In a move that was foreseeable yet is still somewhat surprising, the Montreal Canadiens have placed veteran forward Paul Byron on waivers. The team explicitly stated that their intention is for Byron to clear waivers and be assigned to the taxi squad, but that is out of their hands for the next 24 hours. The veteran forward could be claimed by a team who sees the upside in him if given the proper role and adequate ice time.
Given Montreal’s tight salary cap squeeze and the role that Byron has played this season to the tune of $3.4MM AAV, it is no surprise that the club sought a change. Byron has been forced into a checking role for the Habs as a result of a busy off-season and the emergence of several young players. His ice time is down to just 12:36 per night, a new low since he became an NHL regular in 2013-14, and he has no goals and just three assists in 14 games. The Canadiens could not afford to have a substantial amount of cap space chewed up by such production.
However, there is a reason that Montreal has been actively trying to trade Byron and is hoping that he clears waivers: the 31-year-old still has value. A versatile and hard-working forward, Byron may have meager numbers so far this year and had his production limited by injury last season, but he still has plenty of scoring potential. Byron is just two years removed from a 2018-19 season in which he recorded 31 points in just 56 games, a 45-point full-season pace. Had he played 82 games, it almost certainly would have been his third straight season of 20+ goals and 35+ points. While health is a concern, Byron has shown to be an effective forward otherwise. As Byron is signed through 2022-23 at a healthy cap hit, any team looking to claim him is surely taking a risk. For this reason, combined with the hassle for U.S. teams of moving any player from Canada to south of the border this season, Byron may very well go unclaimed. However, if a club still believes that a healthy Byron has that same 40+ point upside, then he could be a value as an experienced top-nine forward, even over the next several years.
Also on waivers today are Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser (link), Boston’s Par Lindholm (link), Columbus’ Gabriel Carlsson, and Carolina’s newly-acquired Alex Galchenyuk. Edmonton’s James Neal has cleared after being waived yesterday.