Revisiting Demers-Dillon Trade: Who Won the D Swap?

Up and Down Demers

(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
Jason Deners (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Much like how the Sharks have been this year, former Shark defenseman Jason Demers has had an up and down career. The 26-year-old Quebec native jumped onto the NHL scene as a rookie in 2009-10 and saw No.1 unit power-play time for the Sharks ahead of some guy named Rob Blake. In his rookie season Demers played 51 games and scored 21 points. In his sophomore campaign Demers avoided the ever common sophomore slump by making tremendous strides in his defensive zone play. While he only scored 24 points in 75 games during the regular season, he was arguably the best defenseman going for the Sharks during the 2011 playoffs. Unfortunately for San Jose, a high ankle sprain kept Demers from playing in the Western Conference final. The next two years are seasons Demers would rather just forget, through 2011-12 and 2012-13 Demers took a giant step back and was frequently a healthy scratch. However, in his last full season as a Shark in 2013-14, Demers was excellent. He carried Scott Hannan for the first half of the season before being promoted to the top pair alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Overall, Demers finished with 34 points and a plus-14 rating in 75 games. After struggling yet again at the outset of this season, Demers was traded in November for then Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon.

Even Trade?

Like Demers, Brenden Dillon has had his ups and downs. The 24-year-old British Columbia native played on a top pair with Stephane Robidas for awhile and held his own. On the flip side Dillon also struggled a bit to start this season and was therefore shipped out to San Jose. Overall, each team got what they needed. The Stars got a right-handed puck moving defenseman, two things they were short on, puck movement and a right-handed shooter. The Sharks meanwhile got a more defensive minded top-4 caliber left-handed shot that they certainly needed. When Marc-Edouard Vlasic went down in the playoffs last year, the Sharks were left with no defenseman anywhere capable of filling his shoes.

Mixed Results for Both

A couple of months have now passed since the trade, so what to make of it so far? Well, according to one THW Stars colleague Tabatha Patterson, Demers “fits seamlessly and has really improved the Stars’ breakout.” On the flip side Ed Sarno notes that Demers, “made a big splash in his first game but has been pretty average since then.” Safe to say Demers has given the Stars the type of player they need but some mixed results. The same can be said for Dillon and the Sharks. Dillon struggled in his first few games after the trade but settled into a fine rhythm with Brent Burns as his partner. However, when head coach Todd McLellan mixed up the defense pairs, Dillon started to struggle alongside Justin Braun. Since Braun went down with injury, Dillon has actually started to play a bit better again on a pair with AHL call up Matt Tennyson. Dillon provides some size on the left side but at times has been guilty of sloppy play with the puck and his point shots are far too often blocked by the first shot blocker.

Brenden Dillon Stars hockey
Brenden Dillon (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The obvious answer here is so far there really is no clear winner or loser in this trade. If one were to lean the way of choosing between the two, it could be said the Sharks were too quick to give up on Demers. Certainly Dillon has played a bit better with Tennyson the last couple games, but with Braun having struggled, and Burns being an adventure in the defensive zone, what used to be a strength (right-handed puck movers), is arguably now a weakness. The Sharks improved their depth on the left side but took away their depth on the right side to do it. Considering the Sharks have high hopes for left-handed rookie Mirco Mueller, perhaps they would have been better off keeping Demers. In reality we won’t have a better idea of who got the better end of the deal for a couple years. Dillon is still incredibly young and has the potential to establish himself as a consistent top-4 defensive defenseman. Demers on the other hand is a couple years older and signs indicate he may never find that consistency from year to year. For the immediate short term, perhaps the Stars have gotten a bit more out of Demers, but as Sarno also points out “Dillon probably more upside, especially under Larry Robinson’s tutelage.”

7 thoughts on “Revisiting Demers-Dillon Trade: Who Won the D Swap?”

  1. Burns is too much of a defensive liability to play big minutes. That is the reason the Sharks defense is struggling now with Braun out. Braun and Vlasic should be the ice time leaders in a perfect Sharks world.

    • Burns is an adventure in the dzone for sure, but idk if that means he cant play big minutes, Vlasic is capable of bailing him out, and the Sharks D looked sloppy against EDM and NJ on the homestand but looked good against Kings, Ducks and Hawks, so idk if they really have been struggling any more with Braun out. Braun had been struggling defensively for last 20 or more games before his injury. What they need when he comes back though is him at the top of his game. If Mueller is healthy and gets another shot, as much as i like Burns at forward over defense, the following pairs when healthy could be really really good


  2. Demers is Jekyl and Hyde. Just when you think you can trust him, he becomes a complete liability. And just when you think he can’t do anything right, he looks like the 2nd coming of Dan Boyle, though usually not for very long. Dillon was supposed to be an upgrade and he’s been better than Demers was. But not by a lot. The one thing that makes little sense to me, where are the huge minutes for Vlasic and Burns? If you are going to pair those two guys, you might want to play both 25+ minutes per game. Vlasic is around 50th in ice time for d-men. Why is a genuinely elite d-man only getting the same ice time per game as guys like Paul Martin, Marco Scandella and Willie Mitchell? Heck, Calgary has 4(!!) defensemen averaging more TOI than Vlasic!!

    • agreed, i wrote earlier this season that the Sharks were not using Vlasic enough at even strength even b4 being paired with Burns. Vlasic is a top notch dman, he should be amongst the top 20 in the league in TOI, but at the time of the Dillon trade, Dillon, yes Dillon, was actually averaging more ice time. Makes no sense.

      • If you are going to pay Burns the big $$ and pair him with a guy who can minimize his liabilities — and no one is better at that then Vlasic — then you should limit the exposure of the other, considerably less talented d-pairs. The best way to do that, play them 25+ minutes a night.

  3. Andrew, I think you’ve given a very objective assessment of the deal. Thank you.

    I was personally never very high on Dillon after his rookie year. He was supposed to turn into a physical shut-down defenseman, but he never took that extra step after his first season. He is prone to making poor defensive plays and turning over the puck, both of which are unacceptable for a “shutdown” player. Robidas used to be able to cover for him, but he struggled mightily without Robi. You’re also spot on about his inability to get shots through traffic — that has been an issue with all of the Stars dmen not named Klingberg over the past few seasons. I think he is what he is — a top six two-way dman who can play on the second or third pairing, but not the shutdown #2-3 that some people were hoping he would become.

    Demers has been a little bit of everything for the Stars. He has been one of those guys who can do everything decently, but nothing spectacularly. He absolutely makes fewer mistakes than Dillon, but he also makes fewer “wow” plays — we miss Dillon’s big hits, but not his patented style of “defense.” I see Demers playing on the second or third pairing until another RHD, maybe Honka, is ready.

    I figured at the time that it would be a fairly even trade for both sides, each addressing an area of need from an area of surplus. I don’t think Dillon has much more in him, though, and I do believe after his contract issues last year that he will demand a higher salary than Demers, so I think that Dallas might come ahead in the exchange, having picked up a draft pick, as well.

    • thanks for the read and comment! Yeah the third round pick is a decent pickup in the deal, i think both have a lot more to give if they would both clean up their mistakes.

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