When the Flames qualified six of their 11 restricted free agents, there was a noticeable absence among them. Paul Byron, who was called up at the end of November and never looked back, didn't receive a qualifying offer, thus eliminating his RFA status and turning him into an unrestricted free agent. While surprising, that didn't mean the Flames had no interest in retaining Byron's services, something we saw yesterday when the Flames brought him back.
The Flames re-signed Byron to a one year, one-way contract. He was originally acquired in the Robyn Regehr trade back at the 2011 draft, when he came to Calgary alongside Chris Butler. This upcoming season will be Byron's fourth with the organization.
The short deal makes sense: Byron only just started to establish himself as an NHLer last season, when he appeared in 47 games, scoring seven goals and 21 points as he bounced around the lineup, but became a constant presence. He averaged 14:26 of game time, good for 16th on the Flames; 12th out of all remaining Flames players.
It'll be up to him to prove he deserves a longer contract as Calgary continues on its rebuild and young players work to establish themselves. He could become a part of the team's future, or prospects may push him out of the lineup. This year's performance will go a long way in deciding Byron's future with the club, and possibly within the NHL at all.
The Flames list Byron as 5'7, 175 lbs., so he's definitely far from their apparent new ideal of "everyone must be at least 6' tall and 200+ lbs." Still, they chose to bring him back for a reason. He's only 25 years old, and honestly, despite his size, he's a relatively truculent player, with about 1.34 hits per game.
With a potential full season under his belt, he may develop into a productive middle six player. Last season, his shooting percentage was at 15.2%, and he only had about one shot per game, so unless he starts shooting way more, his scoring will probably go down.
However, Byron was one of the Flames' best possession players. He posted a CF% of 50.4%, one of just five Flames regulars to have positive possession numbers (the other four being Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie, and the recently departed Mike Cammalleri). Last season, when Byron was on the ice, the puck was directed towards the opponent's net more than his own. But he did spend a fair amount of time on a line with Backlund and Cammalleri, so those two probably bolstered his numbers.
That doesn't mean Byron was an anchor on the line, though. Backlund and Cammalleri on their own were positive possession players, and Byron on his own wasn't; however, when Byron played with the two of them, their corsi ratings jumped up 10+%, suggesting he's a fine complimentary player for the team's best. When playing with other Flames, his possession statistics actually went down, so he himself can't necessarily carry guys, but he will bolster them.
In short: it's good the team re-signed him, both for his sake and theirs. Byron may yet be part of the Flames' long-term plans.
Adding AHL depth
The Flames also signed a trio of AHLers: goaltender Brad Thiessen, defenceman Sena Acolatse, and centre Mathieu Tousignant.
Joni Ortio is probably going to be Adirondack's #1 throughout the season - barring injury to Jonas Hiller or Karri Ramo, in which he'll be the first guy called up - but after letting Olivier Roy go, the Flames had no AHL backup. That's where Thiessen comes in, a veteran of five AHL years, mostly with Pittsburgh's farm team. The 28-year-old played 18 games for the Predators' farm team last season, posting a .930 SV%, his best total yet (with the AHL Penguins he was .887-.922). While this is probably still Ortio's team, the AHL Flames likely won't have to ride him too hard with a veteran, and hopefully reliable, backup.
Acolatse was a Sharks RFA before they decided not to qualify him. The 23-year-old stands at 5'11, 203 lbs., and seems to be more of a defensive defenceman after only posting five goals and 17 points in 41 games last season. The Flames are short on defence prospects: with Chad Billins going to the KHL and Derek Smith and James Martin in free agency, there's just Tyler Wotherspoon (who will probably be in the NHL sooner rather than later), Mark Cundari, Patrick Sieloff, Brett Kulak, Ryan Culkin, and John Ramage. Acolatse gives Adirondack more options on the backend while giving the Flames another prospect for free.
Tousignant, who is the only one of the three on an AHL-only deal, also comes from the Predators' farm team, where he played 76 games last season. He scored eight goals, 21 points, and 158 penalty minutes, so just in case not every single goon makes the Flames' roster, the AHL Flames will be protected. I guess. This is getting pretty silly, but this is also incredibly minor, and the guy's only 24, so maybe there's some latent offence in there (there probably isn't).