Brenden Dillon was a big, physical presence on the Jets’ blue line in 2021-22, but also saw drops across major statistical categories that pointed to waning effectiveness.
Dillon Brought Physicality, Grit to Jets’ Defence Core
Acquired from the Washington Capitals last July for a pair of second-round picks, the 31-year-old veteran Dillon came as advertised in some respects.
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The 31-year-old veteran entered the season with 654 games over 10 NHL seasons under his belt and a reputation for being a consistent top-four defenseman with a workmanlike attitude and a tendency to deliver punishing hits.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was certainly physical in his first season with the Jets, dishing out 212 hits, first amongst defensemen and second to only Adam Lowry.
Dillon brought his lunch bucket to the rink every day and was willing to sacrifice his body. He blocked 108 shots — tied for first with Dylan DeMelo — and dropped the gloves five times either to give his side a spark or stand up for a teammate.
While offence has never been his primary concern, Dillon enjoyed decent production by his standards. He scored three goals and added 17 assists for 20 points, just two points off his two best offensive seasons, which were 2017-18 and 2018-19 with the San Jose Sharks.
Dillon played on the top four for most of the season, averaging 18:50 of ice time over 79 games and recording a plus-16 rating.
Dillon’s Defensive Play Regressed From Prior Seasons
Dillon often suited up with Neal Pionk on the left side of the second pair, with the idea that his stay-at-home tendencies would allow Pionk — who had 32 points in 54 games the season before — more leeway to take risks and be creative.
From that standpoint, Dillon failed to live up to expectations as his skill at shutting down opponents took a step back. It’s undeniable the Jets did not get the best version of Dillon.
The defensive core as a whole struggled at five-on-five play throughout the disappointing season, and Dillon and Pionk were not exempt from those struggles as their performance was up-and-down.
While they outscored their competition 37-33, their shot attempt percentage was 47.7, their expected goals percentage was 46.9, and they were out-chanced and outshot at 5-on-5. They managed to outscore their competition through special team play, but getting outplayed at even strength is a major concern, of course.
Related: Winnipeg Jets 2021-22 Report Cards: Neal Pionk
While Dillon ended at plus-16, he was a major part of a poor and passive penalty killing regime that ended near the bottom of the league at just 75 per cent efficiency. He was on the ice for 26 power play goals against.
At all strengths, Dillon was second amongst defensemen in High Danger Chances Against — 372, only eight behind Josh Morrissey, who logged nearly four minutes more ice time per game on average — and also second — again, to Josh Morrissey — amongst defensemen in High Danger Goals Against with 46.
Dillon’s CORSI, Fenwick, Shots For %, Goals For %, and High Danger Chance For Percentage all dipped in 2021-22 from 2020-21 with the Capitals. It indicates that opponents possessed the puck more than the Jets did when Dillon was on the ice. Consider the table below.
|Brenden Dillon||2020-21 (WSH)||2021-22 (WPG)|
Goaltending cannot be blamed, as SV% when Dillon was on the ice was actually slightly higher with the Jets (90.86 per cent) than with the Capitals (90.82 per cent) last season.
The Dillon Dilemma
Not many defensemen have bounce-back seasons at 32 years old, which is what Dillon will be in mid-November. It’s more likely that 2021-22 represented the beginning of his inevitable regression. While Dillon is not a total liability by any means, hoping a drastically different player suddenly appears in 2022-23 would be a bit foolish on the part of the Jets’ front office.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would be well served to explore moving Dillon this offseason as there are replacement options within the organization who would be cheaper — always important since the Jets are up to the salary cap ceiling and the cap is only going up $1 million — and produce better on-ice results.
Declan Chisholm, Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, and even Leon Gawanke and Jonathan Kovacevic, are all prospects knocking on the door to some degree or another. All of them, barring Gawanke. appeared in games for the Jets in 2021-22.
Dillon has two years remaining on his contract Cheveldayoff inherited from the Capitals and his AAV of $3.9 millon would be absorbable by many teams.
There are two options when it comes to Dillon, just one of many players Cheveldayoff will have to make a decision about in the coming months: clear up a spot on the blue line by trading him before his value drops substantially, or retain him with the knowledge he may be a declining asset and require some sheltering.