The Abbotsford Heat’s parent club took steps on Monday to ensure that Leland Irving, Paul Byron and Akim Aliu will be back in the organization next season.
The Calgary Flames extended qualifying offers to the trio of restricted free agents, each of whom spent the bulk of the season in Abbotsford and also made appearances at the NHL level.
The qualifying offers mean that if any of those players were to sign an offer sheet with another team, the Flames retain the right to match.
Goaltender Irving is coming off a roller-coaster 2011-12 campaign. He was stellar in the first half, backstopping the Heat to one of the best records in the AHL. Then in early December, a knee injury to Flames backup Henrik Karlsson opened the door for Irving to make his NHL debut. He performed well enough in limited action behind Miikka Kiprusoff that the Flames recalled him on several occasions to make spot starts even after Karlsson returned to health.
But he hit a rough patch in March, as the travel grind of bouncing between Calgary and Abbotsford took its toll. He ended the season watching from the bench as Danny Taylor carried the load for the Heat in the playoffs.
Irving finished with a 22-13-4-2 record, a 2.67 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in Abbotsford. In seven appearances with Calgary, he went 1-3-3 with a 3.20 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
Byron (pictured right), a small-but-speedy centre, got off to a slow start offensively with the Heat last season. But he finished on a tear, racking up 10 points in his last eight regular season games after finding great chemistry on a line with Krys Kolanos and Dustin Sylvester. He ended up with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 39 AHL games.
Byron also saw extended duty in Calgary, and registered three goals and two assists in 22 NHL tilts.
Aliu, a 6’3″, 220-pound power forward, turned around his career in Abbotsford last season. Acquired in a trade for John Negrin, he found a home on the Heat’s third line and contributed 10 goals and four assists in 42 games.
He made his NHL debut late in the season with the Flames, and scored two goals and added an assist in two games.
Former Heat forwards Logan MacMillan and Ryley Grantham were not extended qualifying offers, which essentially ends their tenure in the organization. They become unrestricted free agents.
MacMillan was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in a trade for Jason Jaffray, the Heat’s top scorer in their inaugural season, in the summer of 2010. He was never able to live up to his billing as a first-round draft choice (19th overall by the Ducks in 2007), and he spent the vast majority of the 2011-12 season with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies. He played nine games with the Heat last season, registering one assist.
Grantham, an enforcer who scored the first goal in Heat franchise history, didn’t suit up for a single game with Abbotsford in 2011-12. A sixth-round pick by the Flames in 2008, Grantham split his time between the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators and Chicago Express.