The Florida Panthers landed one of the most coveted players on the trade market Wednesday night, acquiring defenseman Ben Chiarot from the Montreal Canadiens for Tyler Smilanic and two draft picks.
It was the second deal of the day for the Panthers, who cleared out about $2.5 million in cap room earlier Wednesday when they shipped forward Frank Vatrano — who had two goals for Florida on Tuesday night, the second in overtime — to the New York Rangers for a fourth-round draft pick.
That was the clear indication that the Panthers were looking to do more, and hours later, the deal for Chiarot — who led Montreal in ice time last season during the Canadiens' postseason run to the Stanley Cup final — was done.
“Ben is a solid veteran defenseman that will bring both experience and size to our blue line,” Panthers general manager Bill Zito said. “Having reached the Stanley Cup final with Montreal last season, he is a player that knows what it takes to make a deep playoff run, which is what our organization is striving for in these next few months.”
That pick acquired from the Rangers ended up becoming part of the deal to get Chiarot. Smilanic, a third-round pick by Florida in 2020, had 13 goals for Quinnipiac in this college season. The Panthers also send Montreal a first-rounder in 2023, in addition to the fourth-rounder this year.
The 30-year-old Chiarot had seven goals and 11 assists for the Canadiens this season, averaging nearly 24 minutes of ice time per contest. He led Montreal with nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game in last season’s playoffs.
And now he’s headed from a woebegone Montreal team to a Florida team that has eyes on winning a championship. The Panthers entered Wednesday with the second-most points in the NHL this season, behind only Colorado.
Florida also leads the NHL in goals scored, averaging 4.10 per game — on pace to smash the previous club record. The Panthers have given up 2.92 goals per game, which was good for basically the middle of the NHL pack entering Wednesday, 13th-best in the league.
That was one of the reasons why Florida was looking to shore up its defense before the trade window closes and the playoff push begins. The Canadiens will retain 50% of Chiarot’s salary for the rest of this season.
Florida becomes Chiarot's third team, after he began his career with Winnipeg before going to Montreal. He's appeared in 56 playoff games.
Vatrano, 28, has 93 goals and 64 assists in 379 NHL regular-season games.
“After almost five seasons with the club, we want to thank Frank for his professionalism and compete,” Zito said. “His team-first approach was always appreciated, and we wish him all the best moving forward.”
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