Why the Stars and Sharks are both losers in the Dillon-for-Demers swap
The San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars pulled off a head scratching exchange of defenseman Friday, with the Stars sending bulky left-handed shooter Brenden Dillon to San Jose for smooth skating righty Jason Demers.
To level out the trade, the Sharks included a 2016 third-round draft pick as a sweetener. San Jose also agreed to retain a hefty 35 percent of Demers' salary and cap-hit in the transaction.
Sweetener or not, this is a trade that could leave a bitter aftertaste for both teams.
Dillon turned 24 last week and is in his third season as an NHL regular. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Dillon is a behemoth and his style matches his listed dimensions. A blue-liner with significant defensive value, Dillon has routinely come out ahead by shot-attempt differential, while playing a traditional shutdown role in Dallas and battling top-of-the-lineup competition.
Demers is older than Dillon by two-and-a-half years, and is a more offensive presence. Among regular NHL defenders over the past four years, Demers is 35th in scoring rate. Demers doesn't provide what Dillon does in terms of physical value, and he's been used in more of a supporting role, but he's reasonably paid, responsible, and can move the puck.
Both Dillon and Demers are struggling in the early going, but in terms of upside and immediate value, the Sharks are receiving the better player - something the sweeteners reflect.
For the Stars, this deal was motivated by the club's dearth of right-handed shooting defensemen. Dallas' blue-line group has been somewhere between shaky and atrocious in the early going.
"We think (Demers) can make us better on defense, and we need to be better on defense," explained Stars general manager Jim Nill to Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News.
Maybe, but the evidence would suggest that Dillon is the more valuable asset.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff, meanwhile, discussed the importance of handedness in motivating the Stars to make this trade.
"We’ve made some adjustments and we've brought some younger guys in," Ruff said. "I think the puck moving, what (John) Klingberg has added, the right-handed defenseman, I think everybody has seen the dividends.
"When I got involved in the Olympics, the No. 1 thing we talked about was lefty-righty, lefty-righty, because they’re under so much duress that when you’re caught in your back end, a lot of times there’s no play."
Giving up a player of Dillon's caliber, youth, and affordability in the pursuit of handedness seems a bit desperate, but it also played a role in San Jose's decision-making process, according to Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.
"We’re very fortunate to have a fairly large cache of right-shot defensemen, so it allowed us to do this deal," Wilson told Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com.
Sure, even without Demers on the roster the Sharks still employ Justin Braun and Brent Burns, both capable top-four defenders. The problem, though, is that Burns is also an elite first-line power forward.
Burns was one of the NHL's 15 most efficient even-strength goal scorers as a forward last season, and only Jeff Skinner and Rick Nash managed a higher shot rate. With Burns and Joe Thornton on the ice last year, the Sharks controlled 60 percent of shot attempts, and outscored opponents nearly two-to-one.
Though Burns has been productive offensively as a defender this year, he's only just above water by shot attempt differential on the back-end. Facing secondary competition mostly alongside rookie Mirco Mueller, the Sharks have been outscored with Burns on the ice at even-strength, and he's been extraordinarily undisciplined - he leads all Sharks defenders in penalties taken by a wide margin.
The Sharks have some intriguing right-handed depth options - particularly farmhand Matt Tennyson - who could still step up if they want to experiment with moving Burns back to forward. They don't have a Demers-quality reliable right-handed minutes eater though, which sort of ties their hands.
So the Stars trade a better, younger, cheaper player for a capable guy who happens to shoot the right way. As for the Sharks - they add a very talented, bruising young asset, but double down on a sucker bet in the process.
It's enough to make this deal look, on first blush, like something of a lose-lose in the short-term.