clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Paul Bissonnette and the diminishing role of the NHL enforcer

With 12 days to go until preseason begins, let's look at why Paul Bissonnette is still struggling to find work.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Bissonnette is a fan favorite for the Arizona Coyotes for many reasons. His personality is engaging and fun, he is capable of laughing at himself, and he is an NHL enforcer, a player whose job is to be prepared to fight and little else.

His job is now endangered.

Through no fault of his own, the NHL Bissonnette finds himself in is a league that has seen precipitous declines in fighting; 70 percent of NHL games this season did not have a fight, and the overall number of fighting majors decreased at a rate of 17 percent from previous years. This has relatively little to do with the relative violence of the game; if anything the speed and size of NHL players had made the game more violent than before.

But it has a lot to do with stats.

Consider the four conference finalists last season. Of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Montreal, only the Habs were outside of the bottom ten in the league in fighting majors per game. The last four Stanley Cup Champions have had a grand total of three players with more than 100 PIMs in their winning season (in the lockout season, nobody on the Chicago Blackhawks was on pace to break the 100 PIM barrier).

These teams are instead rolling four lines of players with offensive ability. For last season's Hawks, that included players like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell. For the Kings, that included Mike Richards and Dwight King. While some of these players are willing to mix it up on occasion, they are prized primarily for their ability to continue to drive possession and generate scoring chances.

And that is likely the future of fighting in the NHL. Guys like Bissonnette and John Scott are being slowly filtered out of the league. Players in the mold of Shane Doan or Kyle Clifford, guys whose skillset includes the ability to fight, but only as a complement to their offensive ability, are likely the future way NHL teams will respond to questionable hits or on-ice issues.

Paul Bissonnette may end up getting a job somewhere (Washington seems to be flirting with the idea of bringing him in), but in the future the fate of him and guys like him will likely be determined by the number of points they can put on the score sheet as opposed to minutes they can sit in the penalty box.