On Friday afternoon, the Dallas Stars shook up their world with the surprising trade of Brenden Dillon to the San Jose Sharks, in exchange for defenseman Jason Demers and a third-round draft pick.
The reaction to this trade is one that is very, very mixed in the minds of Stars fans, as Dillon was easily one of the favorites on the team and was such a genuine, humble player who had followed a very unconventional path to the NHL. His story, as an undrafted player that seemingly came out of nowhere to make a big splash in the NHL, is one that endeared him to Stars fans from the very start -- and now he's gone, just a few short years later.
Dillon was a player that brought a dynamic to the blue that was wholly unique to the Dallas Stars and it seemed like no other player in the system possessed his combination of size, speed and ability to move the puck aggressively up ice. Like many young defensemen he found his game next to Stephane Robidas and had struggled since losing his veteran defensive partner.
This season didn't seem to start as well as had been hoped for Dillon, along with several other players on the team, and only recently was he starting to really look like himself again. Playing next to John Klingberg, Dillon was a solid player in his own zone who didn't feel the pressure to carry the puck and was looking better with each game.
Taking a step back, it seems the decision to trade Dillon was one that was more about the necessity to find balance on a blueline rather than something based purely on Dillon's play this season. The addition of Klingberg has done wonders already, but the addition of Jason Demers further add to the focus of the Stars in building a more balanced defense between the left and the right.
Demers is a smart, right-handed defenseman who is good in his own zone and plays bigger than his 6-1, 185 pound frame suggests. He'll be a great addition to the second power play unit and will also be able to provide critical penalty kill experience and ability as well, something the Stars have struggled with defensively this season.
The new Stars defenseman is a big departure from the type of game that Dillon brings, and it's clear that this is a trade where both teams feel they are getting exactly what they want. The Sharks needed left-handed defensemen with size, and the Stars were looking for more balance.
The trick of this trade is, it's not the type of move that is typically made just because a team needs a right-handed defenseman. Demers isn't a significant upgrade over Dillon overall, and Dillon had the ability to eat up tough minutes without being overly exposed, unlike some other players currently on the blue line. So, there are obviously some other factors at play.
The Sharks retained 35% of Demers' salary, which makes the trade look a bit more logical from a cap-hit standpoint. The Stars now get a veteran defenseman with very good career possession numbers for around $2.21 million per year through next season, while also picking up a 3rd round draft pick.
That this was all in exchange for just one year of Dillon (he's still a RFA next summer) shows just how much San Jose valued Dillon. The trade has also been universally met with disbelief and confusion by many analysts around the league, as Dillon was seen as a player who had still not reached his potential and -- once again -- has an element to his game that the Stars will definitely be lacking.
"I'm shocked to be honest. I like Dillon a lot. I think he is underrated regarding his puck moving ability." Button on Stars/Sharks trade.— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) November 21, 2014
This is one of those trades where it's really going to be take some actual hockey being played before the ramifications of the move are really known. Perhaps Demers can come to Dallas and his ability to provide the balance the Stars are apparently seeking on the blue line will help settle down a transition game that has struggled significantly.
While losing Dillon for the acquisition of Demers, one-to-one, seems questionable, if the overall effect is that the defense for the Stars starts to look more cohesive and effective then the trade is definitely a win. If the Stars were worried that contract talks next summer would lead to a price they weren't comfortable with, then the trade makes sense.
But this is far from a sure-thing trade. Far, far from it.
Part of the issue with the trade is they figured a lot out vs AZ last night. Daley/Goligoski were really good but away from their own net.— Josh Lile (@JoshL1220) November 21, 2014
Dillon/Klingberg were good as a pair playing more in their own end. Jokipakka/Oleksiak were there, but iffy.— Josh Lile (@JoshL1220) November 21, 2014
They didn't get Demers to play with Klingberg so those two will be apart. So either Jokipakka, Goligoski, Daley, or Oleksiak have to ....— Josh Lile (@JoshL1220) November 21, 2014
.....play tough zone starts, likely with Demers. Is that really a gamble worth taking? Other things could be in play, but on the surface...— Josh Lile (@JoshL1220) November 21, 2014
....it's a risky on ice gamble with seemingly little on ice upside. Makes you think other factors (contract etc) are involved.— Josh Lile (@JoshL1220) November 21, 2014
There's a good chance that in San Jose, in that system with Larry Robinson as his coach and with those defensive partners, Dillon will go on to shine. He still has plenty of potential, despite his struggles at times the past few seasons, and his unique blend of size and skill is very hard to find.
The Stars obviously were very aware after the first 15 games or so of the season that the defense, as constructed, was not going to work for this team this season. Sergei Gonchar was traded, Kevin Connauton was waived and now Brenden Dillon is traded, and the Stars suddenly have a defense that looks much different than it did at the start of the season.
But does that mean it's better?
The trick here is who is going to get the tough minutes, since Ruff had apparently found a pairing in Klingberg and Dillon that could handle it. The Stars will once again be searching for that right combination of how to deploy their defensemen, but it's clear their theory is that gaining better balance between the left and right side will also help alleviate many of the individual struggles so far this season.
This was a gamble by Jim Nill, and definitely his biggest risk yet as the general manager of the Dallas Stars. As with all trades, only time will tell how it pays off.