One of the best waiver-wire pickups in club history, Paul Byron’s acquisition and subsequent signing to a club-friendly three-year contract (with a cap hit of $1.17M per annum) represents some of GM Marc Bergevin’s best work in his five-plus years at the helm of the team. A 22-goal scorer in 2016-17, Byron’s deal represents one of the better value contracts in the NHL. However, as a left winger on a team with depth at the position and as a player coming off the finest year of his career to date, the diminutive winger may be hard-pressed to equal or improve on a very impressive 2016-17 season.
Last season, Byron had career highs in games played, goals, assists, points, plus/minus, hits, and shots (81 GP, 22 goals, 21 assists, 43 points, +21, 116 hits, and 96 shots). While Byron had previously demonstrated his great speed in 2015-16, 2016-17 saw him utilize his quickness, puck skills and playmaking abilities on a sustained, consistent basis. In particular, Byron’s breakaway speed established him as a dangerous generator of quality chances, even while shorthanded. While his 23% shooting percentage is likely unsustainable, his breakaway speed resulted in superior scoring chances, something that could keep his shooting percentage higher than other players this coming season and into the future.
Although Byron is undersized (5’9”, 160 lbs.), his physical play, as evidenced by the number of hits, is surprising and salutary (of course, his hits can hardly be characterized as intimidating due to his size). His defensive play is fairly characterized as responsible and has enabled him to earn time killing penalties. The plus/minus numbers confirm his performance as a responsible two-way forward. Due to his superior performance, Byron started on the fourth line but earned a spot on the Plekanec-Gallagher line by the end of the year and through the first round of the playoffs.
Four Year Averages
His four-year averages (he has only played in a reasonable number of NHL games the last four years) do not, however, compare favourably with last season’s performance:
Byron’s four-year averages do raise reasonable questions about whether last season was an aberration or simply the emergence of a late bloomer (Byron is now 28) into his prime. Last season’s shooting percentage is impressive and is also most likely a feat that cannot be repeated (although in fairness his shooting percentage was 22% in 2015-16).
While a new year introduces much uncertainty for all NHL players, there are many circumstances that will challenge Paul Byron to put up comparable numbers this season. Those include:
a. barring injury, most players post fairly consistent numbers in their prime playing years. Byron’s 2016-17 numbers are so much better than prior seasons, it will be interesting to see if he can be an exception to that general rule;
b. his shooting percentage will most likely regress to the mean. In a league where a shooting percentage of 10% is acceptable for a forward, Byron’s shooting percentage will be difficult to sustain;
c. the Canadiens’ depth on the wings and, in particular, the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin could move Byron down the depth chart if he doesn’t stick at centre. There are many questions about who will play where. If those questions are resolved in a manner that moves Byron into a lesser role, that will impact his numbers.
Byron’s 2017-18 role will, of course, depend on his own efforts but there are many other factors out of his control that may conspire to limit his ice time, role and opportunities in the coming season. With Montreal’s depth on the wings, it is unlikely that Byron will start the season as a top-six forward. A more likely scenario would have Byron begin the year in a third line role with some time on the penalty kill. Power play time will be very unlikely, absent injuries through the lineup.
One would anticipate that this role will reduce his numbers. One would expect that Byron’s shooting percentage will return to the mean as well (although that number could well remain above the league average given the quality chances that he generates with his speed).
Given that, Paul Byron would not be a player to select in most fantasy leagues. However, if injuries mount in Montreal and his role expands, the diminutive, speedy left-winger may be a wise waiver pickup (sound familiar?), particularly in leagues that include secondary statistics (+/-, hits, etc.). Paul Byron has proven himself to be a diamond in the rough before and he could be once again this season.
Barring injury, his projected stats for 2017-18 would be as follows: