Jets Finally Upgrade Defence with Dillon Trade

In acquiring Brenden Dillon from the Washington Capitals on July 26, the Winnipeg Jets have finally added a top-four defenseman who can be a rock on the back end in the seasons to come and makes the team better on both ends of the ice.

Veteran Dillon Has Much-Needed Skill and Experience

Dillon, a left-handed shooting defenseman, brings much-needed experience to a Jets’ d-corp thats lack of depth has been the team’s biggest detriment to being a Stanley Cup contender.

30 years old, Dillon has played 654 games over 10 NHL seasons since making his professional debut in 2011-12 with the Dallas Stars.

He spent the 2020-21 season — and the final part of the 2019-20 campaign — with the Washington Capitals after being traded there from the San Jose Sharks in February, 2020. In his lone full season with the Capitals, he had two goals and 17 assists last season in 56 games and one goal in five playoff games.

Brenden Dillon Washington Capitals
Brenden Dillon, seen here last season with the Capitals. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Prior to his time with the Capitals, Dillon played 429 games over six seasons between 2014-15 and 2019-20 with the Sharks, and 149 games with the Stars.

For his career, Dillon has 24 goals and 109 assists for 133 points and plus-28 rating. He has averaged 18:36 of ice time per game. He is entering the second season of a four-year deal he signed with the Capitals last October that sees him paid an average annual value of $.39 million.

Dillon Has Size

Dillion has something that can’t be taught — size — and size is something the Jets’ top-four has been lacking a bit since Dustin Byfuglien’s sudden retirement. (Yes, of course Logan Stanley is a behemoth, but he is a third-pairing option at this stage in his young career.)

Brendan Dillon San Jose Sharks
Brenden Dillon is a rugged, big-bodies defenseman who throws his weight around.(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Jets’ three other top-four talents in Dylan DeMelo, Josh Morrissey, and Neal Pionk are not “small,” but none of them possess the big body Dillon does.

Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 225 pounds, the New Westminster, B.C. product is an imposing figure opponents have to keep their heads up for. He is not afraid to use his body and doesn’t allow anyone any easy ice — he has consistently been near or at the top of his team in hits. He has dished out 143 in 2020-21 but has delivered as many as 201 in a single season.

Dillon also blocks a lot of shots, which further illustrates his workmanlike play style: he has successfully stepped in front of rubber 854 times in his career.

Dillon Will Fit Right In on Jets’ Top Four

Dillon will undoubtedly hold down a spot on the Jets’ top four and is a logical replacement of and upgrade to Derek Forbort (who played solidly in his lone season with the Jets but was not a true top-four talent.)

There are a few options when it comes to Dillon’s deployment and partner: he could simply take the left-side slot alongside Pionk left vacant by the now-UFA Forbort, or play with Dylan DeMelo. Dillon and DeMelo have history: the two were defensive partners when both players played for the Sharks.

Also expect Dillon to be used in a penalty-killing role as he was with the Capitals.

Tweeted the Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck: “Brenden Dillon, for Winnipeg’s current needs on D, is a perfect fit. (He’s) big, rugged, defence-first, likes to hit, likes to clear the crease, can kill penalties, plays tough minutes, (and) helps prop up underperforming partners.

Scott Billeck on Brenden Dillon

Addition of Dillon Welcome, but Long Overdue

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff must have felt pressure to shore up the situation on defense, and rightly so. The blue line has been thin — at times, razor thin — since the mass exodus in 2019 that saw Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba all depart.

At no point in the two offseasons or at the two trade deadlines since that mass exodus did Cheveldayoff make an addition that could move the needle in a significant way, choosing only to tinker by adding players such as Jordie Benn, Anthony Bitetto, Carl Dahlstrom, Forbort, and Luca Sbisa.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
After two seasons of only tinkering, Cheveldayoff has finally made an addition that improves the defense substantially. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

That rotating cast of journeymen and plugs tried hard, but too often were simply outmatched. As a result, the Jets have given up too many high danger chances and have been too reliant on Connor Hellebuyck to bail them out.

it was imperative Cheveldayoff added a player of more consequence this offseason, because if he sat on his hands for a third straight summer and defense was again a sore spot, he quite possibly would have been shown the door.

One can only image what the Jets could have done in 2019-20 or 2020-21 if Cheveldayoff addressed this glaring need sooner.

Return for Dillion Reasonable, Illustrates Jets Are in “Win Now” Mode

The Capitals needed to shed some cap space to try and re-sign Alexander Ovechkin and don’t take on any salary in the deal, acquiring a pair of second-round draft picks.

For the Jets, the move illustrates Cheveldayoff’s belief his team’s Stanley Cup window is still open: he has a deep group of forwards and a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender; a lack of talent on defence has been the main thing preventing the team from achieving more.

Edmonton Oilers Winnipeg Jets Game Four 2021
The Dillon trade indicates Cheveldayoff believes the team’s Cup window is still open. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

In this context, trading away draft picks instead of a roster player makes sense.

Could More Defensive Reinforcements Be Coming?

Cheveldayoff may not be done adding to the d-corp just yet as he still has approximately $13.5 million left at his disposal. While he has to be careful as he has to re-sign RFA Andrew Copp, RFA Logan Stanley, and find a backup goalie, there’s potential he could wade into the free agent market for one of the many players available, especially for another right-shot defenseman, where the Jets are thin past DeMelo and Pionk.

In-house options for Cheveldayoff include top prospects Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg, as well as Nathan Beaulieu and Sami NIku. He could also re-sign Tucker Poolman, who has played 120 games for the Jets since 2017-18 but is currently an unrestricted free agent.

Related: Breaking Down the Jets’ 2021-22 Season Schedule

Regardless of what Cheveldayoff does from here, he has finally shored up a long-standing area of weakness. Dillon should help the Jets in a big way come fall.