CALGARY, AB -- If a scar on his wrist isn’t enough of a reminder, another that remains from a hole punched opposite the first should serve as enough of a metaphor for the battle that remains for Paul Byron.
The remnants of a procedure in late May to repair torn ligaments aren’t going to fade, but then again, Byron doesn’t plan to either as he looks to solidify himself -- again -- as a full-time member of the Calgary Flames.
“That’s kind of been the story every year that I’ve been here,” said Byron, who joined the Flames in 2011 via the trade that also brought in Chris Butler and saw longtime defenceman Robyn Regehr shipped to the Buffalo Sabres.
“When I first got traded here, there were 14 or 15 one-way (contracts). You just have to not think about it. You have to go out on the ice and do your job. Make sure that you’re someone that they want in the lineup, that you’re someone that can help the team win. If you take care of your job, you don’t have to worry about the stuff on the side. That’s my focus right now; getting healthy, getting back into the game, and making sure I can be an effective player for this team.”
The direction of the Flames is drastically different from Byron’s first taste of the organization.
But that competition is eerily similar for Byron, who over his tenure with in Calgary has played 130 regular season games.
The undersized energizer bunny-type has 110 American Hockey League games to his credit over the same span, but has worked his way to up to avoid riding the minor league bus for some time.
Doubt undeniably crept back in on that fact when Byron, a restricted free agent, wasn’t qualified last summer. The Flames inevitably signed him to a one-year, one-way contract three days after free agency opened, ending his brief stint outside the organization.
Summer 2015 was nearly as tense.
Wrist surgery in May was preceded by a sports hernia operation in April. The ailment was diagnosed in mid-February, around the same time he sustained a broken toe after being crumpled from behind in a game against the Boston Bruins.
Surgeries started lining up for Byron.
He wasn’t immediately sure whether another contract offer would.
“There’s always uneasiness. You never know,” Byron said. “Meetings go well in your mind, but then stuff happens where they don’t qualify you the year before. They call you and say they still want you as part of the team, but it’s a business decision. The same thing could have happened this year.
“A few days before (free agency), my agent called me to tell me that the team would qualify me. Obviously, it’s a big relief. The team did everything they could to take care of me and make sure I was seeing the right people, specialists, making sure I was rehabbing the right way, and they really meant what they said at the end of the year.”
Wondering about his next contract entering summer was uncomfortable.
Forced to watch as the Flames qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and advanced to the second round in spring was painful.
“It was extremely difficult,” Byron said. “It was day-to-day for almost two months. The end of the year comes, one surgery already done, and another major one coming up. Hindsight was I wish I would have done it in February, could have rehabbed, been 100 percent and felt great earlier in the summer. Obviously I wanted to be on the ice and wanted to help the team. Especially watching the Anaheim series, I felt my speed, the grit, and the forecheck could have been the difference-maker in the series.”
The effort to get back was there for Byron.
He suited up for one game, March 27th versus the Minnesota Wild. In 13:06 of ice time, he recorded an assist and was plus-1.
It was the last game of the year for the 26-year-old.
“I was trying to get the cortisone injections to work on my hip,” he said. “It seemed like it was working, but I don’t know if it was just over use or what, but it got worse. From that point on, I played the one game and it seemed like it was done after that. Every day was kind of a battle to get more done and hope it would kick in and work, but it didn’t.
“Finally, I had to get the surgery done because it wasn’t working. Even then, I had already started skating a few times in the Anaheim series, hoping that it keeps progressing because there is always the chance to get back in.”
The Flames were dashed in Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks, as was Byron’s hope of a return.
It’s since been rekindled.
“It’s to the point where even in the summer, August, you’re dying to get back into it,” he said. “It felt like it was so long just sitting and waiting. Definitely excited to play the first [game].”
Adding another 82 in the regular season is the first step to accomplishing the goals the Ottawa, ON native has in place to ensure 2015-16 is a successful campaign.
“I think it starts with playing 82 hockey games,” said Byron, whose career-high, perhaps a little ironically, is the 57 he suited up in last season before being cut short.
“I want to have a healthy year. I think having a healthy year, I am confident in my game, that success will come to me. I’m a guy who brings it every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s practice or a game, I’m always on my game. Bounces will eventually go my way because I work too hard for them not to.”
It leads into the second goal.
Solidifying himself further.
“It’s hard to get a long-term deal when you’re coming off of a pretty major injury like that,” said Byron, who has signed four consecutive one-year contracts with the Flames, with his entry-level deal with the Sabres in 2009 serving as the only multi-season pact in his professional career.
“I’m at the point where teams and organizations still don’t know what my role is and what my ceiling is. I’m pretty confident in the one-year deals. I don’t think it’s going to backfire. I always know that I’m improving every day.
“I’m getting better. I have no problem showing what I can do on the ice and I’m going to have a lot of success this year.”