The news is in for Ben Chiarot and it’s not good as the Habs announced on Monday that the defenceman has undergone surgery to repair a fractured hand. The estimated recovery time is 6-8 weeks.
The injury was sustained on Wednesday against Vancouver in a first period fight against J.T. Miller; Chiarot left the game and did not return.
It’s a big blow to Montreal’s back end as the 29-year-old has been partnered up with Shea Weber all season, logging more than 21 minutes per game in the process. Even though he’s having a bit of a down year compared to 2019-20, finding someone to cover those minutes will be tough.
Alexander Romanov moved up with Weber for the last couple of games and presumably will remain in that role but it’s nonetheless a tough ask for the rookie who is already playing in North America for the first time in a more compressed schedule than usual while logging more minutes than he did in the KHL. Moving him up on the depth chart is likely something they didn’t want to do just yet.
But with the alternatives being Brett Kulak who has struggled this season and Victor Mete who has not played well at all, Romanov’s promotion is the lesser of all evils at this time. Xavier Ouellet will get his first crack at filling the void tonight against Winnipeg with Mete sitting.
All of a sudden, Marc Bergevin may be forced into trying to make a move to augment the back end but with minimal cap space, that could be tricky. Chiarot’s absence gives Montreal the ability to put him on LTIR but there are a couple of things to note there.
The first is that they were to use his LTIR savings (up to $3.5M in a full-season cap hit), they’d be ensuring that Chiarot wouldn’t be able to return in the regular season as they wouldn’t be able to get into salary cap compliance to activate him. (Of course, in the playoffs, there is no cap so he’d be free to return then.) If they think he’ll be back, they can’t use it other than to bring up an internal replacement.
The other factor is that going the LTIR route would guarantee a fairly hefty bonus overage penalty for next season with Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Romanov all trending towards hitting some. Teams can’t bank cap space and use LTIR; it’s a one or the other proposition. Knowing the cap crunch that is coming for next season, that’s not an insignificant factor.
Of course, it’s also still noteworthy of the two-week quarantine that’s required for anyone coming in from a US-based team which further negates the potential benefit of acquiring a replacement.
Bergevin will certainly have to weigh all of these factors in over the next few weeks as the Habs look to stay afloat in the North Division playoff race. In the meantime, Montreal will have to move on without one of their more impactful defenders for the foreseeable future.