Canadiens' Ben Chiarot reinforces trade value in loss to Avalanche

Valeri Nichushkin had a goal and an assist and Jonas Johansson bounced back from his rough performance against the Leafs, turning aside 20 of 21 shots , as the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.

MONTREAL — The new executive vice president of hockey operations of the Montreal Canadiens has many difficult decisions to contemplate, but there's no fence to sit on for this one.

Just a day after arriving in the new city he's been signed to be in for the next five years, and with just one viewing of his new team under his belt, Jeff Gorton assuredly already knows what he needs to do with Ben Chiarot.

The six-foot-three, 234-pound defenceman has been Montreal's steadiest player this season, and he was their best one in Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche — producing his team's only goal, playing over 25 minutes and offering more evidence as to why he's one of Gorton's best trade chips.

All Gorton needs to do is pick up his phone when it rings and it's going to be ringing a lot for this player.

Chiarot is a defenceman who will draw interest from many playoff hopefuls and every Stanley Cup contender. The 30-year-old, who's right in the heart of his prime, has averaged close to 23 minutes per game, blocked 233 shots and thrown 283 hits since arriving in Montreal in 2019.

In 135 games with the Canadiens, he's proven he's more than just a stay-at-home type by scoring 15 goals and 34 points, and he’s displayed a versatility he said Wednesday is due to the confidence former GM Marc Bergevin and the team’s coaching staff has shown in him.

“(They’ve) given me a lot of ice time and just instilled a lot of confidence in me as a player, and it was just something that was kind of new to me in my career in getting that type of opportunity, and I just tried to take advantage of it,” Chiarot said. “And they really helped me become kind of the player I am today, and the player I am today is a lot different than the one that got here and signed here a couple of years ago.”

Chiarot is also more seasoned — especially given the playoff experience he’s gained over the last two summers.

It was in those games he showed he’s the exact type of player you want when things tighten up and the whistles get pocketed.

The Hamilton, Ont., native doesn't want to leave Montreal, but even he knows he's on his way off this 6-17-2 team, which has less than a one per cent chance of playing in those games this coming spring.

"Every year you see guys on expiring contracts get traded, but for me it's not something that I really have any control over, to be honest," Chiarot said a day prior to playing as much in Thursday's game as he's averaged over 32 playoff games with the Canadiens. "I do my job and go out and play and the people who make those decisions make those decisions. It's kind of wasted energy knowing about it and thinking about all these different scenarios and what-ifs. I just have to go out and do my job.

"It's probably harder on the families than it is on the players because it's kind of their life that gets uprooted. It's just part of the business. You see it every year, guys on expiring contracts get moved."

Chiarot's contract pays him $3.5 million this season and runs out this coming summer.

Even with the Canadiens possibly entering a rebuild, he'd be the kind of player they'd want to keep. He’s a leader, someone both Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling said they look up to for his work ethic and professionalism.

But the Canadiens already have Jeff Petry and David Savard earning close to $10 million per season between them until the summer of 2025, and Joel Edmundson is being paid the same salary as Chiarot to bring the same style of game through 2024. They have 21-year-old Alexander Romanov gaining more and more confidence and taking on more and more responsibility — as evidenced by his performance against Colorado on Thursday — and they have other young players to make space for in the future.

It’s a future that will be bolstered by moving Chiarot.

Before the season started, he had to submit a list of 10 teams he couldn’t be traded to. But that’s not going to affect Gorton’s ability to trade Chiarot — and do so for a substantial return.

We surveyed four executives from around the NHL on Wednesday to ask what they felt that would look like, and each of them said a first-round pick should be obtained.

“Go through the list of free-agent D-men and you won’t find too many who bring as much nastiness as he does,” said the first one. “Watching him in the playoffs over the last couple of years, he’s a throwback. A total pain in the ass to play against, and he’s a horse.”

Another executive texted: “Tampa was willing to give up first-rounders for rentals you wouldn’t think would fetch them over the last couple of years, but they clearly had good reason to believe it would be worth it. There are a few teams this year who believe they have a chance to win and an even better one if they get a player like him, so it’s realistic they’ll be willing to pay that price.”

“He’ll get a first,” said the third. “If it’s not a first, a second won’t get it done on its own. You’d need a prospect or another pick in there.”

We shared that assessment with the fourth and he agreed, adding, “There’s been chatter in the market about Chiarot for weeks already.”

That’s because the defenceman has stood out as one of the few bright spots on a team that’s been living dark days since the start of the season.

It’s still early. Gorton won’t need to act right now, with the NHL’s trade deadline more than three months away.

But he needn’t deliberate any further on what he needs to do with Chiarot.

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