In an otherwise disappointing season for the San Jose Sharks, Brenden Dillon’s improvement this year was certainly one of the highlights. Dillon’s improvement was apparent from the very beginning of the season, as his skating ability appeared to have taken a noticeable step forward.
It helped, of course, that he no longer had to carry around Roman Polak as an anchor, playing the vast majority of his minutes this season with free agent acquisition David Schlemko. Dillon and Schlemko’s respective skillsets were a natural fit together on the third pairing, and provided the Sharks with something they’re not normally familiar with: three pairs worth of defensive depth.
Playing with Schlemko brought out the best in Dillon, who improved both his on-ice possession numbers at even strength (+3.6 CF%, +2.6 FF% over 2015-16, according to Hockey Reference) and his relative numbers (+5.3 CF% rel, +4.3 FF% rel). Those single season improvements are by far the largest of Dillon’s career.
Dillon’s strong season did not go unnoticed by head coach Peter DeBoer, either. DeBoer iced Dillon a full 1:20 more per game than he did last postseason during the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. He was also remarkably durable, playing in a career-high 81 games this season, and he likely would have gotten to 82 if he’d not come down with an illness that swept through the Sharks’ locker room in late November.
2016-17 Sharks 5v5 Usage Chart (via Corsica Hockey)
ZSR: Zone Start Ratio; The percentage of non-neutral zone starts that are offensive zone starts (OZS/(OZS + DZS))
TOI.QoT: Time On Ice Quality of Teammates; The weighted average TOI% of a player’s teammates
Rel.CF%: Individual corsi-for percentage subtracted by the team’s overall corsi-for percentage.
Brenden Dillon Rolling 25-game score, zone, and venue-adjusted average CF% (via Corsica Hockey)
Hero Chart (via Own The Puck):
Dillon’s strong on-ice play just might have been surpassed by his emergence as a viral sensation. He starred in an underrated edition of the Sharks’ lip reading series, but gained national attention thanks to his incredibly polite interaction with Nashville’s Austin Watson minutes after fighting him.
Dillon had never met the guy before chatting him up across penalty boxes. This is almost certainly cheating, but the video offered a charming glimpse into Dillon’s personality and hockey’s interactions.
Plus, it’s hard to argue with something that even the Today Show picked up.
What comes next?
Dillon is locked up for the next three years at a very reasonable $3.27 million cap hit, but he may not be long for San Jose. Depending on what method San Jose chooses to protect its players, Dillon could be exposed in this June’s expansion draft.
His status for the expansion draft is really the first of many difficult decisions that Doug Wilson will have to make this offseason. But if Dillon goes unclaimed or is not exposed, he will be a stable, valuable piece on the bottom pairing for the foreseeable future.