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Paul Byron shouldn’t have been expected to fight

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Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron is not a player you expect to see in a fight.

Listed at only 5-foot-9, 163 pounds, the 29-year-old Byron entered Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers having been involved in only four NHL fights in more than 450 career games (including playoffs and preseason). It is not something he does, and on the rare occasion he has, it has happened against players that are comparable to him in stature.

But there he was, early in the first period, dropping the gloves and squaring off with the significantly larger and presumably stronger MacKenzie Weegar.

It went horribly for Byron, who stumbled off the ice, did not return to the game, and is not joining the Canadiens on its current road trip for Thursday’s massive game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game that could very well decide which team gets the eighth and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

[Related: Panthers’ Weegar knocks out Byron with nasty uppercut]

He was no doubt only fighting Weegar because that is what was expected of Byron as part of the NHL’s “code.”

You see, earlier this season Byron concussed Weegar with an ugly hit to the head that resulted in Byron being suspended three games by the NHL Department of Player Safety.

But because there is still a culture of on-ice retribution in today’s NHL game, it was expected that Byron was going to have to answer the call and drop the gloves with the player he had previously wronged, no matter how ridiculous it may have seemed physically.

Byron’s agent, J.P. Barry, was extremely critical of this whole mindset when he told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday, “This was not a hockey fight,” while pointing out the massive size difference between the two players.

Weegar said after the game, via The Athletic, that he simply asked Byron if he wanted to fight, and that if he had declined he would have been willing to let it go. Obviously Byron didn’t decline, likely because he felt he was doing the right thing and the thing he was supposed to do given the circumstances.

Unfortunately, he ended up suffering the consequences.

There are no doubt a lot of people in hockey that will salute Byron for doing this, even after seeing the ugly result.

This is wrong.

This is wrong because Byron was already given his punishment when he was handed one of the longest suspensions the league has issued this season for a player safety incident, also costing him more than $18,000 in salary.

But it is not just the suspension itself that matters here.

The hit itself was very bad and deserving of every game and penny it ended up costing Byron. Maybe even more, you could argue.

What matters here is that the Department of Player Safety worked exactly the way it was supposed to work and, ultimately, designed to work. You can quibble with the number of games they ended up giving him for the hit. Maybe you think it deserved more, especially since Weegar was injured as a result of the play.

But the purpose of the department isn’t to just hand out suspensions for an arbitrary number of games, randomly punishing players for their wrongdoings.

As I wrote earlier this season regarding the Department’s continued dealings with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, it is not there for you or your team to get a pound of flesh and feel better about what happened to your player.

It is there to improve the safety of the game and the players by changing the way the play, and ultimately eliminating the types of play that result in suspensions.

The hope, in an ideal world, is that they have no suspensions to issue because players have learned how to play the game in a way that they are not deliberately out to hurt people. Obviously that will never happen because it’s a fast, chaotic game with a lot of collisions for 60 minutes a night, and there are some players that, unfortunately, do not have that mindset.

Sometimes the line will be crossed. Sometimes players will do bad things.

But you still want to make them more aware of how they are playing, where they are hitting people, and how they are hitting people, so the department has to exist and sometimes has to hand out punishments.

Byron understood that immediately.

On the day he was suspended he issued the following statement on Twitter.

In short: A normally clean player delivered a bad hit that had a bad result.

That player was punished by the league for delivering the bad hit, while that player also accepted responsibility for it, apologized for it, and tried to learn from it.

That should have been the end of it because the system worked.

Just because what unfolded on Tuesday night was an accepted practice 25 or 30 years ago, when there was no such department to police these things, no standard for what was illegal, and when the game was the wild west in terms of cheap shots and goonism, does not mean it should be accepted today.

That is the point Barry tried to make with LeBrun on Tuesday. An excerpt, via The Athletic (subscription required):

“I truly believe this exact situation is Exhibit A for re-examining our current rules for fighting,” continued Barry, one of the game’s most influential player agents. “If the fight is patently retribution for something that happened long before this game was ever played how is that allowed to occur without being addressed?”

Again, pretty strong points.

“I’m sure we will hear from many others tomorrow (Wednesday) who see things much differently than me and will say ‘look at Paul Byron, what a warrior, he answered the bell.’ These are the people that believe in the old `code.’ It’s time for Player Safety to be the new `code.’ What really matters is eliminating avoidable concussions wherever we can in our player safety rules going forward.”

Byron had no business fighting Weegar on Tuesday night, and there was no reason for him to feel pressured into doing it because everything about the incident was already handled and settled three months earlier.

Now Byron himself is out, dealing with the effects of an unnecessary blow to the head (which is the most important thing here), and also potentially impacting the Canadiens’ chances of making the playoffs.

The entire thing is extremely frustrating.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panthers’ Weegar knocks out Habs’ Byron with nasty uppercut

Sportsnet
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Knockout blows are a rarity in fighting in the NHL these days. But every so often, a left or a right lands flush and down goes one of the combatants.

Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron could barely stand and needed to be held upright and helped off the ice after Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar clocked him with left-handed uppercut during a first-period fight on Tuesday night.

Here’s the fight:

There’s a backstory here.

Back January, Byron drilled Weegar in the head on a nasty charging call.

Byron was suspended three games while Weegar was concussed on the play.

So Tuesday’s fight was a little bit of retribution, followed by what appeared to be some instant regret from Weegar, who looked quite concerned for the state he left Byron in after the one-sided bout.

The Canadiens announced that Byron wouldn’t return following the game (not in the least bit surprising).

The debate will now rage whether or not Byron had to answer the bell. Weegar seemed to ask Byron if he wanted to go and Byron turned around, dropped his mitts and they were off to the races. While admirable that he owned his transgression, the Canadiens are in one hell of a fight for a playoff spot and they need Byron, who has 15 goals and 30 points this season.

Given the way Byron left the ice, he might have to miss some time down the stretch here, including an uber-important game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Perhaps sometimes you should just turn the other cheek.

Meanwhile, it’s not the first fight Weegar has featured in recent days.

On Saturday night, Weegar was on the receiving end of a pummeling at the hands of Boston Bruins forward Noel Acciari.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Byron nets hatty, Wedgewood blanks former team

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Players of the Night:

Paul Byron, Montreal Canadiens:

Byron notched his first career NHL hat trick as the Canadiens annihilated the Detroit Red Wings 10-1. He now has nine goals on the season, well on pace to eclipse his career-high of 22 he set last season. Bryon was claimed off waivers by the Canadiens from the Flames on the day before the 2015-16 began. He’s exceeded expectations, to say the least.

Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins:

How’s this for a replacement for Matt Murray? Two wins, one shutout, one goal allowed in 120 minutes of play. Jarry has been sensational since Murray went down with a lower-body injury and the Penguins are reaping the rewards.

Scott Wedgewood, Arizona Coyotes: 

Wedgewood stopped 26 shots from the New Jersey Devils en route to his second-career shutout against the team that he recorded his first with. The Devils had yet to have been shutout this year prior to Saturday.

Highlights of the Night:

Wedgewood did this to Stefan Noesen:

Byron’s hat trick goal came off a nice snipe:

Ryan Miller did his best Domink Hasek:

Viktor Arvidsson was instrumental in a pre-game proposal:

Streak-ender of the Night:

The Buffalo Sabres finally scored. Jason Pominville, mercifully, fired home in the third period against the Penguins, the first goal for the club since Nov. 24, some 233:19 of game time.

Factoids of the Night:

A couple from the night of destruction in Montreal:

Alex Ovechkin moved himself up the all-time goal-scoring list again. Ovechkin is tied with Nikita Kucherov, who scored twice on Saturday,  for the league-lead in goals at 19.

Tyler Seguin played quite a bit tonight:

MISC:

    • The St. Louis Blues have lost three straight and four of their last five after dropping a 2-1 overtime decision against the Minnesota Wild.
    • So close, yet so far: The Oilers had a 6-1 lead early in the third period only to watch it get cut to 6-5 as the Calgary Flames stormed back after a brutal start. Alas, the Oilers held on to win their sixth game in a row against their Battle of Alberta rivals.
    • Radek Faska has five goals in his past three games for the Dallas Stars.
    • Elliotte Friedman said on Hockey Night in Canada that there is a “sense and a hope” that the salary cap in the NHL could reach $80 million next season.
    • On the same broadcast, Friedman touched on what it would take for the Sabres to trade Evander Kane. The asking price, of course, is high. Friedman said the returns bigger than those of what the Winnipeg Jets got for Andrew Ladd (Marko Dano, 1st round and conditional picks) and the Arizona Coyotes got for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White (1st, 2nd, 4th round picks) should be expected.
    • Furthermore, the Los Angeles Kings are going to make pending UFA Drew Doughty a priority when it comes to inking him to a long-term extension.

Scores:

Bruins 3, Flyers 0

Wild 2, Blues 1 (OT)

Canucks 2, Leafs 1

Canadiens 10, Red Wings 1

Lightning 5, Sharks 2

Penguins 5, Sabres 1

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3

Hurricanes 3, Panthers 2 (OT)

Coyotes 5, Devils 0

Predators 3, Ducks 2 (SO)

Stars 3, Blackhawks 2 (SO)

Oilers 7, Flames 5


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL releases arbitration dates

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Per the players’ union, a quick look at the players (and teams) that have elected arbitration, and what dates they’re scheduled for. Italicized names with asterisks means deals have already been reached, nullifying the need for a hearing.

PLAYER ELECTED FILINGS

Arizona Coyotes
Mikkel Boedker * (signed one-year, $3.75M deal)
Phil Samuelsson – July 21, 2015
Brendan Shinnimin- July 20, 2015

Buffalo Sabres
Phil Varone* (signed one-year, $600,000 deal)

Calgary Flames
Lance Bouma – July 22, 2015
Paul Byron – July 30, 2015
Josh Jooris – July 28, 2015

Colorado Avalanche
Andrew Agozzino – July 20, 2015
Mathew Clark – July 22, 2015

Detroit Red Wings
Gustav Nyquist * (signed four-year, $19M deal)

Minnesota Wild
Erik Haula – July 31, 2015

Nashville Predators
Craig Smith – July 20, 2015
Colin Wilson – July 28, 2015

New Jersey Devils
Eric Gélinas – July 21, 2015
Adam Larsson – July 29, 2015

New York Rangers
Derek Stepan – July 27, 2015

Ottawa Senators
Alex Chiasson – July 23, 2015
Mike Hoffman – July 30, 2015

Philadelphia Flyers
Michael Del Zotto – July 21, 2015

St. Louis Blues
Magnus Paajarvi *  (signed one-year, $700,000 deal)

Toronto Maple Leafs
Taylor Beck – July 24, 2015

Washington Capitals
Braden Holtby – July 23, 2015
Marcus Johansson – July 29, 2015

CLUB ELECTED FILINGS

Edmonton Oilers
Justin Schultz – July 24, 2015

Toronto Maple Leafs
Jonathan Bernier – July 31, 2015

Big decisions remain for Flames as Treliving shifts to re-signings

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The Calgary Flames’ eventful summer is no where near its conclusion and the decisions they make in the coming weeks could change the look of this franchise is big ways.

Now that the trade and unrestricted free agent markets have settled down, the Flames can shift their focus to internal roster matters and easily the highlight of them is defenseman Mark Giordano’s contract situation. He’s the captain, a workhorse, and if not for the biceps injury he suffered in February, he would perhaps be the reigning Norris Trophy winner as well.

His impact on this team is substantial and with just a year remaining on his contract, re-signing him this summer was previously listed as the team’s number one priority. But since then a report surfaced that the 31-year-old blueliner was seeking $9 million annually and the Flames acquired 22-year-old Dougie Hamilton and inked him to a six-year, $34.5 million deal.

While a strong addition, it’s intensified the questions about how Calgary will handle its cap situation beyond the 2015-16 campaign. If they re-sign Giordano, would they trade Dennis Wideman ($5.25 million annually) before his contract expires in 2017 to make room? Will it impact their ability to re-sign Jiri Hudler, who has a season left on his contract, in addition to giving Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau the big raises they’re likely going to justifiably demand next summer?

It makes their comparatively smaller, current RFA talks with Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, and Josh Jooris higher stakes as every dollar saved on potential multi-year contracts there is one they’ll still have for the bigger summer on the horizon. All three of them filed for arbitration, but can re-sign before their hearings.

It will also likely impact the Flames decisions when it comes to signing any of the remaining UFAs to multi-year deals.

Or as Flames GM Brad Treliving put it to the Calgary Sun: “You’re constantly monitoring the market, but from a priority standpoint, it’s time to get our house in order with our own people.”