Disappointing is a hard word to avoid when reflecting upon Ben Chiarot's season, considering how it represented a step back almost across the board. But is it a fair term, or were expectations unrealistic for a 24-year-old defenceman playing in his sophomore year, one coming after a relative handful of rookie season games?
In 70 games played this season, Chiarot posted one goal, 10 points and 43 PIM while averaging 14:27 TOI. Had last year never happened, those numbers may have been a respectable debut. Unfortunately for fan hopes, Chiarot had two goals, eight points and a 17:01 ATOI over 40 games in 2014-15. Shooting percentage provides some solace, given how it dropped from 5.4% to a mere 1.4% in 2015-16. But the sample size is small enough where his NHL "norm" is still up in the air, and given how the season went, it's fair to at least speculate on whether we'll see that big league sample size increase.
A dip in shooting percentage does account for the difference in already somewhat minimal point production. What it doesn't give is reason for the notable drop in underlying numbers which also occurred. First, let's look at traditional shots (AKA shots on net):
(Minuses are a good thing in the Rel.SA60 category; they mean the opposition had fewer opportunities while Chiarot was on the ice, relative to his teammates.)
To round off a bit, 2015-16 Chiarot was on the ice for three fewer Shots For per 60 and three additional Shots Against per 60 than his 2014-15 counterpart. This isn't a good combination. On top of that, the only defenceman to post a worse SF60 relative to his teammates was Mark Stuart (more on this later). Generally speaking, Chiarot went from being a decent plus to a significant drag.
Changing the metric from Shots to Corsi (shot attempts, including those missed and blocked) does give a more favourable account, if only to a certain extent:
From a raw CF% standpoint, 2015-16 Chiarot was at least closer to 50.00% than with SF%. The shift also moves 2014-15 Chiarot into slightly negative CF% territory relative to his teammates, while lessening the minus which was this season. Additionally, the improved Rel.CF% moves him up the food chain; Julian "Calendar Man" Melchiori and Adam Pardy now join Stuart as d-men with worse numbers than Chiarot. This more inclusive picture tilts the overall offensive opportunities at least somewhat closer to the middle.
The word "teammates" has been mentioned a number of times, and now is a good time to focus on it. There were significant differences in how 2015-16 Ben Chiarot was deployed versus the previous year, or more specifically with whom he was deployed. In 2014-15, Ben Chiarot had only one significant partner: Dustin Byfuglien.
The Chiarot-Byfuglien pairing was solid in 2014-15, though actually not the most impressive from a Rel.CF% standpoint; Pardy-Postma, Postma-Byfuglien and Enstrom-Trouba all had better numbers by the same metric. Compare this to what 2015-16 had to offer:
While they eked out a raw CF% positive, Chiarot-Byfuglien was no longer the relative positive it was in 2014-15. In fact, only one of the pairings above exceeded the performance of teammates: Ben Chiarot, together with press box fixture Paul Postma. They were Winnipeg's best defensive combination in terms of Rel.CF%, beating out even Trouba-Byfuglien and their 6.17 Rel.CF% (the numbers go downhill rather quickly after those two pairings).
Just as Chiarot-Postma stands out, so does Stuart-Chiarot, only not in a good way. They were, in short, disastrous. In what should probably come as no surprise, the Stuart-Chiarot pairing had all the offensive capability of a sponge. Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers may have allowed about two additional Corsi attempts against, but it also produced nineteen more Corsi attempts for.
To give this some perspective, the Stuart-Chiarot pairing's -9.88 Rel.CF% was worse than Marc Staal - Dan Girardi. In fact, it was worse than any d-pair in the NHL not named Wideman-Engelland or TVR-Seabrook. Stuart-Chiarot was the Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 of NHL defensive pairings.
One final note: Chiarot's ATOI received a major boost over the last eight games of the season, a stretch which saw his lowest TOI come in at 20:07. Of course, this came about only after the d-corps had swapped Enstrom and Myers for Melchiori and Postma, but it's worth noting how Chiarot received such a significant increase in their absence.
@anthony_bones20— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) May 5, 2016
Winnipeg's blueline does not boast the same wealth of competition as the forward corps, but there is room for scrappiness in and amongst spots five through eight. Barring a trade or other kind of dramatic happening, the top-four of Trouba-Byfuglien and Enstrom-Myers seems relatively set. Beyond that however, Ben Chiarot, Mark Stuart, Paul Postma, Josh Morrissey and perhaps even Julian Melchiori are all set to duke it out for the remaining NHL slots.
When combined with his contract, the perception this organization has of Stuart's worth may ensure his continued presence as a roster fixture, if not a lineup regular as well. It's a painful prediction, but one hard not to make given the last five years.
There are a number of factors here when considering Chiarot's future. Given how incredibly wretched they were when together in 2015-16, Paul Maurice should ask Mark Scheifele how he feels about defence before reuniting Stuart and Chiarot. If Stu is in the lineup, avoiding this pairing would make Chiarot the seventh defenceman. On the other hand, a scratched Stuart would open the door to giving that very successful Chiarot-Postma duo another shot. Theirs is a bottom-pairing with the potential to do quite well for itself.
Perhaps the biggest wildcard is Josh Morrissey, and whether or not he's NHL-ready. Friend of the blog and AHL connoisseur Patrick Williams seems to think said readiness will come sooner rather than later:
@PaulPoirier3 Probably a half-season just to fine-tune his game.— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) April 8, 2016
If Morrissey does crack the NHL roster, that will require either carrying eight defencemen, or the demotion of a Paul Postma or Ben Chiarot (or Mark Stuart, but come now). Given his usage or lack thereof, it's easy to assume Postma would be the odd man out in this situation. And while Chiarot-Postma may have made sweet music together, the idea of Morrissey-Chiarot certainly has its appeal as well.
Personally speaking, I don't expect Chiarot to go anywhere. His contract is a cool $850,000, he provides a "safe" stay-at-home game and he could very well bounceback come 2016-17. Between last season's system changes emphasizing an aggressive defence, leakier goaltending from the previous year's stalwarts, the difficulty of being an NHL sophomore and being paired with Mark Stuart, the chances of improvement aren't necessarily on a wing and a prayer.
All stats are unadjusted 5v5 and as per Corsica Hockey, unless otherwise noted or linked. Remember: we all got a chicken-duck-woman thing waiting for us.