The Detroit Red Wings are going to add some size to their defense corps, as the team announced the signing of free agent defenseman Ben Chiarot. The deal will be for four years and will carry a whopping $4.75MM cap hit.
This deal will undoubtedly be controversial, as Chiarot the free agent signing is likely to split fan opinion just as Chiarot the trade asset did in the weeks leading up to the 2022 deadline did. But this signing is more than anything else an indication of how differently NHL front offices view Chiarot compared to public opinion. The Florida Panthers surrendered a coveted 2023 first-round pick and a prospect in Ty Smilanic to acquire Chiarot at the deadline, and now the Red Wings, led by GM Steve Yzerman, are giving Chiarot a $4.75MM AAV deal with a four-year term. Those two moves show that Chiarot’s public perception hasn’t quite caught up to his perception among NHL decision-makers.
Members of the public see Chiarot and see a player who is emblematic of the flaws in old-school hockey thinking. Chiarot is a big, mean, extremely physical defenseman who is perhaps best known for taking liberties with the rules against cross-checking in order to clear the blue paint. Chiarot’s reputation was massively enhanced by his play during the Montreal Canadiens’ 2021 run to the Stanley Cup Final, as he paired with Shea Weber and formed a partnership that embodied the “hard to play against” identity so many teams strive to create. But does that reputation keep in line with the on-ice results?
That’s where things get complicated and where the public’s down opinion on Chiarot really comes from. By most public analytics models, Chiarot is an ineffective defensive defenseman whose teams often perform worse when he’s on the ice than when he’s off of it. The work by The Athletic’s Dom Luczyszyn assign’s Chiarot a per-season value of $700K, a far cry from the $4.75MM cap hit he’s earned today.
But Yzerman is an extremely accomplished GM. He laid the groundwork for the back-to-back Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cups, and is among the most widely respected executives in hockey. Clearly, there’s something this public perception is missing, or else Chiarot’s services wouldn’t be so in demand. Firstly, one has to assume that the private analytics Yzerman’s front office is working with are more kind to Chiarot than the public models. Secondly, there is a minority opinion on Chiarot that sees his game quite positively. They view his physical, crease-clearing play as extremely valuable, his locker room contributions to be important, and his abilities in transition and on offense to be underrated.
Whichever side on Chiarot is closer to the truth isn’t really relevant at this point. His contract is signed and finalized. He’ll be a Red Wing for the foreseeable future, and Red Wings fans simply have to have faith that Yzerman’s moves will work out as well for them as they did for fans in Tampa Bay.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was first to report the deal.