Paul Byron’s extension over the weekend caught many by surprise. Instead of being potential trade bait, he’s now a part of Montreal’s long-term core. Our writers weigh in on the four-year, $13.6M contract.
Brian La Rose: I was shocked that the Habs opted to make this move now. I figured they’d wait until midseason if they wanted to try to lock him up, similar to what they did the last time he was at the end of his deal. They negotiated this current extension just before the trade deadline and that may have been the better course of action to take this time around.
From a financial standpoint, the money isn’t bad. Given their current financial structure, the Habs can afford to pay a bit of a premium for bottom-six scoring and Byron should be able to provide that for a few more years, even if that shooting percentage comes down.
I’m not as thrilled at the term of the deal. Byron’s speed is his biggest asset and four, five years from now, he’s not going to be as quick as he currently is. That will mean a lot fewer breakaways and probably a drop in goals right there and if he’s not doing that, he probably isn’t going to live up to that last year of the deal.
That said, the Habs should get reasonable production out of him for a few more years which doesn’t make this deal a bad one. If they can find a way to move him before the inevitable drop in speed happens though, it’ll look that much better.
Kevin Leveille: The only emotion I can think of associating to the Byron contract extension is satisfaction. Sometimes, a player and a certain team just click. Don’t believe me? Ask Steve Begin or Dale Weise. Paul Byron appears to be the latest player in this description, as the waiver wire selection has become a regular 20-goal scorer with the Habs. A contract extension should be great news then, right?
However, the entirety of fans surrounding the Canadiens should want more than Byron on their top-six. So Marc Bergevin, therefore, paid north of $3M per for a bottom-six player. This shouldn’t be a surprise as he’s done the same with Andrew Shaw, and that one hasn’t worked out too well. The difference is that Byron is one of the speediest players in the league, and even if he loses a step over the final years of that contract, he’ll still be above average in terms of speed.
The only negative left is the length which could interfere with players coming off ELC’s down the road. Fortunately for Bergevin (or whoever is GM by that point), Byron should be a very moveable commodity by that point in time. It’s acceptable monetary value and a tradeable term for a player who hopefully spends most of this contract as a bottom-six player for this team. That’s an acceptable deal without being a home run for an honest, hard-working player that loves to be in Montreal. So it’s far from bad, not great, but just satisfactory as I said at the onset.
Paul MacLeod: Some people claim this is a bad deal because we need to make room for young players. Others say that the term is too long. I am not a stats geek but let’s take a look at the numbers.
According to CapFriendly, the five most directly comparable players are:
1. Leo Komarov (4 years, $3.0M, 7-12-19)
2. Antoine Roussel (4 years, $3.0M, 5-12-17)
3. Zach Smith (4 years, $3.25M, 5-14-19)
4. Jay Beagle (4 years, $3.0M, 7-15-22)
5. Vladimir Sobotka (3 years, $3.5M 11-12-23)
Last season, Byron scored 20 goals and 15 assists. The five most comparable players combined scored 35 goals and 63 assists and that was with Sobotka scoring a career-high 11 goals.
All six players will be in their early 30’s when the contracts end. Sobotka and Roussel will be the youngest at 32 and Beagle the oldest at 36.
The numbers tell me that the Canadiens have locked up reliable secondary scoring at a very reasonable rate and term.
However, Byron is not just a scorer. He is an outstanding penalty killer and his work ethic rivals that of Brendan Gallagher.
In short, Byron is a bargain for his production and is exactly the kind of hard-working, professional, veteran that you want on a “resetting” team. If the youngsters in the system progress more rapidly than expected this value-laden, reasonable term contract will make Byron easy to trade – particularly as his actual salary drops to $2.8 million in the last year which will make him attractive to cap-floor teams.
If Bergevin could handle relationships and contract negotiations with his star players as well as he did this one, we would be thinking Stanley Cup this season instead of rebuild.
Dave Woodward: Byron’s acquisition from waivers has been probably the most impressive acquisition by Bergevin to date. Byron has been a reliable scorer (scoring 20 or more goals in each of the last two seasons), he is a reliable defensive player, and his cap hit has represented one of the better value contracts in the NHL the past few years. However, that does not mean this signing will be a good deal in the future for the Canadiens.
The annual cap hit of over $3 million plus per year is not the issue. It is the length of the four-year contract that raises concerns. Paul Byron is 29. His game is predicated on speed and, to some extent, a shooting percentage that may be unsustainable. Byron has one year left on his contract and then this four-year deal will kick in. By the end of the new deal, Byron will be 34 years old. At the age of 34, can one really expect Byron to retain his blazing speed relative to the NHL’s young guns? Not likely. Is it reasonable to expect that Byron’s shooting percentage will remain at its current levels, particularly when the inevitable diminution of Byron’s speed negatively impacts the quality of his scoring opportunities? Not a chance.
It would be unfair to compare this deal to the disastrous Scott Gomez trade (and contract). However, Gomez is a prime example of a player who relied on speed to be effective. Gomez’s performance fell off a cliff when father time diminished his speed. And by the way, father time is undefeated.
I am pleased for Paul Byron and his family. He has been materially underpaid for at least the last few years. However, given the above and the Canadiens’ depth and youth on the wing, by the end of this contract, it will become clear that this cap space would have been better allocated elsewhere.