The Florida Panthers are all in indeed.
In the most expensive deal so far in the lead-up to the NHL's trade deadline, the Panthers have acquired defenseman Ben Chiarot in exchange for a first-round draft pick in 2023, a fourth-round selection in 2022, and forward prospect Ty Smilanic.
Montreal will retain half Chiarot's salary to maximize the Panthers' financial flexibility after general manager Bill Zito cleared out just over $2.5 million in contract dollars by trading Frank Vatrano to the New York Rangers earlier on Wednesday.
Chiarot is a polarizing figure in the hockey community. He was labouring through a brutal 2021-22 season before Dominique Ducharme was fired and replaced by current head coach Martin St. Louis. Under the Hall of Fame forward, Chiarot has showed flashes of the defensive zone dominance and underrated skating and puck moving that the Canadiens leaned on in their run to the Stanley Cup Final last summer. Between Chiarot and the since-departed Shea Weber and Phillip Danault, Montreal formed a reliable shutdown trio that successfully minimized the impacts of the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Kyle Connor, Nik Ehlers and Mark Stone on the path to the NHL's championship series.
Chiarot will presumably take on a slightly lesser role in Florida, which is anchored by one of the more influential defensive pairings in the league over the last few seasons in Aaron Ekblad and Mackenzie Weegar. In addition to logging key minutes on the penalty kill, he likely serves as an upgrade on Radko Gudas, who has been logging second pairing minutes on the right side for most of the season. However it should be noted that Chiarot can play either side.
For Montreal, Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes completed the primary and perhaps uncertain objective, which was to turn the expiring asset into a first-round pick. The Canadiens were able to sweeten the pot with an additional pick and prospect by using their cap space to retain $1.75 million in salary, completing what is undoubtedly an impressive bit of business.
All told after completing two deals on the day, the Panthers freed up a little more than $750K after moving a depth forward — Vatrano — out, and bringing in arguably the top defensive rental on the market. It leaves them with still a little more space to manoeuvre when looking to complete the roster before the Monday deadline.
Zito has done a tremendous job building the Panthers into a contender over the last few years, but this is a move earned through on-ice performance above anything else. The Panthers are the top team in the NHL's most competitive division this season, and are on pace for the most prolific scoring campaign NHL-wide in 26 years while averaging more than four goals per game.
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