They say hindsight is 20/20, but I bet you dollars to donuts that Calgary Flames management expected second-year winger Paul Byron to clear waivers on that fateful day in October 2015. Because the undersized forward was often injured, they assumed he’d slide right through, but that was short-sighted. When Byron was healthy, the 5-foot-9 spark plug could play up and down the lineup, kill penalties, eat up hard minutes, throw a few hits and, most importantly, add much-needed depth scoring. So, when the Montreal Canadiens plucked him off the waiver wire, a lot of fans in the “C of Red” cried foul.
A day before the opening game of the 2015-16 regular season, the Flames decided to ship Byron down to their AHL farm team, which forced them to expose the speedster to the waiver wire. They also waived fellow forward Mason Raymond, hoping to shed the remaining two years of his $3.15 million per season cap hit, but there were no takers. Instead, Byron’s modest $900,000 price tag proved to be appealing to the Habs, who snatched up the versatile winger and left him shellshocked (from ‘Flames lose Byron on waivers to Habs but Raymond clears,’ Calgary Herald, 10/6/2015).
“Pretty overwhelming… Yesterday morning if you’d told me this was what was going to happen I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It’s shocking. I think I brought a lot to this team and I played my heart out the last three years. I don’t think my injury situation last year didn’t help me. Now it’s time to take opportunity somewhere else… Now I’m going to have to break the news to my dad – he’s a Bruins’ fan.”– Paul Bryon after finding out Montreal claimed him off waivers.
Bryon was held in high regard by his coaches and teammates, so it was not an easy decision for general manager Brad Treliving to send him down knowing he would have to clear waivers. Assistant GM Craig Conroy summed it up this way: “It hurts to lose Paulie. But you want to see him do well. The coaching staff, Brad (Treliving), we debated and debated. Paulie was what we’re trying to build here, but you can’t hang onto everybody… It’s too bad. We were really, really hoping he’d slide through.”
The Flames Lost a Good Player for Nothing
Former head coach Bob Hartley described Byron as a player with the “heart of a lion”, so why did they let him get away? He didn’t cost the team much and was everything they could have asked for in a depth player. He was one of the faster skaters in the NHL and used his blazing speed to find open spaces and secure breakaways. Yes, Flames fans used to joke about how ineffective he was when bearing down on a clear-cut scoring chance, but when he faced his old team just three weeks after being picked up by Montreal, he made no mistake on a breakaway.
In his first season in Montreal, Bryon posted a pedestrian 11 goals and seven assists in 62 games, but as a penalty killer, he was lights out, showing a real knack for scoring shorthanded. In 2015-16, the shifty skater scored three shorthanded goals and boasted more career points on the penalty kill than he had on the power play.
Byron Blossomed in Montreal
The Habs signed the fleet-footed forward to a three-year, $3.5 million contract ($1.167 million AAV), and he earned every penny. In the next two seasons, Byron reached the pinnacle of his NHL career, scoring 42 goals and 78 points while missing only a single game. This had many hockey pundits applauding the 2015 waiver wire pickup as the best in Canadiens history. In 2018-19, Byron missed 26 games, but his offensive production was more than enough for the Canadiens to offer him a huge raise, signing him to a four-year, $13.6 million deal ($3.4 million AAV).
While Byron was a fan favourite, some questioned his massive new contract after he only played 29 games in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. His list of injuries was getting so long that very few people thought the alternate captain could get back to his 2017 form. When this condensed campaign started in January, the 10-year NHL veteran found himself on waivers not once, not twice, but thrice! Like the Flames’ Derek Ryan, Byron was shuffled back and forth between the taxi squad and the main roster to save cap space.
Even With a Diminished Role, Byron Never Complained
Byron was a healthy scratch once and suffered a few minor injuries, but he still only missed 10 games in the 56-game season. While his five goals and 11 assists weren’t anything to write home about, he played a much more responsible brand of hockey on the fourth line and found some nice chemistry with rookie Jake Evans. But let’s not forget that this is still a high-speed/high-intensity player who still knows how to put the puck in the net. He showed that in spades when he scored what might be the best-shorthanded playoff goal ever in Game 1 of the Habs’ first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bryon may not be slotted in the top six anymore, but he has suited up for all 21 of the Canadiens’ playoff games, scoring three goals and three assists while playing his heart out. Yes, his contract is too rich for many to swallow, but he remains a very popular player in Montreal, wears the “A” on his chest with pride and has said on numerous occasions that he doesn’t want to play for any other team than the “bleu-blanc-rouge”.
It makes me wonder how Byron’s career might have played out in Calgary if the Flames hadn’t placed him on waivers on Oct 6, 2015. They really missed out on securing a versatile, speedy, hardworking depth player who undoubtedly would have worn a letter on his chest, right over his heart of a lion.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.