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Friedman has suggested the Leafs are kicking tires on Brenden Dillon, so we’re gonna look under the hood

You probably didn’t watch Saturday Night headlines this week because why would you willing watch a Senators and Habs game, just to get one possible little nugget of a potential trade rumour on the second intermission?

Simply you wouldn’t and you shouldn’t. Instead Sportsnet thankfully puts the clips on their website and at our leisure we discovered that Elliotte Friedman believes that the Sharks are making their unrestricted free agents like Melker Karlsson and Brenden Dillon available, and the Leafs have kicked tires on Dillon.

On Friday I put Dillon on a list of rental players I could more or less wrap my head around the Leafs going after. (Click the link for the full list, but here’s what I had to say about Dillon)

 Dillon’s salary is a drawback at $3.27M this year, but if San Jose retains or will take on Cody Ceci as part of the deal it doesn’t seem impossible.

Dillon would be a chance for the Leafs to add some physicality to their lineup and most importantly to their blueline. While I know eyes are rolling at the thought of this, I assert this idea is not the worst thing in the world.

So, there are obviously some cap issues that would need to be resolved in pursuing Dillon. There’s also the issue of trying to bring in defensive minded defensemen this late in the season has a tendency to not yield any worthwhile results.

There is also the very important issue of the cost of Dillon, who probably won’t be as cheap as he should be (think a tier 2 prospect or mid round draft pick). If there is any sort of premium attached to him, it very much becomes a buyer beware situation.

Brenden Dillon is not Ryan O’Byrne

I don’t know how many other people out there use the Ryan O’Byrne rental as their standard for crappy defensive defensemen rentals, but he’s certainly the player I go to for that.

Dillon’s numbers over his time in San Jose has been aided by the fact that his defensive partner options are either Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, or being very sheltered with their third pairing guy (this year that’s Mario Ferraro.) Last season he spent more time with either Erik Karlsson or on the third pairing with Justin Braun, which was a nice little shutdown pairing to trot out in ideal circumstances. No matter the case, there are sheltering, partnering, and usage factors to consider when looking at Dillon’s numbers, which don’t look too bad…

Season CF% xGF% GF% CA/60 xGA/60
201718 51.47 50.98 45.22 57.08 2.32
201819 57.28 58.77 55.93 45.99 1.91
201920 51.18 49.59 46.97 50.84 2.16
via naturalstattrick.com

Last year is clearly the reason we’re making any kind of case for Dillon, and while his numbers have never been bad, it does standout as the excessively good outlier. At no other point in his career has Dillon had Corsi against per 60 below 50 and only once before was his expected goals against per 60 below 2. Given the style the Leafs play and quality of teammate Dillon will have compared to Burns, Karlsson, or even Braun, it’s probably best to look at his roughest numbers and hope they are attainable.

For additional context, here are his numbers relative to when he wasn’t on the ice…

Season CF% xGF% GF% CA/60 xGA/60
201718 0.92 -0.6 -6.98 -2.59 0.08
201819 3.53 5.98 7.28 -7.64 -0.39
201920 1.49 1.69 6.2 -2.52 -0.29
via naturalstattrick.com

Considering he will be utilized for his shutdown capabilities, shot suppressor, and higher danger shot suppression are not guarantees, especially if he’s playing behind Toronto’s defensively irresponsible forwards.

So Dillon is a very middle of the road by the numbers guy, but the reality is he does something other Leafs defensemen don’t do a ton of, and that’s hit, and adding a physical defenseman to the mix might be why we’re talking about him, and I don’t say that as a throwaway comment. It is something the Leafs can use if the rest of Dillon’s game is good enough.

If toughness is the trait the Leafs are looking to add to their blueline, this is an area that can’t simply be addressed by recalling Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren, and pursuing Dillon makes some sense, especially if there are concerns about the health of Jake Muzzin.

If they are going to add, they need to subtract

The Leafs aren’t short on depth defensemen, and adding Dillon to the mix as such seems ridiculous. If Muzzin returns and bumps Marincin to the 7th D spot, leaving Sandin and Liljegren as ideal callups, and players like Gravel and Schmaltz as potential callups as well, bringing in Dillon just simply bumps Cody Ceci from the lineup and everyone down one notch on the blueline. It also puts the Leafs in a situation where they are left side heavy again, which isn’t a bad thing if it means taking Cody Ceci from the lineup.

The point being, that if the Leafs are going to add Dillon, they probably need to make a decision on their own unrestricted free agents like Muzzin, Barrie, and Ceci and see if they can relocate one or more of them at the trade deadline as well. Additionally, we are either at the point where a hard decision is going to need to be made on Morgan Rielly, but that seems like it should be a separate post, not something we bury in a story about trading for Brenden Dillon. In other words, this is about shuffling the roster to meet the needs of the team, not just adding and in that case they need to be sure that Dillon is the right fit.

Acquiring Dillon seems entirely possible for the Leafs if you consider salary in/salary out and/or San Jose retaining as options and if Dillon is possibly a player the Leafs were considering in free agency this July, paying a little to give him a try early isn’t a bad option. I’m not sure that Dillon would be a significant move for the Leafs, but bringing him in might allow Toronto the opportunity to do something more substantial, and given the Leafs situation, the two best courses of action for Dubas seem to either be incredibly active at the deadline or to stand pat. Right now I’d vote against standing pat.