MONTREAL — This is the kind of story you root for.
Paul Byron, a 5-foot-9, 162-pounder who was told at every level of hockey that he’d never make it to the next one, cashing in on a four-year, $13.6-million contract extension with the Montreal Canadiens. A former sixth-round draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres who was waived by the Calgary Flames on the eve of the 2015-16 season, and has since become a consistent 20-goal scorer.
Byron has earned every penny on this new deal, which kicks in at the beginning of next season and could keep him in a Canadiens uniform through his 33rd birthday. There’s no trade protection included, but this is a guy you keep around when you’re in the process of building for the future.
You can’t argue with the value Byron provides. Take a look at the comparable contracts here, via CapFriendly. It’s hard to find a player on the list who does as much for as little.
“We are very happy to have signed Paul Byron to a contract extension,” said Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. “Paul is a fierce competitor, and an example of courage and will. With his speed, his play on both sides of the ice and his skills, he is a key element of our team.”
Byron is also a player who excels at five-on-five, on the power play and especially on the penalty kill. The 29-year-old Ottawa native is one of the fastest players in the league, he can play on any line, and he’s a pure leader.
“Incredibly happy and proud to be part of [the Montreal Canadiens] for another 5 seasons,” wrote Byron on his personal Instagram feed. “Thank you to all family, friends, teammates, coaches and management personnel who have helped and supported me over the years. Thank you to the Habs organization for taking a chance on me and giving me an opportunity!”
Who could have envisioned it working out this well when Byron made his way to Montreal with his NHL career virtually hanging by a thread?
Former head pro scout Vaughn Karpan and Canadiens assistant manager Larry Carriere saw a player who could potentially bring speed to their lineup and be a solid bottom-six contributor, but they couldn’t have anticipated him working his way into the fabric of the team and making an indelible imprint.
Byron was a prolific junior player with the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques, putting up 211 points in 184 games alongside Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux for much of his time there. But he was a castaway from the Sabres after two years in the minors, and he was traded in June of 2011 to Calgary, where he never got a look outside of the fourth line, and struggled with several injuries until he was inevitably discarded on waivers.
Byron’s steady rise with the Canadiens earned him a three-year, $3.5 million contract. He topped 20 goals in Years 1 and 2, recording 78 points over that time, and he’s expected to keep that pace this season.
That might have been in jeopardy had off-season shoulder surgery not gone well or had he stuck to the original timeline of recovery, which would have kept him out until three weeks into the regular season. Instead, he did what he’s always done, putting his head down and working as hard as possible to defy the odds so he could be ready at the start of training camp.
You reward a player that exhibits that kind of commitment to your team. You offer him the security he’s worked his entire career to obtain and you trust that you’ll still get the better end of the deal when all is said and done.
It didn’t have to go this way. The Canadiens, who are in the process of rebuilding, would have been well within their rights to hold off and potentially even trade Byron at this year’s deadline — probably for an excellent return that helps their future.
But keeping him in the fold, for a very digestible $3.4-million annual hit against their cap, will help the Canadiens now — and down the line.
It’s a great day for Byron, his wife Sarah and their two children, who call Montreal home year-round and wanted to continue doing so for as long as possible. You have to cheer for that.