Kraken Should Keep a Close Eye on Paul Byron

The Montreal Canadiens’ improbable run to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 28 years has been full of surprises. Netminder Carey Price has returned to prime form in a Conn Smythe-worthy fashion. Rookie Cole Caufield has made an immediate impact out of the NCAA. But perhaps no contribution has flown under the radar as much as that of winger Paul Byron.

For the past 13 games, Byron has been lined up on Jesperi Kotkaniemi‘s left wing, along with right wing Josh Anderson on the Habs’ third line. Though none of the three has been particularly prolific in terms of scoring, the line has chipped in with a substantial number of timely goals.

While Kotkaniemi and Anderson are relied on by Montreal to be meaningful contributors, Byron has been a revelation throughout the team’s run. Given his emergence, the Seattle Kraken are no doubt taking notice with the Expansion Draft looming in just under a month. I decided to take a look at the case for and against selecting Paul Byron from the Canadiens.

Case For

First and foremost, Byron has been known throughout his career as a speed demon. He has long been one of the fastest players in the NHL, a skill which constantly aids him on the penalty kill and on breakaways. He is an integral part of the Canadiens penalty kill, which is on an NHL record-run (from ‘Inside the Montreal Canadiens’ shocking Stanley Cup Playoff run,’ New York Post, 06/24/2021) of 12 straight playoff games without giving up a power-play goal. He has also scored several breakaway goals throughout the playoffs, including this one to open the scoring in Game 4 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Though Byron only has three goals and six points through sixteen playoff games, a total which appears pedestrian at first glance, all of his points have come at timely instances. Of his three goals, two were game-winners, and of his three assists, two came on overtime winners. The remaining one goal and one assist were each collected on the first goals of their respective games, helping to set the tone. Byron has gained quite the reputation as a clutch performer.

Though the past couple of seasons may not reflect it, Byron has the capacity to be an effective scorer. He scored at a 20 goal pace in each of the three seasons between 2016 and 2019. His lesser goal-scoring totals in the past two years have coincided with a slide down the lineup as Montreal has acquired more and more depth. Thus, it stands to reason that, if afforded the opportunity in Seattle, Byron could return to his 20-goal form.

Paul Byron
Paul Byron #41, Montreal Canadiens – February 20, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Byron has proven in the 2021 Playoffs that he remains an effective player. There is no question that he could help the Kraken in their inaugural season.

Case Against

Despite Byron’s strong contributions, his salary may be of concern. It certainly has been for the Canadiens, who have spent the season pressed up against the cap ceiling. At a cap hit of $3.4 million, Byron is rather expensive for a bottom-six player. In fact, in attempts to cut salary, the Habs placed Byron on waivers several times throughout the season. Fortunately for them, he went unclaimed.

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However, the Kraken should not be worried about this issue for two reasons. First, as an expansion team, Seattle will have a low payroll. Cap overages should not be a concern, especially in the team’s inaugural season. Secondly, the Kraken are unlikely to find a lot of top-six players in the expansion draft. Given Byron’s versatility and ability, he would most probably find a home in Seattle’s top-six, where his $3.4 million figure is more than reasonable.

The other reason why Byron may not be the right choice is the fact that the Canadiens will have other useful players exposed in the expansion draft. Backup goalie Jake Allen proved serviceable in a starter’s role this season while Carey Price was injured, and at the very least, is a very good 1B at a cheap cap hit.

Jake Allen Montreal Canadiens
Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There will also be notable defensemen available to the Kraken. The Habs are likely to take the 7-3-1 route in their protection list. Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are certain to be protected, while the third defenseman will be one of Joel Edmundson and Ben Chiarot. Whichever one remains exposed may be of interest to the Kraken. Young and mobile blueliner Brett Kulak would also be a worthwhile selection.

The Kraken’s choice between Byron and these players will come down to needs. Given the surplus of defensemen and goaltenders that is likely to be available throughout the rest of the league, Byron may prove to be the best choice.

Verdict

Though the Kraken may deem another Canadiens player more useful, there is no other reason not to select Byron. He has proven his worth throughout this playoff run, and he would make a great addition to the Kraken. Assuming Seattle can fill needs at other positions through other teams, Byron should be the choice from the Montreal Canadiens in the expansion draft.


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