Cole Caufield was demoted to the Laval Rocket on Monday, a tough pill to swallow with the role he played for the Montreal Canadiens in their run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. On Tuesday we learned that Corey Perry reached out to Caufield following the demotion. Perry, currently a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was a valued member of the Habs leadership group last season.
This simple event drew attention to the leaders missing from Montreal this year and, ultimately, the captaincy of the Montreal Canadiens. Last week I asked if Brendan Gallagher would be the next captain. This week, the focus is on Paul Byron.
Byron has been a member of the Canadiens since October 6, 2015 when he was claimed off waivers. He was named Alternate Captain, along with Gallagher, when Shea Weber was named Captain on October 1, 2018. He has signed two contracts with the Habs, the current of which has an AAV of $3.4M and expires at the end of the 2022-23 season.
The decision to name the 31st captain of the Montreal Canadiens may be a process of elimination.
When I asked if Brendan Gallagher would be the next captain, I knew the response would be mixed, with many fans in support of Gally wearing the C. I’m guessing the advocacy for Byron to fill the role will be considerably less.
Why is that? If Byron is a legitimate alternate captain, why is he not at least a candidate to be the next captain? With the collection of alternates the Habs currently have, identifying the Weber successor may be a process of elimination.
Being a good soldier is not the same as being a good captain.
Paul Byron has been a good soldier. He was acquired for nothing on a waiver claim, earned just $900,000 in his first year and notched 18 points. He was re-signed for three years at a very reasonable AAV of $1.167M. In the first two years of that contract Byron was a 20-goal scorer. Before the third year of the contract began, Bergevin prematurely re-signed Byron for four more years.
Byron has not been able to sustain the production of those early years, in part due to injuries. Last season he was waived on three occasions. With the Habs experiencing cap constraints, Byron’s production simply did not match his cap hit. He returned for the playoffs and was a solid contributor to their unexpected run.
Byron is currently recovering from off-season hip surgery, and no doubt the Habs could use his maturity and leadership right now. They could use his speed and his penalty-killing prowess. He’s been a good soldier, but Byron’s role on this team is not consistent with the captaincy.
Byron is surely in the twilight of his time with the Habs.
Byron will turn 33 before this season ends. There is another season left on his contract that has an AAV of $3.4M and the Habs have free agents to re-sign and holes to fill. Carrying Byron on the roster beyond this season is not feasible.
If by some miracle the Canadiens are competing for a post-season berth, Byron is a utility player that would be useful for one more run. But if the season continues on its current trajectory, the GM would be wise to help Byron find a new home.
The next captain needs to be a significant part of the Habs future, and that’s not a reality for Byron at this stage.
There is a final way that Byron can be of service to the Habs.
If Montreal wished to buy out Byron’s contract this summer, they would be on the hook for two more years – year one would have a cap hit of $1.533M while the second would come in at $933,333.
If Byron returns from injury and can perform as he has done – kill penalties, add speed to a line up, and contribute the odd goal – he may be attractive to a playoff team. But not at that cap hit. There is room for creativity here. The Habs can retain up to $1.5M and be better off than if they buy him out, while getting an asset for the seasoned veteran. That asset may increase in value if they are also prepared to take back an expiring contract in the deal.
The Habs may be able to land a decent asset for Byron at the trade deadline while giving a good soldier an opportunity to go on another run.
If we’re honest, that plan for Byron is entirely more realistic than naming him captain.