The Montreal Canadiens are caught in limbo this year, not good or healthy enough to truly compete, but not awful or depleted enough to tank. That situation has only gotten more murky following the return of players like Paul Byron and Jordan Weal to the lineup.
Both players added goals against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, and while the team fell in overtime, both Byron and Weal were two standouts for Montreal. Byron opened the scoring, while Weal added a go-ahead goal late — before the penalty kill surrendered an equalizer that eventually forced overtime. It’s more than likely too late in this season for their returns to be fully felt, but both players are signed through at least next year,, and that is when they could prove more important.
Byron missed the end of last year and then most of this season with lingering ailments of all kinds, finally being cleared after missing 42 games in 2019-20. He has looked reinvigorated in his return, more like the sly, speedy winger many Canadiens fans remember from his 20-goal seasons. While he isn’t the linchpin in the Canadiens’ forward group, he still stands out as a strong option wherever he plays, and adding his potential for at least 15 goals back into the lineup — and looking much more likely to contribute than he did to begin the year — provides depth scoring the team will need.
The same can be said of Weal, who despite long stretches as a healthy scratch is proving he can still bring some offence from his spot on the fourth line. Since sliding back into the lineup, Weal has six points in seven games, adding another point against the Canucks. At $1.4 million for next season, Weal is the type of player the Canadiens can use to create a defensively sound while still offensively capable fourth line.
This season is almost assuredly a wash, but the showings from the role players who remain bodes well for the Canadiens if they are given the necessary support next year.