Brenden Dillon didn’t receive a welcome reception in San Jose. Trading fan favorite Jason Demers for Dillon impacted his reception, but the resentment has lingered past its expiration date. Despite Dillon playing well with new partner David Schlemko (until Schlemko’s recent injury), I regularly see commenters begging for his removal from the roster.
I rarely see facts and figures backing up these arguments, so instead of offering arguments to shoot down I’ll make the case for why Dillon should stay in San Jose. Better yet, I’m going to convince you Dillon is a good defensive player. Well, I’ll try anyway. Your results may vary.
Dillon joined the Sharks as a perfect partner to Demers. You see the problem there, right? While a solid possession player on the third pairing, Dillon needs a complementary partner to unlock his potential. That’s why he plays on a third pairing — he has limitations.
Dillon spent some time with just about everyone on the Sharks’ blue line in his first season in the Bay Area. He played the most minutes with Justin Braun but spent time with Brent Burns, Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson. He posted better than 50 percent corsi numbers with everyone but Mueller, but his numbers with Tennyson (51.13) weren’t spectacular and his relative corsi was negative with both of the aforementioned defenders.
The Stanley Cup Run
Things didn’t get much easier for Dillon last season. He spent time with a litany of defenders and wasn’t particularly successful with any of them. Things got ugly when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson traded for Roman Polak. The Dillon-Polak pairing was disastrous for both players as Dillon needed a puck moving defender and so did Polak.
The slow moving Polak relied on Dillon to carry the puck out of the Sharks’ defensive end, which more or less worked against slower Western teams but failed miserably against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Black and Gold devoured the pair and it stands as the worst partnership for Dillon since joining the Sharks (min. 100 minutes together).
A fresh start
Wilson deserves credit for addressing one of the Sharks’ biggest needs this offseason by acquiring David Schlemko. The veteran defender moves the puck well and deftly gets the puck out of the zone to Dillon who can then help propel the puck into the Sharks’ offensive zone.
That combines well with Dillon’s improved skating ability, a skill he worked on all summer. The numbers speak for themselves. Dillon’s relative corsi is the best it has been with any Sharks defender not named Justin Braun, Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Brent Burns. Don’t like advanced stats? Just use the eye test. Dillon looks more comfortable and more confident on the puck now than he ever has.
Oh, and his xGF60 (expected goals for per 60 minutes) is at the highest rate of his career this season. At 2.85 he’s 21st amongst NHL defenders with at least 500 minutes played this season and his scoring-chance per 60 of 9.28 is 45th in the NHL amongst the same group.
I’m not advocating for a Norris Trophy, but Dillon is a damn good defender, especially on the third pairing. He’s not the whipping boy you’re looking for. Promise. The Sharks are lucky to have him.