Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Canadiens sign Paul Byron to a 3-year contract extension.

I haven’t seen the online reaction to the Paul Byron contract extension news, but I imagine they’re not all smileys and confetti cannons. We Canadiens fans want dessert, a big hunk of chocolate cake, after a season of eating all our boiled soggy veggies, but are told instead, by a mean stepmother, “Have an apple.” It’s like all those times you ask that amazing girl from work or your chem lab class out on a date, and she begs off, but offers to introduce you to her friend Gertrude, her roommate Agnes.

Personally, it doesn’t quite land flat for me. I was kind of hoping we could flip Paul for draft picks, but that’s my solution to everything, amass more draft picks, and hope to find an Andrei Markov or Jaroslav Halak in the later rounds.

Also, I kind of want the Bottom 6 freed up so we can start working in the Gabriel Dumonts and Charles Hudons in the lineup. If not in the last pro-forma twenty games, when else? Wouldn’t it be perfect time to give them NHL minutes, with no pressure, or any downside for mistakes and losses?

Aside from the anti-climatic nature of the announcement though, there’s not much to get into an uproar over this. It’s a very cost-conscious, safe move, to extend a player who’s shown a lot, for three years at barely more than a million per. This contract has its own buyout provision built in. If he doesn’t work out, and you can’t trade him to another team, he’ll be easily buried in the minors, with a negligible NHL cap hit poking over the $950 000 limit.

And it is a little worrisome that a player who the lowly Flames couldn’t fit on their roster is offered that kind of security in our organization, but there is precedent, with Dale Weise staring us in the face. He couldn’t establish himself in Vancouver, was a fringe NHL’er, but with a team and system change, he progressed and capitalized on an opportunity. It’s hard to argue that Paul hasn’t done the same, blossomed in Montréal.

Mix in that he’s a local boy, groomed by Benoit Groulx in Hull with les Olympiques, and that’s a player worthy of consideration. Is he the vanguard, the trailblazer preparing the way for Monsieur Groulx to join the organization, after a spring cleanup?

One qualm which I’m sure has been raised is that we have another small forward on a roster, in an organization replete with them. I think we’re facing the same kind of process that frittered away a lot of size and leadership from our team.

No one disputes to any great degree that the removal of Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Manny Malhotra and Brandon Prust were, in isolation, bad moves, or hard to justify. They all were defensible. Same with the moves to remove Travis Moen, René Bourque, Mathieu Darche, Jarred Tinordi, etc., they all made some sense, there was some underlying reason for all of them. Cumulatively though, they were all small steps in the wrong direction, away from the goal of the team with size and character that is hard to play against.

The same process is occurring with the accumulation of waterbug forwards. The addition of Daniel Carr, Sven Andrighetto, and Paul Byron all make sense in terms of the players being skilled and deserving of a roster spot, but in a combo, on a roster that already has Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, you can easily make the argument that this is the wrong move, the wrong decision. Extending Paul Byron might be the wrong move to make in spite of all the qualities he displayed this season.

I’ve made the point before that it’s maybe not that other teams fail to see the great talent of players like Brendan Gallagher, Sven Andrighetto, Martin Reway, etc. The Blues or Ducks probably have scouts that look longingly at Charles Hudon on the shelf, available to anyone, in the third, the fourth round, but the GM, the organizational philosophy doesn’t allow for that type of player to be drafted. They want big heavy forwards. They don’t dispute that Charles Hudon may be more talented than the WHL thumper they’ll select, but bottom line, come May and June, they want the thumper, to survive the anti-hockey of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’ll forego the flashy stickhandling in exchange for the greater crosschecking resistance.

So on the one hand, we could decide that this is just prudent asset management, that Marc Bergevin’s group identified a useful player they obtained for free, and they retained that asset, we got something for nothing.

But mired in this disappointing, injury-marred season of unrealized potential and questionable personnel moves and coaching decisions, I’m finding it hard to don the rose-colored glasses. I’ll take the free player for free, but I won’t go all dancing bear over it. Even if he came free.

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