The biggest question for the Washington Capitals entering this offseason in terms of the roster is how they are going to fill a hole on defense. The team is currently talking to Brenden Dillon’s representation to see if a deal could be worked out on an extension, but there are options in free agency as well. Would an extension be the right move? NoVa Caps looks at the pros and cons of re-signing Dillon.
He checks many of the boxes for what the team is looking for
The league is trending back towards the physical, heavy game that took the Capitals and St. Louis Blues to the Stanley Cup the past two seasons. This year, the Tampa Bay Lightning leaned on getting heavier after they were stunned by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a first-round sweep in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs after a record-setting regular season. Bulking up has worked out for them so far, as they enter Friday night just two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Dillon’s 194 hits during the regular season ranked 13th in the league. He was one of five Capitals among the NHL’s top-3o in that category. He is a big defenseman at 6’4″ and 225 pounds and showed at the end of the regular season that he could play a physical game, taking on two big players in fights and giving them a run for their money.
Dillon is the type of defenseman the Capitals are looking for.
Dillon is better defensively than many of the UFA defensemen
Dillon was among the best defensive defensemen this season as he posted a 51.68% Corsi-for percentage, a 52.21% expected goals-for percentage, a 52.2% scoring-chances for percentage, and a 51.6% SAT percentage at full strength.
As he averaged 19:27 of ice-time per game, including 2:07 on the penalty kill, Dillon recorded 194 hits (the fourth-most among NHL defenseman), 74 blocked shots, 16 takeaways, and 26 giveaways. The Sharks were the NHL’s best penalty-killing team during the regular season with an 85.7% killing rate, though the Capitals were 21st with a 75% efficiency after the trade. Dillon’s average of 2:02 shorthanded ice-time per game was the fourth-most on the Sharks.
The Capitals struggled to keep pucks out of their net after a 26-6-5 start to the season as their 3.44 goals-against per game average was the highest of the 24 teams to have made the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, so the team will have to focus on defensive play when they choose an unrestricted free agent defenseman to target and Dillon qualifies.
Dillon fit well after he was acquired
While Dillon earned no points and a -2 rating in 10 regular-season games with the Capitals after the trade, he performed well, earning a 51.12% Corsi-for percentage, a 54.44% expected goals-for percentage, and a team-leading 51.1% shot-attempts percentage after the trade.
Dillon had only four giveaways and was second among the team’s defensemen with an average of 4.79 hits-per-game and fifth with 1.19 takeaways-per-60. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he averaged a team-low 1.69 giveaways-per-60, a team-high 6.43 blocked shots-per-60, and was second with an average of 8.80 hits-per-60 while averaging 22:09 per game, third on the Capitals, including 2:36 on the penalty kill, also third.
He wants to stay in Washington
Throughout the NHL pause, Dillon expressed his desire to stay in Washington, saying on August 3 that, “I’m happy with being a Washington Capital.” If he is willing to stay and played as well as he did, the Capitals should see if the price is right to bring him back.
MacLellan told the media after head coach Todd Reirden was fired on August 23 that the team talked to him after the Capitals’ season ended and that the two sides will decide about his future with the team after more discussion.
Change is needed
Not that it was all Dillon’s fault, but the Capitals were 19-16-3 after their hot start, including 4-3-3 after he was acquired, and were still at the bottom in terms of goals-against per game (tied for the eighth-most in the NHL with an average of 3.40 with Dillon). Even though the goals-against went down to an average of 2.88 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals won only two of eight games.
Dillon was not the sole reason for the team’s failure to produce in August, but he did not contribute significantly either as he posted a 47.04% Corsi-for percentage and a 41.46% expected goals-for percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He tallied just one assist and an even rating in eight Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Over the eight games, the Capitals scored only 13 goals and 10 of them were scored by either forwards Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, or T.J. Oshie. Factoring in how the Capitals played the second half of the regular season, perhaps change is needed and since Dillon is a pending unrestricted free agent, it would be understandable if the Capitals decide let him walk.
Dillon will turn 30 before 2020-21 season starts
Even though Dillon is not expected to earn a long-term contract, he will turn 30-years-old on November 13 and the Capitals already have 10 players of at least age 30 next season. While the Capitals clearly need a defenseman in free agency, perhaps they should look at younger players to fill that hole in the top-four defensive unit.
While Dillon is a good defensive defenseman, there are other options on the market that fit that bill.
The Capitals are in need of a right-handed defenseman while Dillon is a lefty.
He will be relatively expensive
Dillon is expected to have a cap hit somewhere between $3-4 million on his next contract. The Capitals already have players to pay with Ovechkin (UFA), forward Jakub Vrana (RFA), and goaltender Ilya Samsonov (RFA) all in need of bigger contracts. With the NHL salary cap expected to stay flat for the next three seasons, that might be too much to pay a 30-year-old defenseman even if it is on a three-year contract.
Washington has only $10,394,872 in cap space due to the flat salary cap and 16 players under contract and has some big contract decisions coming up, sp perhaps it is better to go cheaper in signing a defenseman in free agency.
He is undisciplined
Another reason Dillon could be too expensive is because he ranked fourth in the NHL with 104 penalty minutes during the regular season and paying him $3-4 million when he is in the penalty box often may not be in the Capitals’ best interest, especially since the team was fifth in the NHL with 699 PIMs this season.
There are better, cheaper options on the market
There are also better options available on the unrestricted free agent market. Options that will allow the Capitals to acquire a right-handed defenseman at less of a cost. For example, unrestricted free agent Trevor van Riemsdyk would ultimately save the Capitals a million dollars. That’s huge considering there will be a flat cap for the next few years.
By Harrison Brown