Six potential trade destinations for Canadiens’ Ben Chiarot

Montreal Canadiens' Ben Chiarot (8) and Edmonton Oilers' Derek Ryan (10) battle for the puck during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (CP)

Ben Chiarot has quickly become one of the most in-demand trade targets in the NHL, and it’s easy to see why.

The Montreal Canadiens defenceman fits the prototype perfectly. He’s big, plays a physical game, and has performed very well in just about every situation on a team that otherwise … well … hasn’t. He can play on both sides of the blue line (though the left-shot suits up most often on the left), and plays a smart net-front game.

And while he’s not necessarily known for his offence, he’s also been putting up strong numbers there – especially of late, upping his trade value with every outing. He’s a proven performer in the playoffs, as we’ve seen in the past two years. Last spring, he was a major driving force in the club’s Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final, starring alongside Shea Weber in the top pairing of a team that seemed to shut down opponents with ease.

And then there’s his cap hit. Coming in at $3.5 million, the pending UFA is one of the more affordable options for teams in search of top-four d-men who are pure rentals. Of course, that does drive up the asking price.

Reports are indicating that it’ll cost at least a first-round pick to land Chiarot’s services down the stretch.

That’s the floor, and it’s on par with what the Tampa Bay Lightning paid for then-Columbus Blue Jacket (and current Montreal Canadien) David Savard last spring. The Lightning traded a first- and a third-round pick to Columbus and also sent a fourth-rounder to the Detroit Red Wings, who retained a quarter of the cap hit. (That cost also covered the Blue Jackets’ retaining of half of Savard’s hit, resulting in the Lightning paying just a quarter of his AAV.)

The Canadiens are not being coy about his availability. It’s not a matter of if they trade the pending UFA but when. And considering he’s back from a recent injury and is playing some of his best hockey, they’d be smart to move him as soon as they can.

“There’s a lot of exploring that goes into this type of process. I’m guessing teams are trying to understand what the cost of Chiarot is versus another potential option and they’re going to make their decisions,” Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes told Sportsnet’s Eric Engels in a Q&A earlier this week. “Conversely, we would look and compare different options of what fits best for us.”

It’s worth noting that Chiarot does have a modified no-trade clause, which allows him to submit a 10-team list of destinations he’s not willing to go to. It’s unlikely that’ll factor in much here, as he’s guaranteed to go somewhere with a strong shot to win.

A gritty defender who can play top-pairing minutes and knows what it takes to be one of two teams left standing? You can sign a lot of franchises up for that – close to 16, in fact. So, with that in mind, and in hopes of narrowing things down, here are six teams that could be the best fits to land Chiarot based on need, perceived fit, return and latest reports.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Though there’s plenty of speculation about whether the Leafs should be trying to bring in another goaltender before the deadline, general manager Kyle Dubas made it clear to reporters last week that the blue line is priority No. 1. Does that change with Thursday’s news of Jack Campbell’s injury? The netminder is to be sidelined for the next two pivotal weeks.

In addition to plenty of speculation in net, Toronto is going be linked to every defenceman available from now until 3 p.m. ET on March 21 – including, of course, Ducks star Hampus Lindholm.

How much cap space Dubas has to work with will depend on Jake Muzzin’s health and how likely he is to be cleared for a return to the lineup by the end of the regular season. Chiarot’s relatively affordable cap hit – especially if cap retention is part of trade talks – could be the answer either way. But that’s not the only reason he’s got major appeal to the Maple Leafs.

Leafs management consistently talks about wanting to be tougher to play against, and in the post-season that want becomes a need. Chiarot fills that – Leafs forwards have experienced that much first-hand.

The Leafs, who were interested in Chiarot when he was a free agent in 2019 before he signed with the Canadiens, have all kinds of questions on defence, and it’s safe to say a playoff push with its current core wouldn’t exactly incite a lot of confidence for this must-win team. Injecting a versatile, top-pair rearguard would give the club a little bit more breathing room on that front. Once Muzzin’s back in the fold, you’ve suddenly got a blue line that matches the expectations of its playoff-ready forward group.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

The Blues’ blue line has seen big improvements this season – big, as in 6-foot-5 Niko Mikkola, who has worked his way into not just the regular rotation but a top-four role. Lately, he’s been getting top-pair minutes alongside 6-foot-6 Colton Parayko – a fearsome duo indeed. The development of Mikkola with Parayko has been a great story for the Blues, and allows Torey Krug and Justin Faulk to be at their best paired together. But there’s not much flexibility, and plenty of room of improvement.

Bringing in Chiarot could be just the ticket. His physicality would make him an intriguing pairing for Mikkola or Parayko if needed, and his smart playmaking and sound defence could also see him as the perfect complementary player for either Krug or Faulk, too, allowing head coach Craig Berube maximum flexibility throughout what the club hopes will be a long playoff run.

The Blues have all of their first-round picks the next three years, but would have to do some salary-cap juggling in the form of a player-in, player-out type deal if Chiarot is to fit.

CALGARY FLAMES

According to Elliotte Friedman, the Flames showed interest in Chiarot before they traded for his teammate Tyler Toffoli. It would makes sense for the trading partners to get back on the phone, especially considering Calgary’s all-in status. Of course, that trade could also be a deterrent – after all, it cost Calgary its 2022 first-round pick to bring Toffoli in. Do they want to deal another one away in 2023?

The Flames were recently reminded of the rearguard’s ability to produce a little offence, too, when Chiarot’s two-goal outing secured the Canadiens’ upset win in overtime.

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FLORIDA PANTHERS

The Panthers are pretty much the definition of “all-in” this season, and no real contender’s trade deadline is complete without the acquisition of a reliable defenceman.

Behind the top pairing of Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar is an opportunity for improvement. Or, perhaps, an acquisition of Chiarot means being able to split up the top pair.

It’s worth wondering if someone such as Owen Tippett would be in play here. The Panthers’ first-rounder from 2017 has been a popular talking point the last few months as an intriguing piece in a trade. He’s been excellent in the AHL this year but has yet to really break into the Panthers’ deep roster in any sustainable way and is a clear candidate for a fresh start. He’ll also be an RFA this summer. He could be an ideal fit for a rebuilding Canadiens club focused on the future.

BOSTON BRUINS

What was once a solid strength of the perennially contending Bruins is now a source of questions – particularly when it comes to who suits up alongside the elite Charlie McAvoy. Mike Reilly can sometimes be the answer, but “sometimes” isn’t good enough for a team looking to make another run – a run that might just be its last with its current core, as captain Patrice Bergeron faces a big decision this off-season about his playing future.

Is Chiarot the answer? If they’re seeking a sustainable solution, probably not, considering he’s a rental. But if it’s a quick fix Boston is after, this one makes a ton of sense. Chiarot is used to getting top-pairing minutes and could fit in seamlessly alongside McAvoy. That would then ease the pressure on Reilly and allow him to do what he does best in a role with a slightly dimmer spotlight in a middle pairing. Boston’s cap situation is also not quite as bleak as that of other clubs on this list, which means there’s not as much pressure to complete a true hockey trade. Sending picks to Montreal feels like a no-brainer in order to stretch the window of contention and give its captain a proper shot at another Cup.

NEW YORK RANGERS

The Rangers are a team that on paper kind of has it all. A fun, fast offensive group, a young defensive core headlined by Norris winner Adam Fox and a goalie in Igor Shesterkin who’s earning not just Vezina-level praise but a strong case for MVP, too.

What they lack, though, is that ever-valuable intangible called playoff experience. If the Rangers are to add before the deadline, you’ve got to believe they’re eyeing someone who knows how it feels to play hockey in June. Chiarot brings that quality at an affordable price, and the acquisition of a rental would also send a strong message to this roster that it’s ready to truly contend again.

In addition to cap space, the Rangers also have all of their first-round picks the next few years and other interesting players that could be moved. If Montreal wants to shore up its crease with a more solid backup or a 1b option amid ongoing uncertainties with Carey Price, might they be interested in Alexander Georgiev? They should be. He’s an RFA after this season.

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