Montreal Canadiens: 7 Talking Points

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 17: Cale Fleury #20 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Minnesota Wild during the third period at the Bell Centre on October 17, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 17: Cale Fleury #20 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Minnesota Wild during the third period at the Bell Centre on October 17, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /
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Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ONTARIO – JULY 28: Paul Byron #41 of the Montreal Canadiens gets the puck past Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period during an exhibition game prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on July 28, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

4. Paul Byron’s place on the team

I’ve always appreciated Paul Byron’s style of play. He is defensively responsible, capable of scoring goals, has blazing speed and is great on the penalty kill. He is a player any team would gladly take. And yet, he went unclaimed on waivers… because of that damned cap hit. $3.4 million for two years beyond this season is far from immovable if it is joined with a decent player, and it would not be a concern if it weren’t for the flat cap.

Byron has not been the same player since the concussion he suffered at the hands of Mackenzie Weegar in a fight in March 2019. He has not been good enough this season. He has lost half a step, but still remains one of the quickest players on the team; the problem is that he has rarely made good use of his speed this season. He did so on the Jake Evans goal against Vancouver in the 7-3 win, but no other examples spring to mind. I also don’t think he has had a single breakaway this season, which is unusual for Byron.

Despite this, however, I still have him pencilled onto the fourth line every night. Even a struggling Paul Byron is an effective NHLer. Equally importantly, Byron fits the fourth line perfectly stylistically. The Canadiens’ fourth line is built on its speed and the pressure their speed can facilitate. Therefore, Byron is far more effective on the line than Corey Perry is; even though Perry has outplayed Byron this season, he shouldn’t take Byron’s spot in my opinion. Merit should certainly be an important factor in making lineups, but stylistic fits and chemistry should not be ignored.

This is not to say that I would be averse to trading Byron, though. Moving his contract would go a long way in aiding this team’s cap situation in the short term. If a trade can be worked out with, say, Ottawa, where the Habs add a little bit of incentive for the Senators to bring the hometown boy to the capital, I think Bergevin should pull the trigger. A player like Michael Grabner, who is renowned for his speed and penalty-killing prowess, is still a free agent and could be a good replacement for Byron at a far lower cap hit.

To recap, I like Paul Byron and I think he has a spot in the lineup as the team is currently constructed, but he is the 12th best forward on the team and his cap hit gives him a negative trade value. I would feel much more comfortable with the team’s cap structure with him out of the organization but will continue to appreciate the small things he does right every game for as long as he remains a Hab.