Sunday, January 10, 2021

Washington Capitals 2020-2021 Previews -- Defensemen: Brenden Dillon

Brenden Dillon

“We convince by our presence.”
-- Walt Whitman


If one was playing word association and said “Brenden Dillion,” the first response might not be “presence,” but perhaps it should be.  And presence takes more than one form to his game.  Consider that since his first full NHL season in 2012-2013, he has missed a total of only 12 games over eight seasons.  Half of those came in the 2015-2016 season with the San Jose Sharks, the result of an upper-body injury.  Another of the missed games was due to suspension in December 2017, when he slashed then Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey’s wrist in the last ten seconds of a 4-1 Capitals win in Washington.

Which brings up another aspect of Dillion’s “presence.”  Over those eight full seasons in which he has played, Dillon ranks fifth among all defensemen in credited hits (1,376) and ranks 17th among 186 defensemen appearing in at least 250 games over that span in hits-per-60 minutes (7.44).  He also ranks fifth among defensemen over those eight seasons in penalty minutes (574), fourth in penalties taken (217), and fifth in major penalties taken (28).

Last season, no defenseman took more penalties (38) or drew more penalty minutes (104) than did Dillon.  Only Erik Gudbranson drew more penalty minutes per game (1:51) than Dillion (1:30) among defensemen appearing in at least 25 games.  And, Dillon finished fourth in the league among defensemen in credited hits (194) and 16th in hits-per-60 minutes (8.66; minimum: 25 games).

Odd Dillon Fact… Brenden Dillon has an odd Capitals connection.  He is a graduate of the Seattle Thunderbirds franchise in Canadian junior hockey, a club whose alumni also include former Capitals Shawn Chambers, Ben Clymer, Brooks Laich, Garret Stroshein, and Brendan Witt.

Odd Dillon Fact II… When Dillon was a rookie with the Dallas Stars in 2012-2013, he finished tenth in the Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year.  He finished ahead of such players as Dougie Hamilton (11th), Vladimir Tarasenko (12th), and Robin Lehner (13th).  Of note, recent acquisition Justin Schultz finished seventh in that year’s voting for the Calder.

Fearless’ Take…

Brenden Dillon seems to be something of a throwback defenseman of the sort frequently employed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, a physical defenseman whose primary, if not only responsibility was policing his own end of the ice.  However, his game is not entirely unrefined.  Over his eight full seasons in the NHL, Dillon ranks 34th among 186 defensemen appearing in at least 250 games in his personal shot attempts-for at 5-5on-5 percentage (52.0).  In a bit of an odd twist, his being on ice for 9,457 shot attempts-for I 597 games resembles John Carlson’s 9,319 shot attempts-for at fives while on ice in 571 games over that span.

Cheerless’ Take…

It is one thing to be a defensive defenseman with little to show on the offensive side of the ledger, but over the last eight seasons, among 55 defensemen appearing in at least 500 games, only Roman Polak averaged fewer points per game (0.16) than did Dillon (0.19).  He has only ten regular season games with the Caps, but he is still looking for his first point.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021:

  • 600 career games played (he currently has 598)
  • 100 career assists (92)
  • 600 career penalty minutes (574)

The Big Question… Is Brenden Dillon too much of an “old school” defenseman for the way the game is played now?

It is too early to arrive at any conclusions about whether Brenden Dillon’s game is compatible with the schemes and systems new head coach Peter Laviolette might employ.  It is not too soon to wonder, though, if a rock-solid defensive defenseman who poses no threat in the offensive end of the ice, a species of great value circa: 2000 can be a valuable commodity for the Caps in a more general sense.

The Caps certainly saw something in his game to merit a four-year contract extension at $3.9 million per year.  That is an odd area of the salary chart.  There are 34 defensemen with salary cap hits from $35. To $4.5 million (source:, and it is a mix of offensive and defensive defensemen, overachievers and underachievers.  What is also represents, though, is a certain age cohort; 23 of the 34 defensemen range in age from 26-30 (Dillon is 29), suggesting a group in its chronological prime, but with such variety in profile and performance that it is hard to predict which among them will have value as they enter their 30’s.  In Dillon’s case, is he a player who provides a “change of pace” from others on his defense cohort, or is he a bit out of place in this mix?

In the end…

Brenden Dillon is, without question, a talented defenseman for his profile, a physical defender who plays with an edge, who will prevent players taking liberties with teammates and who will prohibit opponents from being too comfortable in open ice and along the boards.  He will not impress anyone with his offense (22 points is his career high, in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 with San Jose), but there are others on the Caps blue line who can pitch in on that score.

Defensive defensemen are notoriously difficult to evaluate, at least for the casual observer.  The data measures tend to focus more on offensive contributions (even those measure that look at shot attempts have a large such component).  The best that might be said for defensemen such as Dillon is that nothing happens when they are on the ice – teams don’t get offensive chances, they don’t get to set up as comfortably as they would like, they don’t score.  If it can be said often that little happened with Brenden Dillon on the ice, even with his occasional visit outside the rules, it might be the best thing that could be said about his contributions.  And that is a good thing.

Projection: 54 games, 2-3-5, plus-2

Photo: Getty Images