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It’s not usually preferred to trade a player within your own division, but with the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers at opposite ends of the NHL standings this season with very different contention windows, Kent Hughes had no issues renting Ben Chiarot to Florida, where the defenceman will see out the remainder of his current contract and have a great chance of making it back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Despite being traded on March 16, Chiarot never left Montreal, working out in the Canadiens’ practice facilities as he waited for his new team to come collect him today. The Panthers were on a West Coast road trip at the time of the transaction and got to enjoy nearly a full week off afterward, so tonight’s game will be their first one since March 18.
It will be Florida’s first trip to the Bell Centre in over two years after the divisions were realigned last season, and the final meeting between the teams was in the block of games scrubbed from the schedule in 2019-20. A lot has changed for both teams since then, so it’s unlikely to be another 4-0 win for Montreal, but stranger things have happened at the end of the NHL regular season.
Tale of the Tape
|46.2% (26th)||Scoring-chances-for %||56.5% (2nd)|
|2.51 (32nd)||Goals per game||4.06 (1st)|
|3.76 (32nd)||Goals against per game||2.84 (13th)|
|13.7% (31st)||PP%||23.7% (10th)|
|74.5% (28th)||PK%||80.0% (14th)|
Despite sitting idle while the other 31 franchises have played, the Panthers remain in the top spot in the Eastern Conference and five points back of the Presidents’ Trophy position currently held by Artturi Lehkonen’s new team, the Colorado Avalanche. They should now be refreshed to tackle the final 20 games of their season, expecting to go on a very long playoff run.
Chiarot wasn’t the only addition general manager Bill Zito made in recent days. He dipped deeper into his prospect pool to send Owen Tippett, along with a 2024 first-round pick, to the Philadelphia Flyers to bring in Claude Giroux in perhaps the biggest trade of all. Chiarot could turn out to be the more important of the acquisitions in ensuring the Panthers get an ideal seeding for the playoffs because three days ago they had to place Aaron Ekblad on long-term injured reserve with a leg injury. Chiarot’s ability to play on either side of the ice will be a benefit to the team needing to replace its minutes-per-game leader.
It appears that Montreal may have a new defenceman in its lineup as well, because Justin Barron, who came over in the Lehkonen deal, has been practicing with the Canadiens rather than joining the Laval Rocket. Also adding William Lagesson in the Brett Kulak deal with the Edmonton Oilers, there are currently eight defencemen on the roster (the 23-player limit no longer applies since the start of deadline day), so Martin St. Louis has options at his disposal. You have to think that the best thing for Barron’s development will be to assign him to Laval eventually, but for now, the team could very well decide to see what the Haligonian has to offer in these meaningless games, even if the Habs are playing some of their toughest competition of the season over the next couple of weeks.
Less exciting is the report that Nick Suzuki may be unable to play in tonight’s game. The Canadiens’ best player is the only one to participate in all 63 games to this point, and his play has been instrumental in this late-season turnaround in the team’s results. Jonathan Drouin is in the same situation as a game-time decision, perhaps not as fully healed from his injuries as he and the team had hoped.
If Suzuki can’t play, it’s a chance for Christian Dvorak to get elevated minutes and try to continue his run of good play since coming back from a neck injury and playing under St. Louis. It’s not just the youngest members of the team who are benefiting from the coaching change, and Dvorak will want to finish his first season in Montreal on a positive note.