Byron's Big Season Leads to Heavy Decisions Ahead

Steve Macfarlane
April 21 2014 09:00AM

When you’re talking about a 5-foot-8, 160-pounder (a measurement that falls somewhere between his what’s listed on the Flames website and what he suggests he is), the word big doesn’t come up very often.

For Flames forward Paul Byron, it’s come up a lot lately.

His fiancée Sarah, for example, recently gave birth to the couple’s second child — who weighed in at nine pounds and seven ounces.

That’s big.

He finished the season with the Flames after starting it with the Abbotsford Heat in the AHL, netting seven goals and 21 points in 47 games. Pro-rated over an 82-game schedule, and those numbers are a respectable 12 goals and 37 points.

That’s big for a guy who played third and fourth-line minutes.

Now, a big decision looms.

For the Flames. For the player.

A restricted free agent this summer, Byron has to be tendered at minimum a two-way qualifying offer that pays an NHL salary of $707,850 to be retained. But he doesn’t have to sign it if he’s set on finally getting a one-way deal that he’s arguably earned.

Taking advantage of his opportunity with a rebuilding franchise, the 24-year-old pushed his way into a regular role by March, scoring five times in his last 17 games and six assists in his last 19.

To sum up just how far along Byron has come since joining the Flames in 2011 as part of the Buffalo Sabres offer for Robyn Regehr: he’s finally earned himself a regular NHL role, but there’s a possibility it will have to be with another team.

Sizing up the available spots...

What happens next hinges on Brian Burke’s vision for the Flames’ future. We know it’s going to involve more size up front, we just don’t know how much.

In Byron’s favour is the fact only six forwards on one-way deals have contracts for next season, and one of them is the hulking Brian McGrattan. You can add in star rookie Sean Monahan as a sure thing, and likely Lance Bouma and Joe Colborne, too.

Things get dicey from there. Three more spots. An offer on the table for Michael Cammalleri. A big bodied UFA in Kevin Westgarth. Other prospects in the pipeline, including Sven Baertschi and Johnny Gaudreau.
Byron, as big as the strides he’s made have been, is no sure thing to return. At least not as a full-time Flame.

But he sure made the best of his situation while here. He knows he belongs in the NHL and has the strength and smarts to be more than just a small player with speed.

And thanks in part to the Flames, the confidence to go with it. That’s what a breakout season will do for a guy.

“It was great. If you would have told me that (I’d be a regular in the lineup) at the beginning of summer, I might not have believed you,” Byron said before heading back to Ottawa for the offseason. “I knew I was going to start the year in Abbotsford and I knew I’d have to work my way up. I did that. I seized every opportunity I got. I set a goal for myself in the summer and I reached that goal.”

Byron knows that there are more steps to take, more improvement to be made in the weight room. He also realizes the steps he’s taken, the maturing he’s done, on and off the ice.

Now a father of two, he’s no longer the kid who came to the Flames looking like his untucked jersey was two sizes to big (it was) and thinking that making the team was an inevitability after a strong second season with the Portland Pirates in the AHL.

His time in Abbotsford wasn’t easy. He’d hoped to be a member of the Flames after the trade, sooner rather than later. But he adapted to the teachings of coach Troy Ward and over the course of the next couple of years, became a man, and a father.

“They have a great coaching staff down there,” said Byron. “Sometimes guys need different development — sometimes it’s on the ice, sometimes it’s off the ice. I think they did a great job with me. I think my game really matured and I took a huge step this year.”

Thinking like an NHLer now

Increasing his physical strength helped with the transition. It’s something the diminutive Gaudreau will also find as he makes the jump to the pro ranks.

“I had a great summer training. I got a lot stronger,” said Byron. “When you’re a smaller guy like me and Johnny, you’ve always been the small guy so you don’t have to change your game. You just have to learn to cope with the stronger guys in the league.

“I had a great start down in Abbotsford, I got to show my offence, got my confidence going. It just seemed to continue when I came up this year.”

Five goals and 18 points in 23 games with the Heat this season, Byron had become a leader.

But a leader in the AHL is one thing. Finding his place in the NHL is another. His development had to reach a new level with the Flames to reach the point he’s at now.

By the time he took to the ice for a shift at the end of the season, he was no longer thinking about what he had to do to stay in the NHL, he was just playing.

“That was a big mindset change for me this year,” he said. “I felt like this is the most consistent year I’ve had in a long time. It gave me a lot of confidence to keep going. Finding consistency is the hardest part of the job.

Even for most of the year, in the back of your mind you’re always kind of wondering, ‘If this guy comes back am I going to be sent down? What do I have to do to stay?’ You go home to the hotel at the end of every day and you’re just counting down the days wondering what’s going to happen …

“When the coaching staff and management tells you you’re going to stay for good, it’s a big relief. It takes a lot of pressure off.”

For now, anyway. But as we get closer to the summer, the pressure of getting a new contract will surely weight on him a little. He sounded genuine suggesting he wants to be back with the Flames rather than move on.

“Absolutely. I want to be part of this team. I want to be back,” he said. “I love the coaching staff. I love the city.

“Hopefully there’s a spot for me here.”

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Former Calgary Sun Flames beat writer who has covered the team for a decade. Opinionated but reasonable, except when it comes to buffets. Follow him on Twitter at @MacfarlaneHKY
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#51 dotfras
April 22 2014, 10:35AM
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I think like others, that Byron has earned a contract. It just doesn't appear that there is room for him on this team, unless it's a two way deal.

Byron is a guy who had a great opportunity on the Flames. Top 6 minutes most nights. I don't think he gets that same chance on a majority of teams in the league, so I don't think he produces at the same level.

Common sense says he's a good guy to retain, given he's a young forward who's shown he can produce at the NHL level,

Reality is that we are LOADED at LW & C. With absolutely NO depth at RW.

I think at some point we need to address the organizational need. Like Burke said, you don't do that through the draft, you do it through trades.

So the question is, which LW/C's are on the chopping block?

LW Hudler, GlenX, Gaudreau, Galliardi(?)

Bouma(?) Van Brabant Agostino Baertschi Ferland Elson

C Stajan, Monahan, Backlund, Byron(?)

Granlund Reinhart Arnold Knight Jooris

RW Jones, Colborne(?), McGrattan, Hanowski

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#52 dotfras
April 22 2014, 10:37AM
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@Stubblejumper

I'd much rather give up a similar package for an established NHLer who can step into the role next year. Why would we trade all of that to draft a player who a) won't be ready for at least 2 years, b) isn't a lock to become a successful NHLer?

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#53 Burnward
April 22 2014, 10:51AM
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I wonder what it would take to get Marcus Foligno out of Buffalo? Might be an extremely tough task though.

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#54 Stubblejumper
April 22 2014, 02:36PM
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@dotfras

re do a trade for a current player versus for a high draft pick.

Agree absolutely this is an option. The proviso I would put on this though is to get someone in the same age range (18-23) as the rest of the core you are building...better supports team chemistry & culture.

Top 6 players in that age range almost invariably have to be drafted, else if they have high-ceiling potential then the price is astronomical. Philly's demands for Couturier or what Ottawa paid for Ryan come to mind.

Therefore the draft is a more likely option and we can afford to wait as we don't need someone ready and off-the-shelf this year.

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#55 dotfras
April 22 2014, 02:57PM
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@Stubblejumper

I see that side of it too....

But I just think if we are giving up an Established NHLer (Hudler/GlenX), Prospect (Granlund/Knight/Agostino/Hanowski) + 2nd, I think the return could be a good, young, experienced player.

Maybe not Couturier....But I think a guy like Alex Chiasson would be a perfect fit.

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#56 Stubblejumper
April 22 2014, 03:21PM
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dotfras wrote:

I see that side of it too....

But I just think if we are giving up an Established NHLer (Hudler/GlenX), Prospect (Granlund/Knight/Agostino/Hanowski) + 2nd, I think the return could be a good, young, experienced player.

Maybe not Couturier....But I think a guy like Alex Chiasson would be a perfect fit.

Hey if we can get Chaisson for that let's jump at it. However Dallas was so high on Chaisson the Seguin trade was almost axed as they would not include Chaisson in the deal with Boston.

Regarding Hudler and GlenX (and Gio in 2 years) I think we'll start seeing more pressure, certainly by mid-year, to trade them draft picks.

So packaging one of them now with a young prospect (Byron, Agostino, Hanowski, Arnold) and our #34 pick to move up to get #12 pick so we can draft a Top 6 Right Winger makes a lot of sense for the team from my vantage point.

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