Paul Bissonnette didn’t know it at the end of the 2013-14 season when he met with general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett. He knows it now.
Bissonnette won’t be with the Arizona Coyotes next season.
"It sucks," the Coyotes’ fan favorite said Tuesday. "It’s really sad because I had a blast there for five years. I met a lot of awesome people — got really close with the fans and the community, and I’ll really miss them."
Bissonnette won’t be remembered for his on-ice production. He posted a career-high eight points last season, but he never got thrust into a role where he had a chance to do much more, despite some small sample-size results that suggest he could handle it.
He was usually asked to play a responsible, risk-averse, fourth-line role while serving as the team’s enforcer and playing cheerleader on the numerous occasions when he was a healthy scratch.
"A lot of guys don’t have the personality for that," he said. "I’m willing to shut up, do what I’m told and go do the dirty work. And if I’m a healthy scratch, I’ll be positive in the (locker) room and tell the guys how great they are."
But he made a different name for himself in the Coyotes community.
Bissonnette brought homeless people from the Central Arizona Shelter Services Vista Colina Emergency Family Shelter to hockey games in the past four years. The Coyotes donated the tickets, but Bissonnette paid for the transportation from the shelter in Phoenix and for food vouchers with the money he’s raised from selling shirts by Sauce Hockey.
He still wants to maintain this Valley tradition even if or when he signs with another team.
He was also giving of his time the past five seasons. Following a shootout loss to Edmonton on April 4 that all but sealed the Coyotes’ non-playoff fate, he was the only player to show up to Street Hockey Showdown on April 6. According to one observer, he stayed for much of the event, shook everybody’s hand and granted every autograph request.
The combination of a trade for B.J. Crombeen and the team’s tight purse strings have insured he won’t be back next season. Bissonnette, 29, has no idea where he will land, but the unrestricted free agent said he is talking to a couple of NHL teams and hopes to have an offer in the next few weeks.
"It’s a very demoralizing process and it’s frustrating," he said. "Early on, I wasn’t getting any talk and I was losing my mind because I’ve never been through this before, but my agent (Mark Guy) told me that’s how it usually goes — there’s usually this lull after the first wave of big dogs sign."
If he doesn’t get the NHL offer he wants by mid-August, Bissonnette might pursue playing in Europe, where players face fewer tax penalties and normally get their housing and transportation paid for.
Bissonnette trains with former NHLer Jeff Tambellini, who played two years in Switzerland and last season in Sweden, so he has a shoulder to lean on for advice. Bissonnette also got a taste of a larger role when he played the lockout season for the Cardiff Devils, a Welsh team in the British Elite Ice Hockey League.
"We only have a short window here to make money, so if an NHL team said, ‘We’ll give you the league minimum’ and a Russian team said, ‘We’ll give you $800,000, pretty much tax-free for two years,’ I’m going to Russia," he said.
Bissonnette knows Coyotes fans are a little demoralized by back-to-back playoff-less seasons and an underwhelming offseason of roster moves, but he offered one last piece of public relations for the organization in this message.
"Stick with it," he said. "You have a good bunch of guys and good core to the organization. Once the money starts coming in and they can start signing guys and the draft picks come up, it’s going to be a really good place.
"They find ways to win when the odds are stacked, so you have to admire that. I love the guys there. I’m going to miss them."