotes' Paul Bissonnette (12) and St. Louis Blues' Ryan Reaves fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, April 18, 2013, in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Paul Bissonnette has played 202 games in the National Hockey League. The former Pittsburgh Penguins and Arizona Coyotes winger has built himself a sizeable social media following through his @BizNasty2point0 Twitter account and Instagram page.

Bissonnette fielded questions from readers at The Players’ Tribune, where he spilled on the role analytics have played in diminishing hockey fights, fans’ perception of enforcers, and the anxiety associated with the build up to a fight.

Asked if NHL enforcers carried their tough-guy personas away from the rink, Bissonnette had this to say:

“For the most part, no.

Take a guy like Jody Shelley. I’m sure people think he’s a complete meathead because of the role he played and how he played it. He’s one of the scariest guys I’ve ever fought against because he truly put on a mask to become a different person on the ice.

But when I met him off the ice, he couldn’t have been any more different. He’s such a great guy. He’s articulate, he’s funny and he’s very intelligent. And there are a lot of similar examples. Guys like Kevin Westgarth, who went to Princeton. Same goes for George Parros.”

Bissonnette was asked about his game-day preparation ahead of a matchup where he expected to fight the opponent’s heavyweight:

“It’s a lot of restlessness. It’s a lot of anxiety. It’s a lot of imagining the worst in your own head.

The lead-up to a fight is one of my least favorite things about this job.

It’s probably not so different than fighting in the UFC, where I’m sure they get nerves right before the fight or the night before. But the difference is they have one fight every few months, and we play through an 82-game season. That’s a lot of time thinking about getting hurt — and actually getting hurt.

The biggest thing I look forward to in retirement is no longer having that feeling of dread on game day.”

The 30-year-old pugilist was asked for his thoughts on teams’ apparent shift away from carrying a player whose primary role is to fight, and the role analytics have played in roster construction. Bissonnette believes modern statistics ignore some key components of the game, like the effect linemates can have on Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

Of course, any proponent of advanced analytics will quickly point out that context is key and, in most cases, readily accessible to further one’s understanding of what’s taking place on the ice. Still, Bissonnette doesn’t like the idea of possession totals influencing negotiations:

“Your advanced stats are generally more of a reflection of which lines you’re playing with and against.

Ultimately, teams don’t draft based on Corsi or possession numbers. You draft a player because you’ve watched how they perform on the ice and then consider their potential to improve.

But somehow they’re starting to use this bulls–t in contract negotiations. You have teams saying, “Oh, wow, look at this player in Chicago who had a 60 percent possession number.” Well, yeah, because he’s an average player playing with Toews and Kane. So all of the sudden a team signs him for $3 million a year even though he’s a $1.5 million a year player, and they’re shocked when his possession isn’t as good. Are you kidding me?

In the end, the video tells the tale: Did you win your battles, did you execute your plays, did you capitalize?”

Bissonnette has not played in the NHL since the 2013-14 season, when he appeared in 39 games with the Arizona Coyotes. He signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings’ relocated AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, this past summer. Bissonnette played 48 games with the Kings’ AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs last season, earning one goal and seven points and 167 penalty minutes.

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