Paul Byron was already one of the best waiver wire pickups in club history before last season. His 2017-18 season may have made Byron the best value contract in the NHL. 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 six-plus years as GM. A 22-goal scorer in 2016-17, Byron followed that up with an impressive 20 goals in 2017-18.
Last year, HabsWorld surmised that, 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, Byron may be hard-pressed to equal or improve on a very impressive 2016-17 season. He again proved the chattering class wrong with a 2017-18 season that was equally impressive, particularly on a very poor Canadiens’ squad. Byron was one of the few bright spots on a Canadiens’ team that had a miserable year.
In 2016-17, Byron had career highs in games played, goals, assists, points, plus/minus, hits, and shots (81 GP, 22 goals, 21 assists, 43 points, +21 and 96 shots, S% 22.9). While most pundits expected Byron’s numbers to drop off (particularly his shooting percentage), Byron continued to defy the pundits. In 2017-18, Byron posted similar numbers (82 GP, 20G, 15A, 35P, -4 and 115 shots, S% 17.5).
As noted last year, although Byron is undersized (5’9”, 160 lbs.), his physical play brings an added bonus to his game, although his hits are hardly bone-crushing. 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. Byron seems to have now established himself as a middle-six forward for the Canadiens.
Two Year Averages
His five-year averages do not compare favourably with the last two seasons’ performances. In this writer’s view, given the way he has been deployed for the Canadiens, the average for the last two seasons is now more pertinent:
Byron’s five-year averages (13 G, 14 A) do raise reasonable questions about whether last two seasons are sustainable. The biggest risk for a drop-off remains Byron’s very high and impressive shooting percentage. Last season, his shooting percentage did drop five percentage points but more shots (and a conversion rate that was still quite impressive) enabled him to hit 20 goals for the second consecutive year.
Byron has proven his worth on this offensively challenged team with two consecutive 20-goal seasons. Byron’s 2017-18 role will, of course, depend on his own efforts as well as that of his teammates. However, a middle-six role is now likely his to lose, particularly on a team whose forwards are hardly intimidating. As with all NHL players, there are many other factors out of his control that may conspire to limit his ice time, role and opportunities in the coming season. Unlike other positions, Montreal does have some depth on the wings. However, Byron’s ability to play the right side as well and his impressive overall performance (defensively and offensively) the past two years makes it likely that Byron (when healthy) will start the season as a middle-six forward.
One would anticipate that his numbers will be similar to the past few seasons, barring injury or the emergence of young talent that might diminish his ice time (unlikely given the sad state of the Canadiens’ player development efforts). Some might reasonably expect that Byron’s shooting percentage will move still closer to the league average. Others may argue that number may well remain above the league average given the quality chances that he generates with his speed. That said, his shooting percentage is very high. There is a material risk in any given year that Byron’s shooting percentage might regress. A shooting percentage this high does seem unsustainable.
Given the above, Paul Byron could reasonably be seen as a late selection in most fantasy leagues.
Barring injury, his projected stats for 2018-19 would be as follows: