Now that the Florida Panthers are eliminated from the NHL Playoffs and Ben Chiarot is headed to free agency, the Montreal Canadiens could turn back to a familiar face to fill the leadership void on their defensive end.
When Ben Chiarot was traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Florida Panthers on March 16, the veteran defender spoke at length about his love for the city and how he’d consider returning if he made it to free agency this summer. He had a sit-down interview with Sportsnet’s Eric Engels shortly before his impending trade and was very open about a return to Montreal.
“Absolutely! I’ve loved my time in Montreal. Nothing but good things to say about the team and the city,” said Chiarot on the possibility of returning if the Montreal Canadiens show interest this summer. “It’s been everything I thought it would be. With all the highs and lows that come with being in a market like this, it fits my personality and I love it. I’d come back here in a heartbeat.”
With Chiarot set to be a free agent in less than two months and the Panthers having less than $4M in Cap space to fill out their roster, it seems like the veteran defenceman will be able to pick his spot come July 13. Could it be Montreal?
Montreal Canadiens’ Need For Leadership
The Montreal Canadiens look likely to move on from veteran Jeff Petry. General manager Kent Hughes has been adamant about bringing in a veteran defenceman to help fill the void left by Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and Petry this summer via trade or free agency. It wouldn’t be outlandish to see them circle back toward Chiarot, given his versatility and ability to play both left and right.
The Montreal Canadiens currently have Joel Edmundson and David Savard as veterans on the blueline next season. The rest of the roster will likely be filled out by youngster Alexander Romanov and a rotating cast of rookies like Jodan Harris, Mattias Norlinder, Justin Barron and Kaiden Guhle. With Hughes stating that he’d like to add a veteran to that group to not rush the development of his youth, Chiarot would come to fill that need with ease.
The fit would be a natural one, as he is already familiar with the players, the organization and the coaching staff, but the business and strategic side of things outweigh any of the positives Chiarot could bring to the Canadiens.
Right Player, Wrong Timing
The issue is simply that Chiarot and the Canadiens are likely going in two different directions at this time.
The Canadiens are looking to free up some space under the Salary Cap by trading out high-priced, long-term contracts, while 31-year-old Ben Chiarot could look to capitalize on the peak of his market value and secure his last long-term, high paying contract. Chiarot is due a nice raise from his current $3.5M contract, and a defenceman of his age will likely want the guarantee of term (three to five years) on his last major deal.
It would seem counter-intuitive for what the Montreal Canadiens are looking to build, as Hughes has mentioned being in the market for short-term stopgaps to fill the holes while top prospects continue their development. To sign an albeit serviceable player like Chiarot for the kind of term that would make sense for him, three-to-five years, just doesn’t make much sense for the Canadiens. He would bring about great leadership and be a mentor for the younger players, but would then also become problematic once they’re ready to play in the NHL full-time, as that kind of a contract may be harder to move down the line.
Unless Chiarot were willing to take on a short-term contract in the two-year vicinity at a reasonable Cap hit, it wouldn’t make much sense for Hughes and the Canadiens to bring Chiarot back into the fold.