The injury bug dealt a huge blow to many key players of the Montreal Canadiens this season. Of all the players that were sidelined because of injury, 5’9” left-winger Paul Byron’s 3-month injury lay off sorely affected the team’s chances in the playoffs.
We see top players like Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, and Shea Weber missing several games due to injury. The absence of these players from the lineup was strongly felt as it left the Habs struggling in subsequent games.
As much as these players’ absence were felt, the performance of the team was severely affected by Paul Byron’s placement on injured reserve.
Paul Byron, the 30 years old native of Ottawa, was acquired through waivers from the Flames in 2015. The winger possesses lightning-fast speed on the pitch but the drawback was he often failed to convert chances that were presented to him.
Byron’s initial season with the Montreal Canadiens was average. When he was at Calgary, he had 19 points and 6 goals by the end of his final year. These scores were fairly similar to what he had in his first season with the Montreals – 18 points and 11 goals in 62 games.
After a while, Byron’s performance took a great leap from mediocre to mind-blowing. His speed grew to become one of the best in the Eastern Conference and in the whole league. It is ranked as high as those of Andreas Athanasiou who is now with the Oilers and Connor McDavid.
The left-winger’s turnaround manifested in the 2016-17 season. He began making superior reads defensively. He is a pro at calculating the right time to pounce on the team’s defender in order to produce a turnover for his team’s defensive zone.
This tactic is so effective that when he executes it, he would end up being the only one on the opposing goalie from the center red line.
Byron’s second season with the Habs saw his total goals rise to 22 – a double of his previous year’s goals. That season he had 43 points in addition to his 22 goals in 81 games. The next year he was definitely on a roll as he scored a total of 20 goals and 35 points in all the 82 games he played in.
By the third year, Byron was now known in the hockey world as a force to be reckoned with. Despite an injury that made him miss 26 games, he still managed to score 15 goals and 31 points in 56 games.
Photo credit: NHL.com
Byron was able to prove to naysayers that his small build was not an obstacle to him excelling on the ice. In spite of his small stature, Byron produced one of the best offenses for the Montreal Canadiens. He also scored a majority of the goals from the bottom 6 position in the lineup.
Byron’s contributions brought a crucial production from the roster’s depth. Besides, it has become a routine with him to create offensive chances even when he’s shorthanded and he is now the team’s most reliable penalty killer.
In the NHL, most teams are generally not ruffled when they have the man advantage. But Byron had taught many a team that acted like this when he’s on the ice the error of their ways. They’ve definitely learnt to be on their toes no matter what advantage they may have when they’re facing Byron on the ice. The bookmakers seem keener to take them on without Byron.
This season started on a slow note for Byron and things took a further downturn when he got injured and had to miss 3 months of the schedule. His return to the lineup went a long way in impacting the team’s performance.
Byron’s first game after coming back from the injured reserve was against the Red Wings. In just 13 minutes of the game, he had an assist. Two nights later, in the game against the Washington Capitals, his opponents didn’t take any chances even if he just came from injured reserve. They effectively blocked him from scoring.
In the next game with the Ottawa Senators, he showed his opponents he has gotten his groove back. He stunned them with plenty of offences they wouldn’t be forgetting anytime soon. He scored a goal and an assist in a game that saw the Canadiens win 3-0.
He scored again in the game against the Canucks. All his moves were perfectly blocked by the New York Rangers. He had an assist in the game against the Carolina Hurricanes and scored a shorthanded goal when they confronted the New York Islanders.
Currently, Byron is in his 1st year of a 4-year contract extension with a salary of $3.4 million. In the last three years, he was one of the best bargain buys in the league with a salary of $1.16 million. His performance this season has certainly tripled his pay.
One player the Habs would have wanted in the lineup to avert the painful fallout from the playoffs this season was Byron. He has proved invaluable in many tough games. With the team having 7 points out of a playoff spot in the absence of Byron – many Montreal Canadiens fans have wondered just how far they would have gone if Byron’s knee injury hadn’t occurred.