Ever since the Montreal Canadiens signed Ben Chiarot for three years at an AAV of $3.5 million, one word has repeatedly flashed across my mind.
On the surface, Chiarot may seem to possess attractive qualities. After all, here is a 28-year-old defender who logged big minutes for the Winnipeg Jets last season — even exceeding the 20 minute-per-game threshold by the end of the season. A defensively-stable rearguard who can possibly chip in offensively here and there is something the Canadiens don’t currently have on the left side.
However, any expectations that Chiarot is the first-pairing left defender that the Habs need should be quickly tempered. Defensively speaking, much of that stability was a consequence of playing with Dustin Byfuglien. When away from Byfuglien, Chiarot is little more than a league- and team-average defender who struggles to prevent zone entries.
Offensively, Chiarot is a black hole-level drain on shot generation, both without — and most damning, even with — Byfuglien. To those thinking that Shea Weber will be the salve for the wound, Chiarot’s game last year is incompatible with Weber’s. The new acquisition prefers to shoot rather than pass and has difficulty exiting the defensive zone with the puck.
There is very little about this acquisition that makes sense. Statistically, Chiarot is a player in the same vein as Benn and Karl Alzner, being marginally inferior to the former and superior to the latter. In terms of line up fit, Chiarot is not the puck mover that Weber needs to thrive. The ex-Jet could be conceivably paired with Jeff Petry, but we’ve seen many times — with both Alexei Emelin and with Alzner — that Petry’s game is hampered by defensive partners with this style.
Finally, in terms of term and cost, while Chiarot’s contract hardly breaks the bank, it deviates from the trend established by a historically careful front office. If Chiarot is recognized as a depth option, then this contract is entirely too rich. However, if he’s considered a top-4 candidate, then this contract is an indicator that the front office is still — even after the Alzner debacle — willing to overpay for “safe” players on the blueline.
If this is the deal that puts the Habs out of the running for a real first-pairing left defenceman, then Chiarot’s negative impact will reach far beyond three years and $3.5 million.