Over the last couple weeks, Gerard and I have looked at the Devils restricted free agents and what they might command on their next deals. With the Devils RFAs done, we’re going to start shifting our focus to a select group of players around the league who will hit unrestricted free agency this summer and who might be a good fit for the Devils moving forward. Today, we’re going to take a look at a pair of UFAs from the President’s Trophy winning Florida Panthers in Mason Marchment and Ben Chiarot and see if either one might be a good fit for the Devils going forward.
Who is Mason Marchment and what would he bring to the table?
Mason Marchment is an intriguing, left-handed winger who went undrafted back in 2013. If his last name sounds familiar to you, its because he’s the son of longtime NHL enforcer Bryan Marchment. Mason was a late bloomer who took the long road to the NHL. He didn’t play major junior hockey until the age of 19 and signed an AHL deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016. Marchment played parts of five seasons in the ECHL and AHL before making his NHL debut in the middle of the 2019-20 season for the Leafs, picking up an assist over four games. Toronto wound up trading him to the Florida Panthers for Denis Malgin on February 19, 2020.
He became an NHL regular for Florida during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season after signing a 1 year deal worth $700,000. Marchment’s ice time was sporadic in his first extended taste of the NHL but he showed enough where Panthers GM Bill Zito moved quickly to re-sign Marchment to a 1 year contract extension worth $800,000 on April 5, 2021. Marchment finished his first full NHL season in Florida with 2 goals and 8 assists in 33 games. He also picked up a pair of goals in Florida’s six-game series loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Marchment put himself on the map with a breakout campaign in 2021-22, scoring 18 goals and adding 29 assists over 54 games. His advanced stats are equally impressive as well with an HDCF of 63.1% and an xG% of 63.41%. He played the majority of the season with Anton Lundell and Sam Reinhart on Florida’s third line at 5-on-5.
You may be reading that and thinking “that sounds all well and good, but it sounds a lot like what we already have”. What makes Marchment different is he would bring a physical edge to the table that the Devils are sorely lacking.
Listed at 6’4” and 220 pounds, Marchment has shown he is not shy using that large frame to set the tone in any given game. I’m not one to make a big deal about how many hits a guy has, but he does bring a noticeable physical presence to the table. Considering he took the long road to the NHL, it makes sense that he would need to be a physical player to earn his spot. He’s also not afraid to drop the mitts when the situation requires it. This scrap below is from a preseason game this past season. Again, a preseason game.
Marchment has quickly developed a reputation as a big guy who is a pain in the neck that other teams do not want to play against. To me, that sounds exactly like what the Devils need in their forward group to compliment their high-end smaller skill players.
Let’s take a look at this quote from Tom Fitzgerald at his end of season press conference on what he’s looking for this offseason.
Fitzgerald said he doesn't use the goaltending situation as an excuse in evaluation, particularly on D. On defense he said, "I want to get bigger, I want to get more mobile, I want to be harder to play against."— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) May 5, 2022
Fitzgerald was specifically talking about the defense here (I wouldn’t want to be Ty Smith reading that, but I digress), but being bigger and harder to play against should apply to the wingers as well, especially after he also talked about how much the Devils missed Miles Wood this season. Fitzgerald is no dummy. He played nearly 1100 NHL games himself and has his own reputation as an energy guy who competes and did the dirty work.
You don’t think Tom Fitzgerald takes notice when he looks at tape like this from Marchment?
The Devils just carried Mason Geertsen on an NHL roster for an entire season to do most of these things poorly. Marchment does a lot of these things well and would be a good addition to a team that didn’t do much last offseason in terms of trying to be harder to play against. Remember, the Devils zigged while the rest of the league zagged trying to find their answer to Tom Wilson. You don’t think Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier would love having a physical presence like Marchment on their line? What if the Devils want their third line to be an energy line that’ll pound you into the dirt, and then you have to deal with Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt skating circles around you next shift? The possibilities are intriguing as Tom Fitzgerald continues to build this roster.
Of course, Marchment doesn’t come without risk. He only has 91 games of NHL experience to his name. He dealt with a few injuries this season and its fair to question if his playing style is a contributing factor. He really only has the one season of production at the NHL level, and it came on the highest scoring team in the league. I don’t view Marchment as the type of player who drives his own line. I think he’s a better fit with a player who can push possession, so if the Devils have him lower in the lineup playing with lesser skilled players like Michael McLeod, I could see him struggling.....or at least struggling when it comes to generating anything offensively. He probably needs to be on a line with Hughes or Hischier short-term until the Devils figure out their long-term solution at 3C or they acquire more top six forwards to push him down in their hypothetical lineup.
What type of contract will Marchment get and should the Devils have interest?
The first two players I thought as a comp, strictly in terms of playing style, were Brandon Tanev and Barclay Goodrow, but neither of those comps are perfect.
Tanev is known as a defensive specialist and top penalty killer who has yet to match the career-high 29 points he had in his final season in Winnipeg before reaching unrestricted free agency. He signed a six year deal worth $3.5M annually with the Penguins before the 2019-20 season and played two seasons in Pittsburgh before being exposed and selected by the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft. Marchment has more points in 91 NHL games than Tanev did in 195. I do think Tanev’s AAV is in the area of what Marchment might get, but six years is a big commitment for a 27 year old who really only has 2 years of NHL experience.
After winning two Stanley Cups with the Lightning, Barclay Goodrow’s negotiation rights were traded to the Rangers before the free agency market even opened last season. The Rangers gave Goodrow a similar deal to what Tanev got, paying him $3.64M AAV over the next six seasons. New York paid a bit of a premium for a prominent player from a prominent line on back-to-back Cup champs, but between a career high in points this season and the Rangers making a deep playoff run, I don’t think they have any buyer’s remorse in Year 1 of that deal.
I would expect Marchment, who only has $3.35M in career earnings to this point, to cash in. Florida is capped out after making big commitments to Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Sergei Bobrovsky (and with Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar on deck), but that doesn’t mean Marchment won’t have his share of suitors on the open market. Alexander MacLean of Dobber Hockey has Marchment’s AAV coming in around $3.9M, and while that seems a bit high, someone will place a premium on Marchment’s particular skillset. If teams think they’re getting Tom Wilson 2.0, an AAV under $4M is a bargain for a player like that.
As much as I like what Marchment brings to the table, I would have to pass if he ultimately gets significant term like six seasons. To me, there’s just not enough of a body of work and track record of success to justify that kind of commitment. For every Tom Wilson contract where he’s worth every penny, there’s five “heart-and-soul” players who don’t work out. Cap space will become more of a premium once Jesper Bratt’s new deal is signed and the Devils will need to be careful not to use too much of it on an “energy” guy like Marchment.
If the Devils could get Marchment to sign for something like $3M per year over three years, I think that’s worth doing. I’d even be in favor of a short-term “prove it” deal at a bigger AAV the next couple years. It sounds silly to suggest giving Marchment $5M per for two years, but the Devils have enough cap flexibility the next two seasons to make that kind of deal work now and worry about the 2025 salary cap in 2025.
Who is Ben Chiarot and what would he bring to the table?
Ben Chiarot is a big, left-handed shooting defenseman who was taken in the 4th round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets (then known as the Atlanta Thrashers). He made his NHL debut during the 2013-14 season and played parts of six seasons in Winnipeg before signing with the Montreal Canadiens in free agency for 3 years and an AAV of $3.5M. Chiarot’s role expanded during his time in Montreal, culminating with him playing significant minutes on a pairing with Shea Weber as the Habs made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020-21.
The Habs lost several key players from their Cup team this past offseason, including Weber. Chiarot struggled throughout much of 2021-22 as a result. It became quickly apparent that Montreal would look to move Chiarot as they retooled their roster. Various media reports throughout the season reported that Montreal wouldn’t accept anything less than a first round pick in a trade, which seemed comical given Chiarot’s poor performance in 2021-22 up to that point. The Habs would have the last laugh though, as they got an unprotected 2023 first round pick, as well as a 4th round pick and Tyler Smilanic from the Florida Panthers for Chiarot.
Let’s start with what Chiarot does well. Listed at 6’3” and 234 lbs, he has a reputation for being a physical defenseman who can play top minutes. He does the things you’d associate with those traits such as killing penalties, blocking shots, battling along the boards, and delivering the occasional hit. He wears a letter ‘A’ on his sweater. He’s a respected veteran who is “good in the room” and has the “character” that the 200 Hockey Men dream about when building a roster. He also has a decent shot. With a career high of 26 points this season though, I wouldn’t count on Chiarot contributing much of anything offensively. He’s your prototypical “defensive defenseman”.
Unfortunately, the list of positives ends there and there are plenty of negatives. Chiarot takes a ton of penalties, which isn’t ideal when you are relied upon as a penalty killer but you’re too undisciplined to stay out of the box. More alarming than that though is the fact that Chiarot is among the worst 5-on-5 players in the league, and has been for awhile now.
Ben Chiarot, acquired by FLA, is a physical defenceman who was asked to do far to much in Montréal this season. Loves to battle along the boards and in front of the net, chases hits, and takes a lot of minor penalties. #TimetoHunt pic.twitter.com/bXjzSOjTnE— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 17, 2022
The charts above suggest that this isn’t simply a result of Montreal being the worst team in the NHL this season either. In fairness to Chiarot though, he seemed to perform a little bit better with Florida post-trade. His CF%, HDCF%, and xG% all improved after the deal, which might simply be a result of being on a better team with better players. Florida gave him more offensive zone starts than Montreal did, at 49.3% vs. 34.8% with the Habs. He played primarily on a pairing with Mackenzie Weegar after coming over in the trade and spent time with Aaron Ekblad as well in the postseason. Both of those players are significant upgrades over anyone Montreal put him with post-Weber.
I referenced those comments from Tom Fitzgerald earlier in this article about wanting more size and being “tougher to play against” on the blueline. Chiarot would help in that regard, but there are questions about whether or not he’s still good enough defensively anymore to play a Top 4 role. I also question whether or not the Devils have a Shea Weber, Aaron Ekblad, or Mackenzie Weegar to pair with him to cover up the flaws in his game.
Spoiler alert: they do not.
What type of contract will Chiarot get and what should the Devils do?
It’ll be interesting to see how Chiarot will be perceived around the league on the open market. He’s still relatively young, having just completed his age 30 season, and theoretically has another 4 or 5 years left in him. Opinions are mixed though, as analytics-driven teams likely will want to avoid him altogether while traditionalists who rely on the eye test insist he’s a good player.
The player I thought of as a potential comp was one of Chiarot’s old defense partners, David Savard. Savard signed a 4 year, $3.5M AAV contract with the Habs before last season and shares a lot of the same traits as Chiarot, with the big difference being Savard is a RHD. They’re both big, physical defensemen who are viewed as a leader in the locker room and have a reputation for playing tough minutes.....whether they can handle them or not. The analytics aren’t particularly kind to Savard either, as they’ve been trending in the wrong direction for a few years. Savard had roughly 120 more NHL games under his belt when he hit UFA and might’ve left a little money on the table signing with his hometown Habs.
It’ll only take one team to pay whatever Chiarot is looking for, and its not like he didn’t have multiple teams chasing after him at the trade deadline despite his flaws, so I believe he’ll have no trouble securing a multi-year deal. The going rate for average defenseman seems to be $3.5M AAV over three or four years. Chiarot is a known commodity around the league who is less than 12 months removed from playing big minutes in a Stanley Cup Final. I’d expect him to receive a healthy contract between $3.5 and $4M annually over several years.
I don’t think the Devils should be involved here, even though the should be in the market for a veteran defenseman. There is at least one opening on their blueline with P.K. Subban likely departing in free agency, and perhaps a second if they trade Ty Smith. If they move on from both of them, I’d love to see them replaced with two defensive defensemen who are big and physical on the bottom pairing. I just don’t think Chiarot is good enough anymore to fill that specific need. Kevin Bahl and Nikita Ohkotiuk had their moments during their late season auditions where I could see one of those aforementioned spots going to one of them, but I think its more likely they add a veteran in free agency on a short-term deal. For all of these reasons, and with Luke Hughes and/or Shakir Mukhamadullin inching closer to making their NHL debuts, I’d pass on Chiarot regardless of cost.
Mason Marchment would be a solid complimentary piece for the Devils, but there does come a point where the proverbial juice isn’t worth the squeeze. I would be ok with Tom Fitzgerald splurging short-term to get Marchment to come to New Jersey since he would bring a much needed physical presence with a touch of skill and plenty of size to this roster. Unfortunately, UFA can be tough to predict. If the going rate for Marchment is in the vicinity of what Barclay Goodrow got last year, I’d be inclined to let somebody else go down that road and try to find my grit, compete, size, and energy somewhere else.
As for Ben Chiarot, he would certainly fit what Tom Fitzgerald is looking for in his blueline in terms of sheer physical measurables, but there are plenty of warning signs from the last few years to suggest that he’s not a good player now and won’t be in the future. If I were Fitzgerald, I’d stay far away on this one and look elsewhere to address the blueline.
What do you think of these two unrestricted free agents? Do you agree with me that you’d be ok signing Marchment to a certain point, but are lukewarm at best on Chiarot? Perhaps you’re a bigger Chiarot fan than I am, or you don’t think Marchment is all that? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!