Sitting comfortably in playoff position with a nice 69 points, the New York Rangers are poised to be trade deadline buyers. Their most glaring need is forward depth – in particular, a middle-six (or better) right winger, especially with Kaapo Kakko still sidelined for a while.
Another area they might explore is depth on the left side of the blue line. One of the most circulated names in trade rumors is Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot, a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) currently earning an average of $3.5 million annually. The Rangers have been mentioned to be among the suitors for Chiarot. Parting with any valuable asset(s) to acquire Chiarot, however, would be a major mistake on their part.
Chiarot Not Worth the Asking Price
The level of interest around the league in the 30-year-old Chiarot is curious, given that he has never really jumped out as a top-level defenseman. In 460 NHL games with the Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets, Chiarot has notched 27 goals and 74 assists, with his career-best scoring season coming in 2019-20 (nine goals and 12 assists).
Offense is not the highlight of Chiarot’s game, of course. But even so, what is? It seems NHL general managers might be blinded by the classic traps of size (Chiarot is 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds) and experience (Chiarot was part of the Montreal team that miraculously advanced to the Stanley Cup Final during the shortened 2020-21 season). These traits alone should not sway the Rangers, or any other team for that matter, to part with meaningful assets.
Chiarot’s underlying metrics do not paint a pretty picture whatsoever. He does not provide a lift for his team, either offensively or defensively. Per Evolving Hockey, he is a below-replacement-level player (based on their GAR, or goals-above-replacement, measurement) when taking all situations of the game into account. The chart below illustrates this, and is a compilation of the past three seasons, to help dilute the effect of how woeful the Canadiens have been this season. Being in the second percentile of the league overall, with poor impacts offensively, defensively, and on special teams is...not good!
Per Hockey Viz’s measurements, Montreal’s expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) at five-on-five this season with Chiarot on the ice is 3.16 — 24 percent higher than league average. The deep red coloring right in the slot in the diagram is a clear indicator of the high level of dangerous scoring chances the Canadiens yield when Chiarot is on the ice. Not exactly what a contending team would want in hopes of bolstering its blue line.
Even so, NHL GMs cannot help themselves. Per Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic, there are multiple teams in the running for his services, with classic red-flag words like “character” and “pedigree” being thrown around just as much if not more so than ways he can tangibly help a team (the “offensive side” piece, in my opinion, is negligible based on the above statistics).
Teams will rely on what they know of (Chiarot’s) character and his pedigree. He’s a left-shot who has shown more of an offensive side the last handful of years and can play steady minutes alongside a younger defenseman. Montreal is trying to land a David Savard-like return (first- and third-round draft picks) and as long as there are multiple bidders for his services, Montreal might do OK. Chiarot is 30, earns $3.5 million, and is UFA after this season with modified no-trade, where he can submit a 10-team no-go list.
‘NHL Trade Deadline Big Board 2.0: John Klingberg, Claude Giroux, and 28 others who could be dealt’, Eric Duhatschek, The Athletic, 2/21/2022.
Chiarot is not someone the Rangers should even consider acquiring, let alone for a first-round pick and possibly more.
Other Defense Options for the Rangers
The Rangers’ main trade deadline targets should be forwards, but if they really want to add stability to the blue line, there are better options out there than Chiarot. Perhaps they inquire about veteran Mark Giordano, the long-time captain of the Calgary Flames and current Seattle Kraken captain who might be available, with the Rangers potentially interested already.
Another intriguing target is a different pending UFA defenseman on the Canadiens: Brett Kulak. At 28 years of age, carrying an annual cap value of $1.85 million, and a name that is not being discussed nearly as often, Kulak would likely cost less than Chiarot, and would likely have a better impact as well.
Looking at the same three-year chart from Evolving Hockey as was shown earlier for Chiarot, Kulak’s overall impact looks much better. He will not provide much in the way of offense, but he has a much more positive impact defensively.
And, looking at the same Hockey Viz metrics from before, but this time with respect to Kulak, Montreal’s five-on-five xGA/60 is essentially in line with league average when Kulak is on the ice, despite a high number of shots coming from the slot area. Kulak’s impact is much better than Chiarot’s. Beyond that, managing to yield league-average impact on a poor team is something to be lauded.
Of course, the Rangers do not have to acquire a defenseman at all. The emergence of Zac Jones, and his effective play with Braden Schneider (albeit in a limited sample size), gives the Rangers a viable option to let the kids grow and provide a puck-moving element to the third pair. The recent return of Patrik Nemeth gives the Rangers a veteran to lean on if they’d rather go that way as well — even though they’d probably be best served to stick with the unique talents of a Jones/Schneider pair.
Nemeth has struggled throughout the season — which is part of the reason the Rangers would even be looking into possibly acquiring another defenseman — but he has been dealing with injuries, personal situations, and the lingering effects of a bout with COVID-19 throughout the season. Hopefully he is fully better from those situation, first and foremost. As far as on-ice performance is concerned, he looked as good as he has all season in his first game back Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, so perhaps, optimistically, that’s a sign of things to come. If so, the Rangers should be set on the back end and not have to become desperate to acquire another defenseman, given that they already have two viable options for the last slot on the left slide. But even if they still want to explore a trade, they just need to look at options other than Chiarot.