billionth sixth straight year, the Washington Capitals have added a defender at the trade deadline. This year’s model is Brenden Dillon, a 29-year-old named for the two best male characters on Beverly Hills 90210.
Dillon’s an interesting player, but how the Caps might deploy him is even more interesting.
Dillon has nine years and 588 games of experience, plus another 62 games in the postseason. He’s a veteran, and his long history paints a clear picture: he’s big (6’4″) and physical. Dillon delivers more hits per opponent shot attempt than 96 percent of defenders. Here’s the league’s top ten (minimum 600 minutes):
|Mark Borowiecki (OTT)||184||853||0.216|
|Anthony Bitetto (WPG)||117||567||0.206|
|Radko Gudas (WSH)||139||721||0.193|
|Brenden Dillon (SJS)||161||838||0.192|
|Erik Cernak (TBL)||127||718||0.177|
|Nikita Zadorov (COL)||139||798||0.174|
|Deryk Engelland (VGK)||107||646||0.166|
|Brayden McNabb (VGK)||145||895||0.162|
|Nick Holden (VGK)||108||670||0.161|
|Rasmus Ristolainen (BUF)||148||919||0.161|
On Wednesday, Brian MacLellan said of the trade, “we like having the bigger bodies and playing a heavier game.” They’re certainly getting both with Dillon. He adds the threat of punishment to opponent puck carriers, who seem to have been feeling a bit too confident against the Caps lately. Dillon also may provide new options for transition plays after turnovers he forces. That said, Dillon’s role should not be thought of as offensive at all. Micah McCurdy expresses that well in this tweet:
Brenden Dillon (to Caps at 50% salary in exchange for a 2nd and 3rd*) is a good defensive defender without any scoring touch to speak of. pic.twitter.com/HaeqMkD2f1
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 18, 2020
Dillon does not make Washington’s offense more potent, and he will not participate in it much. His individual shot rate (7.2 attempts per hour) is virtually identical to Jonas Siegenthaler, who has just two goals and seven assists.
But that’s okay. Washington already has a lot of options for offense. Right now, their problem is stopping the bleeding from bad breakouts and bad neutral-zone play, where Dillon’s tough backchecking and physicality will surely help.
And now we’ve got the more curious question: where will Todd Reirden use him? General Manager Brian MacLellan believes a top-four spot is most likely. “I think we’re going to move him around a little bit, MacLellan said. “[Dillon] could play with [Carlson]. He could play with [Orlov]. He’s played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him in both spots and see what works best for us.”
The most common recent partners for John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have been Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen, respectively, and therefore they are the players Dillon is most likely to displace. Further down the lineup, there’s also Jonas Siegenthaler, who also shoots left. Over the next few games, we’ll see which spot Dillon will take — and who will get removed from the lineup.
I suspect that most fans would want Nick Jensen to be the odd man out. Jensen’s got the worst goal-differential among Caps defenders (30 for the Caps, 38 for opponents), and his style (stay-at-home, like Dillon, but without the physicality) has sometimes been a bit of a clash with the Caps.
But I think the better choice would be for Dillon to push Michal Kempny out of the lineup — at least for a little while. Kempny has been Carlson’s partner for a long time, and they’ve been pretty bad together.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen good results when Carlson’s been with either Dmitry Orlov or Jonas Siegenthaler. The visualization below is a couple weeks old, but it shows the percentage of expected goals controlled by Washington when defenders are on the ice together. (Green is good, red is bad.)
Kempny is a good hockey player, but I worry for his health. He’s less than a year removed from a torn hamstring that required surgery and kept him out of the 2019 playoffs, and I’m not convinced he’s back to 100 percent yet.
Here’s that injury:
Kempny did not return until the middle of October, and he hasn’t looked very sharp since. Whereas Jensen has been one of the least terrible players (faint praise, I know) on the Caps during their swoon and whereas Jonas Siegenthaler would benefit from getting as many reps as possible in his first full season, Michal Kempny might benefit from getting rest more and hit less — at least for a little while.
My ideal defensive pairings for Dillon’s first game would look like this:
Dillon – Carlson
Orlov – Jensen
Siegenthaler – Gudas
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