Earlier the Canadiens Trade Chiarot the Better

To his credit, Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot came significantly better than advertised. In his first two of potentially three seasons with the Habs, he emerged as Shea Weber’s most-common defensive partner, even going on to lead the Canadiens in ice time this past run to the Stanley Cup Final. With Weber’s future in doubt though, maybe Chiarot’s with the team should be too.

Case to Trade Chiarot

True, the Canadiens could just let Chiarot’s contract expire next offseason, but this may be a case of the earlier the better, not necessarily because he makes the team worse when he’s in the lineup. Rather, Chiarot would arguably make the Habs better were he on another team instead.

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The initial reaction on the part of die-hard Habs fans may be to guffaw in defiance at the mere suggestion, but, rest assured, it’s hardly blasphemy. In fact, it’s about as controversial as any other suggestion that a separate team projected to be in tough making the playoffs should trade a key player in the final season of their contract.

The Canadiens obviously reserve the option to wait for the trade deadline to make a move if things take a turn for the worse in the standings. No one’s disputing that. However, this is arguably an instance where time is of the essence.

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As it stands now, Chiarot, who is entitled to a 10-team no-trade list, could easily fetch a hypothetical haul of a mid-round draft pick and B-level prospect at the deadline assuming the Canadiens’ season doesn’t go as planned. The traditional argument to deal him sooner is you are likely to get more in return, because your trade partner would be getting more time with the asset in question. It’s a little different here for the simple reason Chiarot’s value is likely to decrease.

Chiarot Projected to Partner Up with Savard

From an outsider’s perspective, the Canadiens’ top four on defense of Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson, Weber and Chiarot were a primary reason for the team’s success through three rounds this past summer. The perception has already shifted with Weber’s potential retirement and the signing of David Savard to replace him for all intents and purposes.

David Savard Tampa Bay Lightning
Ex-Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman David Savard – (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Needless to say, it’s unlikely Chiarot captures the same lightning in a bottle with Savard that he did with Weber. After all, the lightning was arguably more smoke and mirrors in the first place (from ‘Video Review: It’s beyond time to break up the Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber pairing,’ The Athletic, Feb. 2, 2020). This past season, while Chiarot and Weber arguably received top billing, the play of Petry’s pairing was in reality light years ahead.

Ultimately, Chiarot is a decent stay-at-home defenseman. You can’t take that away from him, based on how hard he battled these past playoffs. The defense as a whole, including him, came up huge. However, it says a great deal when, his first season with the Habs, for which he was widely lauded for exceeding expectations, he was only average at both ends of the ice.

Meanwhile, this past season Chiarot arguably only turned around an overall disappointing campaign ironically after having returned from a broken hand with 16 games left. How likely is it that he maintains the high level of play moving from Weber as a partner to Savard, whose footspeed reportedly isn’t what it once was, either?

Chiarot vs. Romanov

The argument is Savard, who as a new acquisition isn’t going anywhere, could probably benefit from more of a fleet-of-foot partner in, say, sophomore Alexander Romanov. As Romanov is entering his second season and is presumably going to be relied upon to carry the load with increasing frequency in the long term, it makes sense for the Canadiens to give him more ice time as soon as possible. However, he’s effectively blocked from being given that opportunity by Chiarot on his natural left side and Savard on the right (where he has also played regularly).

Alexander Romanov Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov – (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Of course, the Canadiens have the option to simply play Chiarot lower in the lineup than Romanov. However, based on how Chiarot is seemingly perceived within the organization (in the best possible light), it seems unlikely that would ever happen, especially following the playoffs he just put together. Following that same logic, it’s admittedly even less likely the Canadiens trade him altogether.

So, for now, it looks like Chiarot’s staying put. It’s a shame for several reasons. For one, the Habs run the obvious risk of losing him for nothing, should he leave via free agency, and he very much should depart at that point at the latest for fear of stunting Romanov’s development and holding back prospect Mattias Norlinder.

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For another, from a puck-movement standpoint, the Canadiens could stand to move on from at least one of the three shutdown defensemen in their projected top four. As crazy as it sounds in the face of all the adulation he receives, Chiarot is simply the most expendable of the bunch. The Canadiens may like Chiarot, but they should like the benefits of dealing him as soon as possible more. Someone has to go eventually, and it may as well be Chiarot. More to the point, it should be Chiarot to make room for Romanov, enabling the Canadiens to move the puck more, ice more of a well-balanced lineup and gain a greater shot at making the playoffs.

The Canadiens theoretically can with the status quo intact, but expecting a great, but undeniably complementary defenseman like Chiarot to continue performing like he did these past playoffs is like asking an entertaining opening act to play an encore. Eventually, the show must go on, if only because the fans are there to see someone else altogether. Maybe it’s Romanov, maybe not, but the Habs have to allow him to prove himself sooner or later. It should be sooner.