Dhiren Mahiban

You’ve been traded; now what?

Each season at the NHL’s trade deadline several players, prospects and draft picks change teams.

Clubs make trades for a variety of reasons. Some are looking to load up for what is expected to be a long playoff run and push for the Stanley Cup, while others are looking to shed expiring contracts and stockpile draft picks and prospects for the future.

Forty-three players were involved in 24 trades prior to the deadline at 3 p.m. ET on  Monday.

Thirty general managers now feel like they made the best moves for their respective clubs moving forward.

But what about the player dealt?

Getting the Call

Last January, the New York Rangers dealt Michael Del Zotto to the Nashville Predators for Kevin Klein.

The 24-year-old, who was selected by the Rangers in the first round of the 2008 NHL Draft, had spent parts of five seasons in New York.

Del Zotto recalled finding out about the trade following a Rangers practice.

“I remember getting off the ice at practice and I had a voicemail from my agent so I knew something was up,” said Del Zotto. “I spoke to him. Then I went in and spoke to assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld and he kind of informed me what was going on.

“At the time, I knew something was going to happen so I wasn’t too shocked. But when it does happen, you’re shocked. You leave so many people behind. You make so many great friendships and relationships. It’s not easy.”

The ideal way for players to hear about the trade is from the general manager, but that’s not always the case these days, says agent Anton Thun of MFive Sports.

“If a GM is trading a player, the first person that hears it, or the first person who should be hearing it, is the player,” Thun said. “Unfortunately, in today’s world, with technology and media, sometimes the media hears it first, not the player, which is unfortunate.

“That’s not a good situation for the player, the club or anybody.”

No one knows that better than current Edmonton Oiler Derek Roy.

Roy was with the Dallas Stars when he was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks in April 2013.

“With social media nowadays … my brother texted me and said, ‘Hey, I think you got traded to Vancouver,’” recalled Roy. “I was like ‘What?’ I hadn’t gotten a call from the GM, and it was all over Twitter, so I’m like, ‘Oh, man.’ Maybe like 20 minutes later I got a call from the GM saying ‘yeah we traded you to Vancouver’. I was like, ‘I think I knew that.’ I said, ‘I saw it on Twitter.’”

The Move

Some players have to uproot a wife, kids and even pets and move across the continent. Others are caught in the middle of an extended road trip, nowhere near their home base and left with just one piece of luggage and enough clothes to last only a few days.

“Once the trade call with the league is done and both teams have obviously agreed to it, usually there’s a release time. They say, ‘This will be in the public domain at a certain time,’” said Toronto Maple Leafs Director of Hockey and Scouting Administration Reid Mitchell. “The process is simple in the fact we’ve got to find out where the incoming players are, if they’re at home or on the road with their current club.

“A lot of times, if they’re on the road, they may not have a bunch of luggage.”

Many players agree that it’s what they signed up for when becoming professional hockey players, accepting the notion that being traded is just “part of the business.”

However, deep down there’s a human element each player faces, an emotional side of being told, “You’ve been traded”.

“It’s not easy,” said Del Zotto, who is now with the Flyers. “For me, it was especially tough in New York. I lived with my brother and his fiancée so I think that was the toughest thing was leaving them.

“The biggest thing when you move from home is having family far away, and it’s tough to say goodbye.”

Del Zotto said it was difficult saying goodbye to the friends he’d made while in New York.

“I was in New York 4 1/2 years, you make so many friendships and relationships outside of the game and even people within the organization and teammates.” Del Zotto said. “It’s people you spend time with every single day, so you consider them family. I think that’s the toughest part.”

The defenseman said things were further complicated by the fact he was joining a team in the middle of a four-game, six-day road trip.

“I ended up having to pack and meet the team on the road in Vancouver for a week road trip, so that wasn’t easy,” Del Zotto said. “I just tried to pack as much as I could in one bag and then just had multiple shipments of stuff come later on. That sucked for sure.”

No one knows the hardships of being dealt better than retired NHLer, Mike Sillinger. The veteran of 1,049 NHL games was dealt an NHL-record nine times and played for a record 12 teams during his playing days.

“I always looked at it as a new opportunity,” said Sillinger from his family home in Regina, Saskatchewan. “A majority of my moving was based on contract status and fitting a role on a hockey club.”

Seven of the nine times he was dealt, Sillinger heard the news from his general manager.

So what’s the first move after that phone call?

“Your first move is telling your wife,” says Sillinger. “Whether she likes the destination you’re at or doesn’t like the destination you’re at, the biggest thing is you’ve got a family to provide for.

“That’s the first phone call. A lot of times it was sad times. A few times it was happy.”

Current Toronto Maple Leafs forward Peter Holland got the call that he was being dealt by the Anaheim Ducks in November 2013. Playing with the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals, Holland was in the middle of a road trip when he was dealt.

“It was a little bit more complicated for me,” says Holland who has 10 goals and 20 points in 54 games with the Leafs this season. “It’s definitely a lot easier when you’re traded at home and you can kind of sort of sort out all your living arrangements and stuff like that.

“When I was traded I was on a five-day road trip so I was about three weeks there with one pair of jeans, a t-shirt and one suit.”

The Transition

Once a deal is made most NHL clubs have a team services representative in place to help smooth the move to the new city.

Mitchell is the man in charge of assisting players once a trade goes through in Toronto.

“I was living in Norfolk, Va., at the time, but the teams do a great job of making the transition easy for you so you can focus on hockey,” said Holland. “Reid Mitchell here with the Leafs did a great job helping me out with that setting me up with a moving company so that they can go in to my place, pack up all my stuff and then bring it.

“It was a little bit tougher coming from the States to Canada ’cause all my stuff had to go through immigration across the border, but the teams do a wonderful job of making it smooth.”

Sillinger who broke in to the league during the 1990-91 season and played through the 2008-09 season didn’t have the help teams offer now.

“We pretty much did it ourselves,” Sillinger recalled. “Pretty much my wife and I had to figure it out ourselves. We had some help in terms of them calling the movers and what not.

“For all my moves, my wife, she was the one organizing everything and getting it underway. Didn’t have too much help as far as having contact information, who to deal with, so we just kind of did it ourselves.”

Sillinger admitted things got more complicated if he was dealt in the middle of a road trip.

“A few times I was traded on the road. I had to fly back home, get my stuff and say, ‘Hey, we’ll organize this move and we’ll see you in a week or so’,” said Sillinger. “I was fortunate enough to have a wife that understood and a family that understood, it was totally a business and that the reason for Mike Sillinger being traded wasn’t whether I was playing good or bad. It was either a contract or I was going from a non-playoff team to a playoff team. It was something that we understood as a family that ‘hey it’s a new opportunity for Mike Sillinger’.”

Mitchell says the main objective is to get the player into the city and with the group as soon as possible. His primary job is to help take care of the off-ice distractions so the player can be focused on the ice.

“We provide the player, if he’s single or a married guy, with kind of a welcome to Toronto package,” said Mitchell. “In [the package] it would talk about everything from schools or minor hockey options or even how to get a health card or a driver’s license switched.

“It’s a little book of contact information. If you need help with this, you call this person, or this is the office that handles this, or if you want to enroll your kid in school, here’s the Toronto school board number, find the local school. If you need a real estate agent, here’s a few.”

Sillinger says once traded, despite the human element of the process, there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself.

“When you feel sorry for yourself, that’s when someone is going to come and take your job,” he said. “Everybody thinks that its glamorous and a great life and there’s lots of positives. The positives outweigh the negatives big time, it’s a great way to make a living and there’s nothing better than playing in the National Hockey League.

“There’s lots of destinations that my wife and I, we liked, and we’re like, ‘Aww, shit, we’ve got to pick up and move.’”

One of the issues when getting traded, especially to a team on the other side of the border, is immigration.

When the Predators acquired defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli from the Leafs in February, it was several days before either player was able to report to Nashville.

“Because we’re a league that has teams on both sides of the border and we cross the border, a team like us, every week pretty much. Immigration can be a challenge,” Mitchell said. “It’s becoming more and more of a challenge. It’s not an issue, but when Canadian born players are going to play in the States, they have to get their work permits approved ahead of time before they can cross and that’s where you see the [David] Clarkson, the Franson, Santorelli – they have to wait for a certain period in order for it to be approved by the U.S. government.”

Which players are the toughest to get immigration issues sorted out for?

“Not to lump them together, but Russians are harder to get [into Canada],” says Mitchell. “You have to get a visa put in your passport. These players, if we’re talking NHL deals, they’ll have some kind of visa to play road games in Canada if they worked for the Anaheim Ducks or something. To come in as a visiting team is different than coming in, living and working in Canada.  It’s a whole different visa that you need to come work here.

“The Eastern Europeans, the Kazakhs, the Ukrainians, the Belarusians – some of those can be a little more challenging. There’s a process to every player getting them and making sure we’re doing things the proper way.”

Joining the new club

Holland agreed being traded is like moving to a new school mid-year.

“Its tough. You go from having some friends and knowing people in the organization to going to a bunch of strangers for the most part,” he said. “But hockey is a pretty small world, too. Usually, it’s pretty typical that you run into a guy that you played with before, or against, so you have some common ground with a lot of guys.”

According to Roy, being dealt at the trade deadline isn’t the worst thing in the world.

“That’s a good thing, ’cause you’re going to a team that’s going to make the playoffs and is going to go for a playoff run so you get excited for that,” Roy said. “They think that you’re the missing ingredient to win a Stanley Cup or go deep in the playoffs. It’s a good feeling in that regard.”

As for the 43 players dealt on Monday, who are getting acclimated to new organizations, Sillinger says to make the most of the new opportunity.

“It’s a new opportunity for yourself to get that new contract, win a Stanley Cup, be on a winning team,” he said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself because you’ve been traded. In the time that you feel sorry for yourself, someone is going to be there stomping at your door step, trying to take your job.”

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    Weight of the Worlds

    Raphael Diaz was in his early teens when he first made the realization.

    As a youth in Switzerland, Diaz says he began dreaming of playing in the IIHF Hockey World Junior Championships several years before he was eligible. And when he did, he didn’t envision his countrymen in the stands watching.

    “Growing up, when I was 13, 14, 15 years old … everybody says, ‘I hope the world championship Under-20 is in Canada or in US,’” said Diaz, who is now a defenseman with the Calgary Flames. “Especially in Canada. It’s unbelievable there. I was really lucky to have the tournament there in Vancouver.

    “It was important to play in the spotlight and challenge other countries.”

    Diaz represented his homeland in the 2006 tournament, which was held in Vancouver, when he was 19, and even in what seemed like a meaningless game against Slovakia, he marveled at the fan support.

    “I remember we played a game for seventh place or something like that. It was an afternoon, and it was Switzerland against Slovakia. … There were 8,000 fans there, and I was like, ‘Oh, my god, what’s going on?’ It’s unbelievable,” recalled Diaz, who recently turned 29. “I knew that’s the country of hockey, Canada.

    “It doesn’t matter if it’s Under-20 or professional hockey, they just love to watch hockey.”

    * * *

    In Canada, the World Juniors are as much a part of the Christmas tradition as trees and turkey. Canadians schedule their days around games, which run from Boxing Day to the first week of January. The tournament features Under-20 hockey players from the top 10 hockey nations. Many of the players are either draft eligible or already drafted leaving the tournament to showcase their talent to NHL scouts and general managers.

    When a tournament is hosted by Canada, the attention amplifies. Canadian television network TSN reported it had 13.4 million unique Canadian viewers for Canada’s 5-4 gold-medal victory over the Russians on Jan. 5.

    “It’s the Super Bowl, it’s the Rose Bowl, it’s that time of the year,” says Hockey Canada president and CEO, Tom Renney. “Especially when you look at things like the Rose Bowl or … National Championship. That’s what this is. It’s a tradition that has been deeply entrenched in every Canadian’s mind and families and households for quite some time now.”

    Journalist Lucas Aykroyd, who has covered six tournaments for the International Ice Hockey Federation, believes the World Juniors are “more Canadian” than watching the Olympic hockey final.

    “The World Juniors really reflect how much Canadians crave hockey. It’s our equivalent of March Madness. People who don’t care one iota about sports otherwise will watch an Olympic final every four years,” Aykroyd said. “But I remember doing stuff like getting up at 4 a.m. to watch Canada play Czechoslovakia at the World Juniors in West Germany when I was a kid.

    “The World Juniors make you into a hardcore fan. And TSN knows that if Canada wins, people will tune in next year in hopes of continuing to ride the euphoria. If Canada loses, then it actually increases the urgency to watch until they get the gold back. TSN can’t lose.”

    * * *

    [parallax src=”https://nbc-sports.go-vip.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2015/01/150123-canada-fan-1000.jpg” height=600 credit=” Canadians … (Getty Images)”]

    It’s not just fans who go wild for the World Juniors, either.

    The current Flames roster features players from six different countries, and Diaz says there was money on the line as the teammates watched the tournament earlier this month.

    “Yeah, you’re going to bet with some guys,” he said. ”You’ve got to take your country, of course, and try to make some money.”

    According to retired goaltender Sean Burke, it’s important to make people aware of what this tournament means to its participants.

    “I think what you have to try and get people to understand is these are really the up-and-coming stars and the future,” said Burke. “All the teams here are represented by their best young players. These guys are not a long way off of either being in the NHL, or, for some of them, they’ll never be in the NHL, but at this point, they’re among the best players in their country.

    “The intensity of this tournament, because of that, it’s a world championship for this age group, so it’s an incredibly intense tournament.”

    Now the assistant general manager and goaltending coach of the Arizona Coyotes, Burke played at the World Juniors in 1986 when Hamilton, Ontario, played host.

    “When you play in this tournament, especially as a Canadian, it’s amazing,” said Burke. “It’s really your first taste as a young player of the importance of what international events are really like.

    “You have an opportunity. In those days … the Soviet Union was the power, so that was an incredible experience. I think that’s what I remember as a young player, is the battles we had with the Soviets.”

    Burke went on to appear in 820 NHL games over 16 seasons with the New Jersey Devils, Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning and L.A. Kings. The 47-year-old, who was a part of Hockey Canada’s management team at this year’s event, said playing in the Under-20 tournament prepared him for the pressures of the NHL.

    “When you’re this age, these guys now have had lots of opportunity to deal with media and play on the big stage, but looking back, you don’t realize until years go by what an incredible microscope is on these kids,” he said. “It’s probably a good thing. The pressure usually comes from within, but in this tournament, there is a lot of expectations.

    “For our boys here being in Canada, I think they’re starting to sense that. You have to be really mature to handle that stuff. I think the tournament matures you in a hurry.”

    [parallax src=”https://nbc-sports.go-vip.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2015/01/150123-zachary-fucale-1000.jpg” height=600 credit=” The World Juniors gives young players a glimpse of life in the show. (Getty Images)”]

    * * *

    Despite the popularity of the Christmas tradition in Canada, Hockey Canada perhaps overestimated just how much people loved the international competition when it came to pricing tickets for this year’s event.

    A large storyline throughout the two-week event was the lack of interest in Montreal, which co-hosted the event with Toronto. Tickets for Canada’s round-robin games, which were all played at Montreal’s Bell Centre, ranged from $66 to $261 CAD ($53-$210 in American dollars) – prices not seen in some NHL markets.

    The pricing even caught IIHF President, Rene Fasel off guard.

    “I was really surprised. If you were to do it at this pricing in Europe, you would have nobody in the arena,” he said. “Hockey Canada decides what the pricing is. Not us. Maybe we had really high expectation in Montreal. A lot of people are talking about ticket prices.”

    Canada’s four games at the Bell Centre, all wins, drew an average crowd of 15,222 well under the capacity of the arena, which has a capacity of 21,287 for Canadiens home games.

    Despite the struggles in Montreal, a Germany and Switzerland relegation game on a Saturday night (Jan.3) drew nearly 8,400 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

    “If we have a look at Europe, we have six to eight times more people (in Canada),” said Fasel. “(Saturday) evening, Germany-Switzerland — 8,000 people. If you do that game in Finland, I don’t know, 400 people? It’s really a nice problem to discuss about the numbers.”

    For its part, Hockey Canada says it’s evaluating the situation. Montreal and Toronto are slated to co-host the 2017 event.

    “We’ll look at everything for sure, but we’ll do that when the tournament is over,” said Renney. “ I think as much as we all have to work to be a solution to what might happen in Montreal moving forward. We’ll concern ourselves with that when the competition is over.”

    * * *

    Scouts will turn up regardless of the location. The tournament is an opportunity for NHL teams to look at the handful of draft-eligible players each country has on its roster while at the same time re-evaluating the team’s previous draft picks.

    “For me, as a manager, it’s good for me to come in here to see how our draft (picks) compare to the other teams (picks),” said Nashville Predators general manager, David Poile. “It’s sort of one stop shopping from a scouting stand point for someone like myself to see all these different players from these different countries.

    “A lot of these guys are going to be future players in the NHL, some of them are going to be future stars in the National Hockey League.”

    Added Minnesota Wild general manager, Chuck Fletcher: “Every team has several kids that are going to be playing in the NHL in a few years. It’s a great opportunity to see some potential kids, draft eligible kids for this coming draft, but it’s also a chance for somebody like me to come and see a lot of the young players that are already drafted and try to get a sense of who the top prospects for the NHL are.”

    As for who stood out at the 2015 tournament, there was one name at the tip of everyone’s tongue.

    Connor McDavid, who recently turned 18, finished the tournament tied for the scoring lead with three goals and 11 points in seven games.

    McDavid, a standout with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, is expected to have his name called first at June’s NHL Draft.

    New York Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark was surprised at how quickly he saw improvement in McDavid’s game. McDavid was unable to play in a competitive game for 39 days leading up to the tournament due to a broken bone in his right hand.

    “You just can’t use your hand for four to five weeks,” said Clark. “You can’t go out and skate for the first two to three weeks ’cause if he ever fell, and damaged it again … so it’s pretty impressive to watch that kid after four or five weeks with the hand in a cast.

    “Never mind every game in the tournament, every shift in the tournament he’s just getting better.”

    Enforced out

    Five years after he last played in the American Hockey League, Paul Bissonnette is back in a familiar place, riding the bus between cities on nobody’s bucket list and staying in budget hotels. However, the similarities end there.

    Hockey is evolving and transitioning away from physicality and toward skill and skating. Bissonnette is one of several players whose forte is fighting and who are trying to prove they still have a place in the game.

    When training camps opened in September, Bissonnette, a veteran of six NHL seasons, found himself on the outside looking in. He was without a guaranteed contract and in a bind.

    Bissonnette, 29, looks the part of an enforcer, standing a hulking 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds, with a crooked nose and a sleeve of tattoos on his left arm. Despite playing a traditionally unheralded role as a grinder and fighter, he became one of the most popular NHL players on Twitter, with more than 600,000 followers thanks to his easy wit and occasionally biting opinions. Like many celebrities, Bissonnette this summer made a video of himself taking the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and funds for the ALS Association; unlike most celebrities, Bissonnette’s took place in a Speedo, on a mountaintop, with glacier water dropped by a helicopter. “Don’t get stuck on the bench like Bissonnette,” the message warned as it encouraged viewers to join the fight against ALS.

    He found his way to St. Louis Blues camp on a tryout but was released just over two weeks later. Three weeks passed, and with the phone not ringing, a real concern began to set in.

    “I will say this, it was very stressful,” said Bissonnette, who has seven goals and 340 penalty minutes in 202 games spent primarily with the Arizona Coyotes. “I don’t know what I want to do after hockey.”

    He admits his time with the Blues was an eye-opening experience.  While at camp, he was battling with veterans Colin Fraser and Joakim Lindstrom for a roster spot. Fraser, who is listed at 6-foot-1, played a role on three clubs that won the Stanley Cup. Lindstrom, the smallest of the three at 6-feet, appeared in 97 NHL games over five seasons before playing in Sweden for three years. But at the end of camp, Lindstrom wound up on the Blues’ third line, while Fraser landed with St. Louis’ AHL affiliate.

    “I was surprised,“ admitted Bissonnette. “I didn’t really realize that when he got to camp that a guy that’s won three Stanley cups and played a lot of good hockey in his day couldn’t even find a one-way (contract) for this season, so it just goes to show how tough times are in the NHL.”

    * * *

    Ken Holland doesn’t have anything against enforcers. He just doesn’t employ any.

    Holland has guided the Red Wings to 17 straight playoff appearances since taking over as the club’s general manager in July 1997. Detroit has won three Stanley Cups under Holland’s leadership. The Red Wings have also finished with the fewest fighting majors in the league in eight of the past nine seasons, according to HockeyFights.com.

    “It appears those, what I call them, one dimensional players that all they can really do is fight, those types of players now are … becoming past-tense,” Holland recently said.

    Spurred by changes to rules, culture and tactics after the NHL’s two most recent lockouts, fighting has been on the decline over the past decade. The league saw 789 bouts in 1,230 games during the 2003-04 season, a rate of 0.64 per game, according to the HockeyFights.com database. Forty-one percent of games had more than one fight.

    After a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season, the league’s fighting rate nearly halved in 2005-06 — 466 in 1,230 games, or 0.38 per game — before rising back to 734 fights during the 2008-09 season (0.6 per game). But the numbers have again declined since, and there were 469 bouts last season, a rate of 0.38 per game. Those numbers have slightly decreased this season, as fights happened every 0.34 games through play Tuesday. There was more than one fight in 30 percent of games.

    [insert-quote text=”‘It appears those, what I call them, one dimensional players that all they can really do is fight, those types of players now are … becoming past-tense,’ says Ken Holland” align=center]

    In part, these changes are stylistic; teams have begun to value puck possession more than physicality, and whereas a team might carry an enforcer on its fourth line five or 10 years ago, now, general managers like Holland are more inclined to keep a more skilled player.

    “You’ve got to play,” Holland said. “The game is fast. Nobody wants to take penalties. It’s a hard league to score in. You hope to get a few goals out of your fourth line. You hope they can eat some minutes off your top forwards just to rest them.”

    Holland, 59, played junior hockey in an era when fights were commonplace.

    “I’m not against fighting. We prioritize that on our fourth line, we wanted hockey players versus one-dimensional players,” Holland said. “Fighting is in the game. I grew up in an era as a minor league goaltender where, in the Western Hockey League with the Medicine Hat Tigers, where there was lots of fighting. I don’t have anything against fighting, I just want the guys that fight on my team, to be able to play. If you can fight, and you can’t play, we don’t have room for you.”

    [parallax src=”https://nbc-sports.go-vip.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/12/141217-paul-bissonnette-400.jpg” height=600 credit=”Paul Bissonnette (AP Photo)”]

    After he was cut by the Blues, Bissonnette was in the process of packing up and heading overseas to play in Cardiff, Wales –where he spent part of the 2012-13 lockout playing.

    During a trip to Phoenix to collect some of his belongings, he reconnected with Coyotes general manager Don Maloney. Bissonnette was able to secure a professional tryout with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine. Even there, however, he was caught up in the push toward a new paradigm.

    “It’s developed quite a bit especially with a few of the rule changes,” Bissonnette said. “Structure-wise, it’s a lot better than when I played last. The game is very, very coached now and a lot of video is used so it’s definitely a bit different and a lot harder to score goals.”

    Bissonnette, who hadn’t played in the AHL since the 2008-09 season, was released on Dec. 8 after eight games in which he failed to register a point or a fight. He was carrying a minus-1 rating.

    He quickly found work, signing another professional tryout this time with the Manchester Monarchs, the minor-league affiliate of the L.A. Kings, on Dec. 9. The deal came about mainly because of the organization’s familiarity with Bissonnette. Michael Futa, the Kings’ vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel, and Mike Stothers, the Monarchs’ head coach, knew Bissonnette from his junior days. Stothers was Bissonnette’s head coach for 35 games with the Owen Sound Attack in 2004-05.

    Futa told LA Kings Insider that the organization was looking for a player who was “going to accept his role as a fourth-line grinder, who has played in the National Hockey League who’s going to be a real positive role model.”

    “He’s a guy that provides great leadership,” Futa said. He added: “Biz is a really fit guy. He’s a really fun guy in the dressing room.”

    Futa did not mention Bissonnette’s fighting skill.

    The deal was not without its restrictions. Bissonnette, at the request of Kings GM Dean Lombardi, was to stay off social media. The only tweets Bissonnette sent so far in December were a series thanking the fire department in Welland, Ontario, after his parents’ house caught on fire.

    “Tweet-free, just go down and be a role model,” Futa said. “Biz is a special kid. He’s excited about (the chance to play) and hopefully, he can turn it into more than that.”

    Bissonnette is not alone in his struggles to find work as a professional hockey player in North America. Many of the game’s tough guys have been forced from NHL rosters as the game has evolved where players are able to stick up for themselves. Enforcers who stick in the league can play significant minutes and contribute on the scoresheet.

    Krys Barch, Rich Clune and Zenon Konopka are without NHL jobs. All three finished in the Top 10 in fighting majors last season. In Toronto, the Leafs waived enforcers Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren in October and assigned both to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

    Orr, 32, has 116 career NHL fighting majors and 12 goals in 231 games. McLaren, meanwhile, fought 21 times in 62 games. Due to injuries and the AHL veteran rule, which limits the number of players who have played over 260 professional games, Orr and McLaren have 12 combined AHL appearances this season. Add to that the fact that both players are currently on expiring contracts, and their future in the game is in serious jeopardy.

    “When you look at the number of fights and the kind of guys that are looked to do that, numbers are down dramatically. That’s just the way the game has evolved and everyone kind of adjusts accordingly,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “There’s definitely been some change. I think teams just want to make sure that if fighting is down …  they might need something else.”

    Renowned heavyweight George Parros announced his retirement in early December after he failed to catch on with a club. At 6-foot-5, 205-pounds, Parros was one of the toughest players of his time, but also the definition of a one-dimensional player. In 474 NHL games over nine seasons, he scored 18 goals and collected 158 fighting majors.

    Parros, who was an economics major at Princeton, missed a month during his final NHL season when he suffered a concussion while falling face-first to the ice at the end of a bout with Orr.

    “I’ve had a long career, and to stretch it out and go down to the minors, and kind of take that step backwards, I wasn’t prepared to do that, especially with young kids,” Parros told Yahoo! Sports after his retirement. “I’d rather just kind of get on with the rest of my life. I feel like I’ve got a future in hockey, and I’m excited to start that chapter and turn that page”

     * * *

    While the number of fights per game is also on the decline, the type of player who fights is also changing. Instead of one player carrying the load as a fighter, teams have spread the responsibilities.

    The Boston Bruins call themselves team-tough following the departures of Shawn Thornton and Johnny Boychuk. While the team lost a good deal of toughness, head coach Claude Julien said the team would not be bullied.

    “We go out there and play the game and if it’s needed, it’s needed, but you’ve got to realize that we’ve lost a lot of those guys that were doing it before whether it’s the Thorntons and so on and so forth,” Julien said. “I think it’s just a matter of just playing the game. I can tell you one thing, if the opportunity happens, for whatever reason, we’re not going to back down from that stuff and that’s the way the game should be played.”

    Bruins forward Milan Lucic, 26, is one of the game’s toughest players. He had 52 career fighting majors entering this season. Lucic, who carries a permanent scowl, is in his eighth season. Despite racking up more than 700 penalty minutes, he has the skill to log heavy minutes for the Bruins and in his career has scored 126 goals and 312 points in 514 games.

    “I think that’s what’s gotten me to this point in my career is that I’ve been able to play the game, as well, and play a big role on the team,” said Lucic. “I think that’s the most important part, obviously you want to still continue that part of the game. Being a guy that’s helping the team win and contributing to their success is, I think, the most important thing.”

    Lucic recognizes the game has changed since he entered the league during the 2007-08 season. In his rookie campaign he had 13 fighting majors – his highest single-season total to date.

    “When you look at a lineup now … it’s not like what it used to be,” he said.  “It is going in a bit of a different direction, but I still think that fighting has a place in the game because it allows the players to police themselves. It’s in the back of guys’ minds, if you’re going to cheap shot a guy, that there can still be consequence to that. I think that’s a good thing to have.”

    [parallax src=”https://nbc-sports.go-vip.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/12/141217-milan-lucic-1600.jpg” height=600 credit=”Milan Lucic (Getty Images)”]

    Bissonnette, not surprisingly, doesn’t believe the team-tough concept is ideal.

    “You’ve seen it so far this year especially with people getting under (Lucic’s) skin,” Bissonnette said. “Where before maybe Shawn Thornton would deal with that for him, he wouldn’t have to worry about that, he could just focus on playing. Now, he’s got to kind of worry about protecting the guys as well as doing the rest of it.”

    Even enforcers who still have NHL jobs are finding it hard to get on the ice.

    Vancouver Canucks winger Tom Sestito led the league with 19 fighting majors last season.  He missed the first 10 games of the season as a healthy scratch, played in two games before being sidelined for 14 due to injury. Following a conditioning assignment in the AHL, he’s looking for his first game since Nov.2. In his absence Derek Dorsett has turned into a nice surprise.

    Dorsett was 16th in the league with 10 fighting majors last season. He already has six this season but has four goals and 10 points in 27 games. He has surpassed the eight points he had in 51 games with the Rangers last season and is on pace to pass his career-best 12-goal, 20-point campaign he put together during the 2011-12 season while with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 27-year-old has seen a change in the enforcer role since he broke into the league with 12 fighting majors during the 2008-09 season.

    “The game is changing. You don’t see as many staged fights and you don’t see many guys where (fighting) is just their role on the team,” he said. “Obviously, you’ve got to pick your spots, especially now the way things have evolved and the way penalties are being called and whatnot. You’ve always got to make sure you do it at the right times and you don’t want to put your team down.

    “It’s a little bit more strategic now than when I first broke into the league.”

     * * *

    Originally a fourth-round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003, Bissonnette bristles at the suggestion that he’s only good for fighting.

    “I don’t think I’m one-dimensional. I believe I can play,” he said. “Last year my statistics weren’t horrible and I played at a high level most of my life, but saying that, I always knew I was a borderline guy.”

    Bissonnette’s tryout contract allows him to play a maximum of 25 games. The minimum salary in the AHL is slightly more than $42,000, which is less than one-tenth of the NHL minimum of $550,000. He made $725,000 last season and has career earnings of more than $5 million, according to CapGeek.

    His goal is to earn a contract for the season at the AHL level and try and work his way back to the NHL, but, if it doesn’t work out, he’s just as happy to return to Cardiff.

    “Could I have signed a deal in the East Coast Hockey League? I’m sure, somewhere,” he said. “I’d rather go over (to Cardiff), play half the games and (go) to a place where I really enjoy myself. I love the game of hockey and I love trying to get better, but the last time I remember having fun playing hockey … it’s been a while.”

    [insert-quote text=”‘I always knew I was a borderline guy,’ says Paul Bissonnette” align=center]

    He had six goals and 19 points in 10 games while playing overseas in 2012-13.

    Bissonnette admits while in North America, he’s playing just to not make mistakes.

    “It’s a stressful job where you’re getting yelled at a lot. The money is great, there’s no denying that, but in Cardiff, if I made a mistake, I got to play the next shift and go out there,” he said. “That’s when hockey is fun. For me, a guy who is a fourth line guy, you’re basically playing not to make a mistake. I was playing 5-6 minutes a game in Phoenix. I loved my teammates, I loved playing hockey, and I loved my coaches, too, but that was my role. When you’re going out there playing just to … make sure you don’t get scored on and playing not to make mistakes, it’s not really fun.”

    Many of Bissonnette’s colleagues are already looking for work after hockey. He said he was approached to do some television work while waiting for a contract this season.

    “I got some phone calls on maybe doing some media, on the hockey side of things, but I don’t know if I want to be bashing guys on television who I played with or against, who were better than me,” said Bissonnette. “I don’t know if that’s me. I was really close with the guys that I played with; I don’t want to be on (television) critiquing their game.

    “I don’t really want to walk that fine line of being a sellout.”

    If the AHL route doesn’t work out for Bissonnette this season, it appears he’ll head back overseas. He’s not ready to give up hockey.

    “It’s hard when you’ve invested your whole life into one thing. I didn’t go to school so I don’t have an education to fall back on,” he said. “Do I think the connections I’ve made and me being a people person has helped me? Of course.

    “But saying that, it’s a short life, you want to do something that you’re passionate about. Other than hockey, I don’t really know what that is right now.”