Much Ado About Paul Byron

Last season, Paul Byron leveled up.

The 24-year-old (at the time) transformed from an NHL tweener into a bonafide NHL player and, for the first time in his pro career, he spent more time in the NHL than in the American League.

A year later, Byron may be the most tantalizing trade asset Calgary has got.

Byron was originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 2007 and acquired by the Flames at the 2011 NHL Draft (along with Chris Butler) in the now largely-panned Robyn Regehr sell-off. To be fair, it was largely panned because the Flames gave up a second round pick to the Sabres to get them to take Ales Kotalik, and outside of Byron, the Flames have hardly anything to show for that monstrosity of a deal.

The good news is that Byron has quietly become a damn fine hockey player.

Byron spent the first five seasons of his pro career split between the NHL and AHL, but last season (season 5) he was recalled around Christmas from the Abbotsford Heat and just never went back. He played with jump. He played with poise. He was one of the few players on the team to play 200-foot hockey with a physical edge and he amassed 21 points in 47 games.

In the off-season, the Flames declined to quality him as a restricted free agent due to his arbitration rights, but they signed him to a one-year, $600,000 deal as an unrestricted free agent instead. Now they’re looking smart, as Byron has emerged as one of the team’s best possession players and, as evidenced last night, somebody who can play just about anywhere in the line-up and spark any line with his play. He’s also become adept at creating breakaway chances, just not finishing them. (He’s got 18 points in 56 games this season, and probably that many breakaways, too.)

But what does the future hold for Byron?

Now 25, Byron’s in a weird place. The Flames boast several young talents in their pipeline on the wings – Johnny Gaudreau, Joe Colborne, Lance Bouma, Sven Baertschi and Emile Poirier to name a few. In a year or two years, where does Byron play? Can an undersized player such as him continue to play such a physical style without it catching up to him? And considering the Flames probably need to open up a spot at center or the wing next season for impressive youngsters like Poirier, Sam Bennett and Bill Arnold, who departs the club to make room?

Now, let me just say I quite enjoy Paul Byron’s play and what he contributes to the Flames. But I’m also an advocate of sell-high asset management. I’m not sure that Byron’s value to another team will ever be higher. He’s on a supremely inexpensive deal and is a pending RFA at season’s end. He could land the Flames a pick, or contribute to them landing a young defenseman (not necessarily on his own, but as part of a package deal). Is Paul Byron going to be a much better hockey player in one or two seasons than he is right now?

I wouldn’t be shocked if Byron is moved, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a new deal, either. He’s become a very valuable commodity in this organization.

  • Parallex

    Don’t trade Byron. He’s part of the DNA of this team along with Giordano, Russell, Bouma, and Jooris. Don’t get me wrong Backlund, Monahan, Gaudreau, Hudler, and Brodie are all amazing players but they feed off of the first group’s energy. And then everyone else feeds off of that.

    I want Baertschi, Granlund, Poirier, Bennett, Shore, etc on the team. I really, truly do. But I want those players also feeding off of the Jooris / Byron mold of aggressive forechecking.

    Byron’s a keeper. If you have to healthy scratch him a bit more next season to make room for talent, sure go for it. But I wouldn’t sell high on him and risk losing a guy who’s sparked this team over and over. He even still has upside – that being potentially scoring on the breakaways he creates.

  • Parallex

    He gets chances with his speed and drive. Staff are likely working with him on finishing. If he gets some skill in that area he could be awesome. But I guess that’s what dudes like Kane and St. Louis have over him, the talent to get one on one with a goalie along with the talent to beat them.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Byron’s value might be at its peak, but what are you honestly going to get for him on the trade market? He’s roughly 5’7, is averaging ~0.34 points/game, and has never (likely will never) break 0.5 points/game in a season.

    That kind of player is likely not going to fetch more than a mid-round pick at the deadline, I would guess. Given how good he is possession-wise, and how cheap he should be due to his mediocre counting stats, I’d much rather see the Flames retain him at a low cap hit. He can play on any of the bottom 9 lines without sinking it, and is the penultimate bottom sixer; the only thing he lacks is height (and f/o ability if you’re looking at him as a centre), but even in spite of his size he’s a strong, gritty dude.

  • mattyc

    I’m a Paul Byron apologist, but things he does well:

    1. He draws penalties. Byron draws 0.4 more penalties than he takes every 60 minutes.

    2. He’s a strong possession player (against weak competition). He’s at the top of the flames in fenwick/corsi, but also consider this; Paul Byron starts 42% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and yet at the end of the shift, he’s in the offensive zone 51% of the time.

    3. He’s a great PKer. 4v5 he starts 18% of the time in the offensive zone, and yet finishes in the ozone 42% of the time. He finishes close to a half of his PK shifts in the offensive zone! (as an aside, the only two players better are TJ Brodie, who has numbers very similar to Byron, and Backlund, who starts 15%, and ends 69%(!!!) of his PK shifts in the Ozone).

    He may not bury at a high rate like Gaudreau or Hudler or Monahan (Byron shoots ~7%), but he keeps the puck at the right end of the ice. Any goals he scores are gravy, and don’t really get to the core of his value on the bottom end of the roster.

    edit: data can be found at behind the net

  • Parallex

    I’d keep him.

    The way I see it Byron is an underappreciated asset… we’re not going to get a return in trade that’s in line with his actual value on the roster. Ultimately I see him like this… he’s a solid north-south player who can line up at all three forward positions and can fill in on any line in any role and he has at least one plus tool (Speed). There is value in that. He’s useful depth that, if nothing else, can serve as a performance measuring bar for any guys coming up from the farm.

  • with anything, if the return for Byron is right, you do it, however chances are whatever you get for him probably doesn’t help the team, at least not short term.

    I see a lot of people really gripe about Byron’s play and I don’t see it myself. Yeah he doesn’t score on those breakaways, but how are you going to rag on a guy that’s so consistently able to generate that high a quality scoring chance? He makes things happen out there, he just doesn’t seem to catch the breaks.

    I generally don’t want to see him change his approach to the game, unless he gets traded to a rival, in which case, well…

  • Skuehler

    Would love to see Coach put Bysie out there in shoot out situations. Might just need some more confidence and less pressure.

    Maybe Hiller could let a few by in practice 🙂

  • Skuehler

    At the end of the season, there are two highlight clips I want to see; one, all of our glorious, last minute comebacks, and all the breakaways/open nets that Byron has missed.

    That being said I agree that we keep Byron, in the fact that we won’t get fair return for his actual value to this team.

    I had a theory about all his missed opportunities. It’s leading up to something. All season, no luck, then BAM! He’s going to score on a breakaway, in overtime, in game 7 of the playoffs.. or something like that. Clinch the series. It’s coming, and you heard it here first.