On Tuesday, February 18th, the Capitals traded the 2020 second round selection from Colorado, and a conditional third round pick to the San Jose Sharks for defenseman Brenden Dillon. The fact that MacLellan went after a defenseman near or at the trade deadline is not a surprise; he’s made that move every season since he took over as general manager.
The need for a defenseman this season was glaringly obvious. The defense on this team has been woeful, and the Caps have suffered during a two month slump in which they’ve gone 11-11-0 in their last 22 games. To add insult to injury, the Pittsburgh Penguins have recently taken over first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Dillon was one of the marquee names available for a rental shutdown defenseman, and MacLellan saw he was a fit for the Caps’ defensive corps. We’ll learn more about which pairing Dillon is deployed in the coming days, but it’d be hard to imagine that Dillon doesn’t find himself firmly in the top four.
While with the San Jose Sharks, Dillon’s most frequent defensive partners were elite tier offensive defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. The Caps just so happen to have an elite offensive defenseman of their own in John Carlson, and we know Dillon is up for the task.
Let’s take a look at how those two pairings faired together at even strength:
Overall, these numbers are indicative of a strong performance. Additionally, although he’s playing with top offensive minded defensemen like Burns and Karlsson, Dillon’s Corsi For percentage was at or above 50% in all deployments except for when he was paired with Mario Ferraro this season, posting a 48.59% Corsi For figure.
The Expected Goals For percentage on both of these pairings, especially on a struggling Sharks team, are impressive. For reference, since December 23, 2019, the top pairing of Michal Kempny and John Carlson have a 5 on 5 expected goals for percentage of 50.08%. We can likely expect an increase for a top pairing of Dillon and Carlson here.
Now, let’s take a look at Dillon’s individual metrics in the 2018-19 season and this season:
You’ll see a decent drop-off in all of these metrics. For one, the Sharks were a considerably better team last season, finishing second in the Pacific Division with 101 standings points. The quality of play of the entire Sharks’ roster has underwhelmed this season in comparison, as they’re on pace for a paltry 86 standings points, and are currently sixth in the weaker Pacific Division. For context, the Oilers and the Golden Knights, who are tied atop the Pacific at 70 points, would slot in at seventh place in the Metropolitan Division.
The good news here is, although Dillon was playing on a struggling Sharks team, his possession metrics and expected goals for percentage were above 50%. Dillon actually led the Sharks in expected goals for percentage, and was second in actual goals for percentage behind only Karlsson, who has played considerably fewer minutes due to injury.
Additionally, according to Hockey Reference, Dillon has better relative Corsi For and Fenwick for than his teammates while he’s off the ice (3.1% Corsi For Relative and 3.3% Fenwick For Relative).
Dillon also fits the physical mold that the Caps have instilled on their roster. Dillon currently has 178 hits this season, on pace for just over 247 hits over an 82 game season. That would be his career high in hits.
The Capitals also released a shot suppression map on Twitter that shows Dillon’s effect on the ice:
With Dillon on the ice at five-on-five this season, San Jose saw a decrease in shot attempts against within 20 feet from their net relative to the NHL average. Graphics provided by @IneffectiveMath at https://t.co/zBmcTlSPBl pic.twitter.com/IzZ7QpZuTY
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) February 18, 2020
In essence, Dillon plays effectively in front of his own net, which reduces the amount of high quality shots in the most dangerous area in the defensive zone. For context, here’s the shot map of the Caps’ last game against the Golden Knights (thanks to Natural Stat Trick):
That extremely red area directly in front of the crease is extremely worrisome, and Dillon should directly impact that. The fact that all three of Vegas’ goals came directly in the low slot, two of which in the hot zone in front of the crease, shows why the Caps have been struggling recently.
All in all, MacLellan adding Dillon was a prudent and necessary move. We’ll likely start to see some of the impact that Dillon provides defensively against Montreal Thursday night. There will likely be an adjustment period as Dillon learns the defensive structure and develops chemistry with his defensive partner(s).
By Justin Trudel