Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon is still floating in restricted free agency limbo. Little information about the negotiations is available outside of references to the situation taking some time to reach a resolution. In the interim, one of Dillon's peers has signed.
Jake Gardiner re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday. The two parties agreed to a five year contract worth 20.25 million dollars. The 24 year old defenseman has 65 points in 167 games and is very worthy of the commitment. We can add his contract to this list I threw together in the middle of last season:
This is the list of the young defensemen making money at the time, and what do you know? Gardiner fits right in the middle. The Gardiner extension only strengthens the case for Dillon to get a decent contract.
Unless, of course, you think Gardiner is significantly more valuable than Dillon. He isn't, and I'll show you why.
The main argument in Gardiner's favor is offensive production. If we only look at last season, we can see a pretty easy comparison. Both played 80 games. Gardiner recorded 31 points to Dillon's 17. It seems pretty obvious that Gardiner is a significantly better offensive player, but consider where the points came from.
Dillon had ZERO powerplay points. Gardiner had 11. For every 60 minutes of ice time, Dillon only saw about six seconds on the powerplay. Gardiner got a respectable 2:15. This isn't to say that powerplay production isn't a skill to some degree, but the significant increase in opportunities should impact the point totals. When you take the powerplay scoring away, Gardiner only had four more points.
And it isn't like Dillon didn't get special teams time. He was a significant contributor on the penalty kill. He took about 2:20 per 60 minutes compared to about 30 seconds for Gardiner. Dillon was easily the second most effective penalty killer last season for the Stars behind Jordie Benn. What he did on the penalty kill doesn't show up in point totals the way Gardiner's powerplay production did.
A quick glance at the fanciest of fancy stats further drives the point home. These two aren't the same player, but they are both very good.
The terrible Leafs were hesitant to rely on Gardiner for anything defensively. That certainly could have been an error by the Randy Carlyle Truculence Think Tank, but the reality is that the two are on polar opposites of the usage spectrum. The Stars relied heavily upon Dillon as a defensive player while the Leafs used Gardiner in a predominantly offensive role. Despite this, they were similarly productive at even strength.
Why is Gardiner worth this contract, but Dillon isn't? The only reason is the point total and that argument doesn't hold up. I suppose you could make the argument that Gardiner is signing away a few free agent years and that certainly should be noted. But as we've seen, younger defensemen are getting long term deals across the league. Dillon has every right to expect to be paid like his peers.
And this, friends, is why Dillon isn't under contract. Dillon has legitimate comparables that suggest he is worth a long term deal. The Stars have restricted free agent rights they appear to be sticking to in a time when teams are increasingly locking their young players up long term.
The Stars are currently benefiting from two such deals in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The best teams in the league have been built around such team friendly deals in recent years. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are two prime examples. If the Stars want to continue to build in that mold, it would behoove them to lock Dillon up. The chances of a long term deal for Dillon similar to the one Gardiner received backfiring at all are slim. As he ages, the deal would look even better as the salary cap continues to rise.
The Stars can play hardball with Dillon due to their defensive surplus, but no rational person believes they would stick anyone from the AHL in the lineup in place of Dillon after acquiring Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. The Stars are trying to win now. Winning now includes Dillon. He and the Stars both know this, but I just can't comprehend a scenario where he signs a contract for a smaller cap hit than Trevor Daley.
Have you ever looked at a situation and said "that doesn't make sense"? I do this often. When I do, I tend to try to understand what doesn't make sense. In this case it seems so obvious that Dillon should get paid that you can even just look at the fact that he gets 20 minutes a night on a quality team and derive a level of value for him. The question becomes this: does it benefit the Stars to drag their feet?
It might, but at the very least it doesn't hurt them to wait. The price for Dillon isn't going to go up, and the longer the Stars wait maybe, just maybe, they can pull some extra value out of Sergei Gonchar in a trade.
Ultimately though, Dillon is going to get signed. It's taking some time, but fear not. The Stars know they have a good player and they've shown that they mean to be taken seriously this year. That gets much more difficult without Dillon.