Pilloried for some of his choices, one of Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s more prescient moves was claiming Paul Byron after he was waived by the Calgary Flames in 2015.
Byron has since become the Habs’ Swiss Army knife. “His speed is unbelievable,” said head coach Claude Julien. “He gets away from guys chasing a puck behind the (defensemen). They think they have time and he just blows by them and picks up the puck. But he also plays like a 6-foot-3 player. He goes in the corners, he’s gritty. He doesn’t back down from anything. He goes to the dirty areas.
He’s one of the smaller players in the league who seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder and every night he wants to prove that he belongs and nothing can stop him. We’ve seen him on power plays, killing penalties, he’s played in all aspects of the game,” (from “Canadiens hope speed kills Rangers as Paul Byron makes playoff debut,” Montreal Gazette, 4/12/17).
Playoff margins are so slim and an extra point is crucial to a team’s place in the standings, which makes the shootout one of the more valuable arrows in Byron’s quiver. As the opening shooter last Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bryon came down the right side, made a deceptively simple move through the crease, and put it over goalie Casey DeSmith’s blocker on the left.
It’s not an uncommon move for Byron, he often meanders down the right before sizing up the goalie and depositing it behind them, often blocker side. There’s beauty in the simplicity, and it’s not always the DeSmiths of the world he’s beating, he does it against trophy winners and finalists like Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick and Andrei Vasilevskiy too.
Byron’s goal helped the Canadiens to their second straight Saturday night victory over the Penguins, a week after he had two goals and an assist in a 5-1 win. He is now 9 for 17 in career shootout attempts, including six game-winners, for a 52.9% shooting percentage. That has him tied for seventh among skaters with a minimum of 15 attempts since the shootout was introduced in 2005-06.
And Shooting Specialist
Two nights after the win over the Penguins, Bryon scored his third goal of the season in a 7-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings. After Wednesday’s win over the St. Lous Blues, he has a 20.3 percent shooting percentage with Montreal, first in the NHL for players with a minimum of 100 games and since his career began in 2010-11, he’s first among players who’ve played at least 200 games at 18.1 percent, edging out Alex Tanguay and Steven Stamkos, who are second and third, respectively.
Few of Byron’s 56 goals for the Canadiens can be considered pure snipes. He’s a poacher in open play, which in theory shouldn’t translate to the shootout but he defies that, as he’s defied NHL odds and teams who didn’t believe in him.
The Little Hab That Could
The 5-foot-9, 163-pound native of Ottawa was a standout across the river with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, but the Buffalo Sabres’ sixth-round draft pick in 2007 never really graduated from their farm system. In Calgary, Byron was relegated to fourth line duties over four seasons before being waived.
His breakthrough came in 2016-17 when he scored 22 goals, second on the team to Max Pacioretty, to go along with three shootout goals, all winners. He was also second in the NHL with a 22.9 shooting percentage, just shy of T.J. Oshie’s 23.1 percent.
Byron also has a flair for the dramatic. In December 2017, 22 years to the day after the Red Wings ran Patrick Roy out of Montreal with 9 goals scored in an 11-1 game, Montreal returned the favour with a 10-1 victory, including Byron’s first career hat trick.
He played all 82 games in 2017-18 despite a torn labrum and he was second on the team again with 20 goals, behind Brendan Gallagher, with three more shootout goals. He was one of the feel-good stories in a not-so-feel-good season. After coming back early from offseason shoulder surgery, the 29-year-old signed a four-year, $13.6 million deal to stay in Montreal and was named an alternate captain for the 2018-19 season.
“We are very happy to have signed Paul Byron to a contract extension,” said Bergevin in the preseason. “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.”
Lord Bryon, as he’s been dubbed, is more than just king of the shootout.
Mike Ryan has written seven sports books, including Hockey Now! and Hockey Hall of Fame: Unstoppable, and one about weather phenomenon. He is covering the Montreal Canadiens from behind enemy lines in Toronto.