Eggs Bennett 22-05
May 4, 2022
This is the fourth in the Killer Contracts series. The Habs season has expired, and with it the HuGo window of assessment to determine who fits for the short, medium, and long terms. Management impressions have been formed and decisions are being made. HuGo is preparing for the draft and free agency, which are the next two windows of change for the Habs.
There is no question about whether HuGo will try to move some problematic contracts. Getting younger and faster necessitates moving some bodies to make room for kids. If they wish to be active in free agency, they need to clear some cap space. The only question is which contracts go, and that will be driven as much by what they are able to do rather as what they might prefer.
The three previous articles – where I address Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Brendan Gallagher – are available at habather.ca. For now, let’s turn our attention to Paul Byron.
The Contract Background
Paul Byron, who just turned 33, will be entering the final year of a 4-year, $13.6M contract with an AAV of $3.4M. The contract has no signing bonuses to consider, and his actual salary for the lone year remaining on the deal is $2.8M.
How did this killer contract come to be?
Byron was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the sixth round of the 2007 draft at 179 overall. He signed his entry level contract with the Sabres in June of 2009 at the end of his junior career in the QMJHL with Gatineau. Byron developed for a full season in Portland of the AHL and split the next season between Portland and Buffalo. On draft day 2011, Byron was traded to the Calgary Flames, where he signed four consecutive one-year contracts. He split three seasons between Calgary and Abbotsford, their AHL affiliate.
At the start of the 2015 season, the Montreal Canadiens claimed Byron off waivers, and he has not seen any AHL action since that waiver claim. In February of 2016, GM Marc Bergevin signed him to a 3-year, $3.5M contract with an AAV of $1.67M. Then in September of 2018, as Byron was entering the last year of that contract, Bergevin re-signed him to his current contract.
Punching above his weight class. That’s the killer. Byron is the cat with nine lives whose lives have all but run out. For years Byron was a fringe NHLer, but he found a new identity in Montreal. A speedster who could kill penalties, move about the line-up while not hurting you too much, and bring a low-maintenance leadership presence. He pulled off two consecutive 20-goal seasons in that role and wooed Bergevin, the GM who never met a depth player he couldn’t love, into a contract that was just a little too rich for just a little too long.
Byron’s decline began in the first season of this current contract. In the past three years, he has not hit the 20-point mark, never mind 20 goals. An ill-advised code fight with Mackenzie Weegar – literally punching above his weight class – and a nagging hip injury that eventually required surgery have contributed to a high volume of man games lost to injury. Byron’s days of delivering more than expected are over.
This is a killer contract that HuGo would like to address without hurting the Habs future.
There are several fixer options to consider. One option that is available, and that many fans advocate for, is to buy out Byron’s contract. Any buyout plan needs to consider that the Habs already have Karl Alzner’s buyout on the books. Byron’s buyout alone is manageable, but the combined impact is less so. This is what that would look like.
In my view, buying out Byron’s contract makes little sense. If the player cannot be moved, and if the cap space cannot be found elsewhere, the Habs may be better served to place him on waivers. In the unlikely event he is claimed, you wish him well, and if he clears the cap hit becomes $2.275M. Alternatively, the Habs could choose to retain an amount equal to the buyout cap hit to facilitate a trade. Both options limit the impact to one year.
Trade is the preferable pathway.
The team that acquires Paul Byron might be interested in short-term help to reach the cap floor, while also acquiring a veteran presence for a young core of players. There are a handful of teams with cap space that would take Byron if the Habs sweetened the pot a little, but there is exactly one team where I think the veteran would be a perfect fit.
Certainly, if Byron is not moved in the summer, a post-waiver trade might be appealing to some teams as the playoffs approach. It’s entirely too early to consider who those teams might be.
HuGo will find a way to deal with the Byron contract to create a little cap space. The Habs are in desperate need of some cap flexibility with limited options to achieve that goal. Byron is a logical option to make that happen, and my prediction is that he will be traded by training camp. The question is how much the Habs will have to sweeten the pot to make it happen.