Don’t go straight to the comments. Don’t you do it. If you want to trash talk Brenden Dillon, at least read the article first. Come on, I can hardly feed my family with this sweet click money as it is. Okay, so let’s take a minute to have a calm, rational conversation about why Dillon is actually a pretty decent hockey player.
Let’s go back to the beginning. The Sharks traded a very popular guy in Jason Demers to the Dallas Stars and a third round pick in 2016 for Brenden Dillon. Both players struggled with their old teams before the trade and while I wouldn’t exactly call it a change of scenery move, it seemed like a decent trade for both sides at the time. The Sharks got a younger, cheaper player with a left-handed shot in Dillon while the Stars got the veteran they wanted.
To start: Dillon is absolutely not better than Demers. He’s also getting paid less. Demers just signed a five-year deal with the Florida Panthers with an AAV of $4.5 million while Dillon makes $3.27 million a year for the next four seasons. Perhaps Wilson hoped Dillon would turn into a better defender than Demers, and it’s still possible he might, but it hasn’t happened yet.
That’s not really what I’m after, though. I’ve seen multiple people say they would rather have Roman Polak on the Sharks than Dillon. I try to stay away from calling out a small portion of the fanbase with silly opinions, but this one has been perpetuated enough that I feel it needs to be stamped out.
I don’t expect people who want Polak for his hits and penalty kill minutes to look at the possession numbers here and change their mind, but goodness just look at how bad Polak has been. The Toronto Maple Leafs just signed him to a one-year deal, the terms of which we don’t know, which ordinarily I would point to as a sign of his badness. But given the Leafs’ new status as the geniuses of the NHL, I guess it’s just a sign that (maybe) smart teams make bad signings, too.
Beyond Polak just not being very good is that the two were a terrible partnership. Certain players offer certain skillsets and putting a guy like Dillon, who really needs a mobile, puck moving partner, with a slow, hard-hitting guy like Polak was always doomed to failure. The lesson to learn from that disaster of a pairing is that having a bad player is one thing — but pairing that player with a player with a skillset that doesn’t match is a disaster.
The above image, from Corsica, shows Dillon with and without several teammates. When the green dot is higher than the red dot, it likely means Dillon helped boost the other player’s fenwick-for percentage. The opposite means, well, the opposite, and the blue dot shows how a pair played together.
Looking specifically at the Polak pairing, you’ll see that Dillon played better when he played with someone other than Polak while Polak generally played worse without Dillon. Their numbers together are not good, which you could have told me if you watched a Sharks playoff game closely enough this year.
Now that the Sharks have acquired David Schlemko, a player who plays to Dillon’s strengths, I think we’ll see Dillon take a step forward this upcoming season. At the very least the partnership will be better than what we saw from Dillon and Polak and, yes, it will likely be better than what Dylan DeMelo or Mirco Mueller could do in Dillon’s stead.
You don’t have to love Dillon. He’s a third-pairing guy. You don’t have to love the depth players on your team, but to say he’s awful misunderstands what he’s supposed to be. Dillon’s role is to play solid possession hockey on the third pairing of a good hockey team — with the right partner, I think he’ll do that. There’s nothing wrong with loving a bottom pairing defender, but hating a guy that fills the role he’s supposed to is pretty weird.