Many were expecting the Habs to make an addition on the left side of their back end. Not as many figured that Ben Chiarot would be the one brought in. Having had time to ponder the three-year contract he received, our writers offer up their thoughts on the move.
Terry Costaris: I’m not sure what to make of Chiarot. He passes the eye test (he’s big, mobile, and gritty) but fails the analytics version. He’s a true test case of which approach is better. If he disappoints then Bergevin and company will have to take analytics more seriously.
One of the things working in his favour was his play last season. It was his best to date. Unlike forwards, defencemen take time to mature – look no further than Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak.
Perhaps Winnipeg has done all of the hard work in terms of investing time and energy in Chiarot. Perhaps he has made the bulk of his mistakes and is now ready for prime time.
And maybe, just maybe, he will become the stay-at-home defenceman that the Habs hoped for when they signed Karl Alzner. If not, I would not sweat this decision. His salary will not lead to cap problems for the Canadiens.
I wonder if management sees Chiarot as a placeholder for some of their young prospects who should reach maturity by the end of his contract. He may turn out to be a decent piece during the 2022 trade deadline.
Overall, then, it’s a good gamble on Montreal’s part.
Matt Dilworth: Honestly, I really wanted to like this signing. But with the gaping hole on defence to the left of Shea Weber, it’s difficult to think that the Habs are currently any better than last year’s version that missed the playoffs. Granted, the offseason is far from over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bergevin is done with his defence formation; he’s readily accepted mediocre, shoddy patchwork in the past. As a result, I remain rather lukewarm on the acquisition of Chiarot.
Pessimism (realism?) aside, Chiarot brings some size and grit to an average-sized team, and his natural left-handedness on defence should be an improvement over the departed Jordie Benn. By all accounts, he can handle big minutes, which should ease the burden of fellow lefty defencemen Victor Mete and Brett Kulak. He’s a respectable skater, though he’ll need to be paired with a better skating defenceman to be properly utilized, and his game seems to be trending upwards, unlike the Karl Alzner’s of the world. In fact, if all Montreal had needed was a left-handed 4/5 defenceman, I’d be perfectly content with this signing. But since there are so many other areas that need to be addressed, it’s really hard to get excited about Ben Chiarot.
Brian La Rose: I don’t mind the addition on the surface. I think he’s a small upgrade on Benn and any improvement, no matter how incremental, is nice. What isn’t so nice is the contract. I understand him getting three years but $3.5 million to a player who has been a third pairing option for all but one year of his career? I know it’s a thin market but that still seems excessive. And if he goes back to being more of a fifth or sixth defender, that will be a tricky contract to move out.
I’m also a bit concerned that this could be it for defensive upgrades. While it’s fair to be hopeful that Mete and Kulak can still improve, they’re not magically going to become impact defencemen overnight. A slightly-improved collection of players that are ideally on the third pairing is still a collection of players that are ideally on the third pairing. That’s not a great recipe for success. A top-four option is still needed and if they don’t like the remaining options in free agency, they need to trade for one in the coming months.
Paul MacLeod: Personally, I like the Chiarot signing. He is a younger, faster, meaner version of Benn with some upside. I would have preferred Jake Gardiner on a reasonable term, but to quote Mitch Melnick on Twitter:
”Anybody who thinks a player like Chiarot isn’t valuable to a small, skilled team with an elite goalie who needs to be better protected, probably needs to get out a bit more. Summer’s here. Get some air. Hit the lake. You can thank me later.”
Norm Szcyrek: I think the signing of defenceman Chiarot shores up a significant area of weakness for the Habs. Ben is a solid enough two-way defenceman who has very good size and knows how to be physical in a necessary way without losing his cool. Ben has a decent shot from the point and is a left-handed shooter, both of which are needs for Montreal’s blueline. His overall game is good enough, and I believe he’s a step up from Benn. It’s difficult to say if his role will be a #4 defenceman on the second pairing with Petry, a top-pairing defender with Weber, or a bottom pair guy. It’s possible the coach will need to move him around the lineup until he defines his own role with his play and chemistry.
It’s arguable that Bergevin should have put the money towards a top left-shooting defenceman, like Gardiner. I don’t believe he would be a good fit in Montreal. Since he’s American, it’s rumoured that his preference is to return to the USA for his next big contract. With the amount of scrutiny Gardiner had in Toronto from the media, it’s not likely he would relish having a possibly higher level of media criticism in two languages in Montreal.