Canadiens hot start fuelled by savvy buy-low moves

Losing the world's best hockey player will be tough for any team, and it won't be easy for the Montreal Canadiens losing Carey Price. But the team feels they will be able to weather the storm with Mike Condon in net.

BROSSARD, Que—Paul ‘Breakaway’ Byron is the title of the YouTube video.

It’s nearly four minutes long, set to the farcical theme music of the classic television comedy Benny Hill, and it’s highly unflattering to the undersized winger.

The video highlights 10 missed breakaway chances before Byron finally converts on the 11th. But the Montreal Canadiens pro scouting staff recognized what the footage truly revealed.

“Speed kills,” explained Canadiens assistant general manager Larry Carriere with a laugh. “Our group saw the video (before they acquired him), and we knew about Paul Byron. Everyone was involved in the decision to bring him here.”

The pro scouting staff under Carriere, assistant general manager Scott Melanby and senior vice-president and director of hockey operations Rick Dudley, had taken note of the speed Byron used to create those opportunities.

They considered the obvious; that a little bit of misfortune had limited Byron to just 19 goals in his first 138 NHL games. And they saw a player that fit very well into the identity of their team.

The scouts were also aware that Byron had played through a sports hernia for the majority of the 2014-15 season, an injury he had surgically repaired last April. In May, he underwent a procedure to fix torn ligaments in his right wrist. A screw was implanted to alleviate the pressure on his tendons and it was removed in September after a summer’s worth of physiotherapy.

The 26-year-old arrived at Calgary’s training camp on a one-year, $900,000 contract, having avoided salary arbitration. He was unsure as to how his freshly-healed wrist would react to the rigours of competition.

And the competition was fierce at the bottom end of the Flames lineup. Michael Frolik was signed as a free agent, Josh Jooris had established himself in 2014-15, and youngster Sam Bennett was pushing for a full-time gig.

Byron, who never sat as a healthy scratch for the Flames, ended up on waivers. Calgary hoped he’d slip through.

But Byron didn’t slip by Montreal’s director of pro scouting Vaughn Karpan and his associates Scott Masters, Doug Gibson, Mark Mowers and Eric Crawford. Seemingly, no available player matching general manager Marc Bergevin’s speed and/or “character” pre-requisites has slipped by them.

Dale Weise, who was a regular scratch in Vancouver and in New York under John Tortorella, made an immediate impact with Montreal after the Canadiens traded depth-defenceman Raphael Diaz for him. He scored critical goals on their run to the Eastern Conference final in 2014, and he set career highs with 10 goals and 29 points last season. In his first 13 this season, he’s scored six goals and added three assists.

Tom Gilbert was playing in Florida’s top defensive pair alongside Brian Campbell before the Canadiens signed him to what was considered to be a great value deal at two years, $5.6 million. He came over with 520 games of NHL experience and he now anchors Montreal’s third pair.

Jeff Petry was acquired at last year’s trade deadline for second-round and conditional fifth-round draft picks. He signed a six-year, $33 million deal to remain in Montreal and has significantly bolstered the team’s defence corps.

Torrey Mitchell (five goals) and Brian Flynn were nabbed from Buffalo for late-rounders at last year’s deadline, too. The two fourth-liners have been integral to Montreal’s early-season success.

Forward Tomas Fleischmann, discarded by the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks before being invited to try out for the Canadiens, has four goals and six assists in 13 games. He signed for $750,000.

“Bergevin is really well-surrounded,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. “The management, the hockey operations, they’re doing a fantastic job to be able to pick up players like that.”

They haven’t all been home runs.

Bergevin called the acquisition of forward Zack Kassian a calculated risk, knowing Kassian was coming over with a reputation of getting into trouble off the ice. Kassian entered into phase two of the NHL and NHLPA’s substance abuse and behavioural health program before the season got underway.

The signing of Alex Semin to $1.1 million deal this past summer, is another calculated risk bearing little fruit thus far. Semin will be a healthy scratch against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. It’ll be his fourth consecutive game in that role. But there’s still time for him to make his mark.

As for Byron, after sitting out of Montreal’s first 10 games, he entered in Game 11 and scored shorthanded breakaway goals in Games 12 and 13, respectively.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, he has also seen the video.

“On a lot of those clips, I was skating so fast that my hands couldn’t keep up with the puck and then one little jump changes everything,” said Byron. “It was just a matter of resetting the computer this year. Last year was just unlucky.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.