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Paul Byron is the best waiver pickup the Canadiens have ever made

The 2015-16 season was filled with promise for the Montreal Canadiens as they were looking to improve on their previous year’s performance in the playoffs.

Among general manager Marc Bergevin’s key acquisitions was Zack Kassian, received from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade for Brandon Prust. Kassian was a hard-nosed player with a bit of a reputation for off-ice antics, but Bergevin was willing to look past that. He felt that Kassian represented the type of player that the team was lacking: an offensively-capable forward who can also mix it up physically when required.

During the pre-season, Kassian looked right at home as the team was rolling four strong lines, but following the final game of the tune-up calendar, fate had other plans.

Kassian was involved in a car accident under questionable circumstances in the early morning hours, and was consequently suspended indefinitely by the team and placed in the league’s substance abuse program. It was the first noteworthy incident in a season filled with various levels of bad news, including a near-historic collapse which ultimately led to the team’s elimination from playoff contention.

One of the bright spots, however, was the waiver-wire acquisition of a small speedy forward from the Calgary Flames. Paul Byron filled the roster spot left by Kassian’s absence. Nobody really knew much about him when the news was first announced, but the word coming down from Flames fans is that the Canadiens pulled off a heist.

Although he sat in the pressbox for the first few games, eventually he introduced himself to the Canadiens and their fanbase in grand fashion. During his second game with Montreal, against the very Flames who waived him, he did this:

Gaining recognition for his incredible speed, Byron became a stalwart threat on the penalty kill, scoring three short-handed goals. He potted 11 goals in total, and 18 points on the season.

He’s nearly matched that career-high total already this season, with 10 goals after scoring to send the Habs to overtime against the Bruins, and is on pace to score 28. He already has 17 points, projecting to a career high of 48. It is no exaggeration that Byron has become an indispensable member of the Canadiens, providing the kind of secondary scoring that teams vying for a championship require.

To think that Byron was acquired for free by the Canadiens is quite incredible, and leads to wondering whether there has been another waiver pickup who had the impact that Byron has had on the team.

Only two names come to mind: Glen Metropolit, claimed from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009, and; Steve Bégin, claimed during the waiver draft in 2003 from the Buffalo Sabres.

Besides these three players, it can be argued that no other waiver claim made a significant contribution to the Canadiens, whether via regular waivers, or through the waiver draft which occurred every season from 1977 to 2004.

Here is an exhaustive list:

  • Mike Brown (2016, 14 games played, one goal, one assist)
  • Jeff Halpern (2013, 16GP, 1G, 1A)
  • Jay Leach (2009, 7GP, 0G, 0A)
  • Michael Leighton (2007, 0GP)
  • Patrick Traverse (2006, 0GP)
  • Darren Langdon (2003 Waiver Draft, 64GP, 0G, 3A)
  • Benoit Gratton (2001, 12GP, 1G, 1A)
  • Eric Fichaud (2000, 2GP, 3.87 Goals Against Average, 0 W, 2 L)
  • Jason Dawe (1998 Waiver Draft, 37GP, 4G, 5A)
  • Frederic Chabot (1998 Waiver Draft, 11GP, 2.23GAA, 1W, 3L)
  • Chris Nilan (1992 Waiver Draft, 17GP, 1G, 3A)
  • Jean Hamel (1983 Waiver Draft, 79GP, 1G, 12A)
  • Jeff Brubaker (1981 Waiver Draft, 3GP, 0G, 1A)/

As for the aforementioned best of the bunch, they are clearly above the rest:

  • Paul Byron (2015, 91GP, 21G, 14A)
  • Glen Metropolit (2009, 90GP, 18G, 14A)
  • Steve Bégin (2003 Waiver Draft, 266GP, 35G, 31A)/

Clearly Bégin has the longest tenure with the team after a claim, but his production, amortized over his duration, was nowhere near that of Metropolit and Byron. Bégin was a rough-nosed plugger on the team’s bottom six, averaging around 10 minutes of ice time per game and earning 275 penalty minutes in his time in Montreal. Despite this limited role, he enjoyed great popularity among the Montreal fans in his four-and-a-half seasons with the team.

Glen Metropolit was part of the celebrated 2009-10 team that went on a tremendously enjoyable Cinderella run during that season’s playoffs, and forever etched a classic memory of being on the receiving end of a Jean Beliveau double fist-pump ahead of Game Six against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That season he also scored 16 goals; the most productive season of his career.

Metropolit retired from the NHL at the conclusion of the season, claiming that he wanted to retire as a Canadien. He continues to play in Europe eight seasons later.

With two more seasons under his contract after this current one, Byron should surpass Bégin’s tenure with the Canadiens, all the while easily surpassing Metropolit’s single-season goal mark should he continue on his current trajectory.

It was the commendable work done by the team’s pro scouts to recognize Byron’s potential and a stroke of luck that 28 other teams ahead of the Canadiens in the waiver order chose to pass on him. Should the Canadiens rise to a championship in the next few seasons, Byron should be considered one of the notable acquisitions that helped to get them there at the low price of free.

Sometimes it pays to do your homework.

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