High taxes, obsessive fans, blanket media coverage and the French language are all reasons invoked to explain why NHL free agents tend to steer clear of Montreal. But Ben Chiarot isn’t worried about any of that.
“Guys have their reasons for not wanting to come here, but for me it’s a great city, a place that loves hockey and a team that, like I’ve said, is close to making the playoffs,” Chiarot told reporters Friday at the Canadiens’ training facility. “There wasn’t anything negative in my mind that would make me not want to come to Montreal.”
He noted that he knows Canadiens forward Joel Armia from their days together in Winnipeg, and Montreal’s Nate Thompson also contacted him. But there wasn’t much of a sales job needed before Chiarot signed a three-year deal with the club.
“When someone says you have a chance to play for the Montreal Canadiens, it’s pretty special,” he said. “I didn’t need to be sold on anything to come here and play here.”
Chiarot, who tried on the No. 8 jersey he will wear for the Habs, had few criteria when it came to choosing his next team after six seasons in Winnipeg.
‘Best goalie in the world’
“Playing on a good team was important to me,” the 28-year-old defenceman said. “To get to play in a city like Montreal, on an Original Six team, it was a great opportunity for myself and for my family.”
He was also looking for a big market where hockey matters.
“I enjoy the pressure that comes with having to perform every night,” Chiarot said. “Playing Saturday night at the Bell Centre, there’s nothing in hockey that’s quite the same.”
Chiarot repeatedly praised the quality of the Canadiens team, in particular the presence of Carey Price and Shea Weber.
“When we came in here with Winnipeg, they absolutely skated us into the ground. I think both in Winnipeg and in Montreal, both times they beat us. This is a fast team and a young team,” he said, praising Price as “the best goalie in the world.”
He said he is confident the Canadiens are headed for the playoffs, and he wants to do his part to help on the blue line.
“All the pieces are here,” he said. “It a little bit reminds me of where we were in Winnipeg a few years ago.”
The six-foot-three, 219-pound defenceman has come on strong in recent seasons with the Jets, averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game, despite the presence of defencemen like Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien on the team. He has had some discussions with coach Claude Julien, but his exact role with the Habs remains to be determined.
“I’m a big believer that you need to earn what you get, especially when you’re new to a team,” he said. “There’s nothing given. You have to come in and earn your opportunities, earn your ice time.”
Last season, Chiarot had a career-high five goals and 15 assists while playing in a defensive role.
“I don’t feel like I’m done developing,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got more levels to go and I’m hoping to do that here in Montreal under Claude and be able to learn from some of the guys, like a Shea Weber. There wouldn’t be a better guy for me to watch and learn from in the way he conducts himself.”