As the last remaining piece from the horrifying Robyn Regehr trade, Paul Byron has slowly made the pain from that trade more bearable (considering that he needs to undo the effects of Chris Butler, it's no small task). Coming off of a breakout season where he became known as "Mighty Mouse" thanks to Bob Hartley, Byron had us all in high hopes for 2014-15.
It didn't go quite as planned. Initially slotted with Joe Colborne and Johnny Gaudreau on the "two Timbits and a tower" line (Hartley's nicknames aren't always good), he did score the first goal of the Flames' season, but things slowly went downhill. He never found a consistent place in the lineup, bouncing between third and second line duty with different linemates almost every night. His declining scoring output and occasional scoring droughts were summed up with the number of breakaways he failed on, a running joke throughout the season.
Then came the injury trouble. Byron missed the majority of March with a lower body injury, only to re-aggravate it in his return to the lineup, which shut him down for the season and playoffs. We only learned on garbage bag day that he was dealing with a sports hernia, a broken wrist, and a broken toe. Somehow, he still chose to wear a contact jersey.
All these issues cause people to overlook what Byron really was: a very talented, consistent, possession driver with strong penalty killing abilities. Here's what we thought of him.
Paul Byron is kind of like the poor man’s Mikael Backlund. He’s overlooked, and there’s more commentary on his inability to score than anything else, but that ignores his best asset: his ability to make his linemates better. Byron is the new-look bottom six player. He does all the gritty stuff like hit and block shots - and his smaller stature certainly hasn’t gotten in the way of that - but at the same time, he controls the puck.
Even if your bottom players aren’t scoring, the least you can ask of them is to have the puck on their sticks. That’s what Byron does to a tee, whether he’s controlling it or helping a teammate get it. Byron may miss on breakaways, but he’s still getting scoring chances when he does that, which is preferable to, well, not. He’s an underrated, highly useful player, and the Flames are better with him on the ice.
Mike FAIL (B):
I love Paul Byron and I think he is an adorably small human. I feel like if his NHL career never took off, he would have been a perfect casting for the Hobbit series. Instead, the Flames got him for Robyn Regehr and it’s worked out well... when healthy. He drives play despite being a heavily defensive zone-started forward, he is one of the best on the PK, and can provide secondary scoring. In the modern NHL, Byron is the new breed of role player. Someone you can depend on in specific scenarios to find success. If only he would score on all breakaways.
The possession numbers are great, but at some point as a forward he does have to start scoring. He’s best suited as a third or fourth pair guy who drives possession, but even with those possession numbers he has to be partnered with somebody who’s going to put up points because he simply cannot. This isn’t a case of Mikael Backlund where the mantra is some overstated drivel, this is a continuous display of an inability to score (see Tyler Kennedy post-Sidney Crosby), and over a three year sample size, that starts to show up in the goal differentials.
That being said, he’s still very useful based on his penalty killing alone. He’s in the 95th percentile in preventing shots with his speed, and he also adds to that with his ability to break away. Conventional logic would dictate that a good defenseman is more important than a good forward when it comes to penalty killing, but data shows otherwise. He’s worth his weight in gold from that aspect, but given the lack of production otherwise it wouldn’t be too astounding if the Flames discarded him in the offseason (though it would be a mistake).
Mighty Mouse! What an appropriate nickname. He may be the smallest player on the team - yep, even smaller than Mr. Johnny Hockey - but you would never know it by watching him on the ice. Even with his season cut short, he was sixth on the Flames in hits, behind five players between 6’1’’ and 6’5’’. Pretty impressive for someone barely larger than myself. Not only is he a surprising physical presence, he’s also a solid possession driver, constantly making the right decisions with the puck. One of these days he’ll score on those breakaways!
It’s unfair that Byron’s season will be judged by the number of failed breakaways he had. He’s a very solid possession guy who worked well with whoever he was paired with. The fact that he was on the breakaway so often just shows how useful he is. If Mighty Mouse can get a bit luckier next season, he could be an important member of the top six.
There’s a player over here in England called Jonathan Boxill. He’s a little pitbull of a player who will put his body where others won’t dare, but he can also play pretty damn well. Byron reminds me of him. He’s another guy who needs a bit of luck to reach the next stage, but he’s 100% committed, and you can’t fault that.
Paul Byron was one of Calgary’s better possession players despite being deployed in the defensive zone for the majority of his starts. He didn’t contribute much offensively but Byron was a solid role player and one of the Flames' better penalty killers. Of players regularly deployed on the PK, Byron was on the ice for the fewest shot attempts against per 60 other than Josh Jooris.
And there you have it: Paul Byron is an undervalued, possession-driver who will eventually start scoring should the Flames keep to choose him. He takes on a bit of risk with his injuries and his points production, but he's worth keeping around. He earns a solid B average from M&G.
Brad Treliving and the rest of the Flames' front office will have to make the smart decision when it comes to Byron in the offseason. He's already getting paid slightly above league minimum at $600,000, so a raise is definitely in the mix. Points production and injury history can give the team a bit of leverage here, and allow them to re-sign Byron for a bit cheaper, but they shouldn't insult him and let him walk. He is an RFA, so if any other NHL team is interested, we'd get compensation, but it really shouldn't have to come to that. Byron deserves to be on this roster next year.