The Winnipeg Jets needed a big, physical defenceman to round out their top four on the blue line. The Washington Capitals needed to shed some payroll to create salary cap space so they could re-sign captain Alex Ovechkin before he became an unrestricted free agent at 11 a.m. CT on Wednesday.
The Jets sent second-round draft picks in 2022 and ’23 to the Capitals in exchange for six-foot-four, 200-pound blue liner Brenden Dillon on Monday Night — and both teams took care of their business.
Dillon spoke to the media via Zoom call on Tuesday afternoon, roughly 18 hours or so after the trade was announced — but apparently, a few hours less than that after he actually found out himself.
“Some neighbours of mine had some just kind of beer league hockey and I got invited out too,” said the now-former Capital who had just completed the first season of a four-year, US$15.6-million contract. “So I went out to that last night, and it was a later ice time, as you can imagine, being on a Monday night.
“Sure enough, got off the ice and just as everyone’s winding down, one of the guys said they’d checked their Twitter or Instagram. Next thing you know, you look at your phone and there’s a couple missed calls, and off we go.”
It’s not like Dillon hasn’t gone down this road before, after being involved in two previous trades. The first one sent him from Dallas to San Jose 20 games into the 2014-15 season for fellow blue liner Jason Demers and a third-round draft pick. And then he was dealt by the Sharks to Washington just before the deadline in February of 2020 for a second- and a third-round draft pick.
Those were “hockey” trades, while this latest transaction was for purely business reasons. And Dillon gets that.
“There’s a guy by the name of Ovechkin who needed a new contract this summer, and you know, he’s done a heckuva lot for the franchise in Washington — not just for that but for the game of hockey and the NHL,” said the well-spoken 30-year-old rearguard.
“Those are conversations that I’m not a part of when it comes to management and him. For Washington, they’re a cap team that’s trying to win the Stanley Cup every year.”
The Jets are also attempting to move upwards to that level, and Dillon says his initial reaction is he’s going to a team he believes is also on track to become a legitimate contender.
“A team that’s been really good for a number of years now,” was Dillon’s response when asked for his reaction to being dealt to Winnipeg. “Playing in the Western Conference against them, then more times with Washington, you get to see they’ve got a lot of good pieces in place up front, a Vezina-winning goalie, a defence that I think is only going to get better.”
And Dillon figures, and is expected to, be a part of that improvement with the size, physicality and experience he is bringing from his time with the Stars, Sharks and Capitals.
“I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of amazing teammates, a lot of good teams. Been to a Stanley Cup final (San Jose in 2016) that’s probably been one of the biggest memories and achievements for me,” said the veteran defenceman, who will be going into his 10th NHL season in the fall and has totalled 24 goals and 109 assists for 133 points and 623 penalty minutes in 654 career games played.
“For a bigger guy, I think I can skate and I love to join the play. I take a lot of pride in breaking pucks out. I love to watch hockey, I love to get better at it — you know, watching guys in the playoffs, you know, the Victor Hedmans, Norris-calibre defencemen.”
Dillon says he can’t wait to get to know his new teammates like Jets captain Blake Wheeler and star centre Mark Scheifele, who he says he has skated with a few times previously throughout Western Canada. But the one Winnipeg player he is familiar with is former San Jose teammate Dylan DeMelo.
“When I saw and played with Melo he was a guy kind of just getting his first crack in the NHL, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet,” said Dillon, who has been very impressed with how things have gone thus far with his new team.
“Winnipeg has been fantastic so far, with talking with everyone in the organization — you know, where to live, where guys live, rent, buy,” said Dillon, who will have to decide what he’s going to do with the home he purchased in D.C. “You’re just, at the end of the day, hoping to go somewhere where you’re wanted; to go somewhere where it’s going to be a good situation. I think Winnipeg ticks all those boxes.”