One day after Tomas Tatar was an unexpected healthy scratch, the Montreal Canadiens put Paul Byron on waivers.
Byron himself was a healthy scratch two games ago, but no one expected the alternate captain to have his roster spot — and his future in the organization — in jeopardy.
Many people will see that this is the Canadiens putting Corey Perry ahead of Byron in the depth chart, but it’s not that simple. Performance is only one factor when evaluating players to put on waivers, especially when it’s to create flexibility with the salary cap.
Perry is approaching his 10th game of the season which means he will no longer be eligible to go between the NHL and taxi squad on off days, or on days where someone else will be in the lineup. It is very possible that if Perry went back on waivers, his low salary and term would make it easy for almost any team to claim him.
The Canadiens obviously want to create cap space to have flexibility. Whether it be to make an addition down the road, or to give someone like Michael Frolik or Jordan Weal a chance on the NHL roster.
Quite simply, the team feels that there’s less of a chance that Byron gets claimed because of his salary ($3,400,000) but because he also has two years left after this season. As of right now, the only Canadian team who can fit Byron under the cap are the Ottawa Senators. Of course, an American team can claim him but he will have to quarantine for seven days.
That doesn’t mean that Byron is a sure thing to clear waivers. There is a risk that he does get claimed. He’s perhaps replaceable in Montreal, but other teams that do not have the depth of the Canadiens may be interested.
This worst case scenario for the Canadiens is something that they decided they can live with. Byron is not a bad player, but his value to this team is very different than it was in past years. The path for Byron to become a top-six player on the team would require a lot of injuries.
Deep teams will lose depth because of the salary cap, or because of waivers. For the Canadiens, the decision to lose Byron on waivers — if that’s what ends up happening — isn’t the team losing depth for nothing. It means they can use the cap space for flexibility for the rest of this season, but the real benefit may come in the next two seasons.
That being said, Byron is still an effective player. If he clears waivers, he will be in a rotation for the forward spots on this team. He is still fourth among forwards in ice time on the penalty kill this season. He has the ability to contribute whether on the fourth line or not. Clearing waivers would also give the team a ton of flexibility until he hits the 10 game mark.
Basically, the Canadiens had to make a tough decision. They feel Byron was the player to waive this time because he’s the perfect combination of maximum cap flexibility with being the least likely to be claimed.
There is a risk that they lose him, but it’s calculated, and they’re willing to deal with the consequences if the worst case scenario plays out.