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Tampa Bay Lightning Free Agency Target: Jets Veteran Defender

The Tampa Bay Lightning off-season is officially underway and will be interesting to watch. Over the last decade, the Bolts have been the gold standard for winning in the National Hockey League. However, with back-to-back first-round exits to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers, the Lightning are in for some changes this summer. Let’s say they go the free agency route to improve their roster. Who are some potential options for the Lightning with limited cap space? Today, we will look at defenceman free agent Brenden Dillon of the Winnipeg Jets.

Disclaimer: The players featured in these articles aren’t always linked to the Lightning but have been made available in some capacity this summer. These pieces are observing whether Tampa should target them and what the cost would be if they did.

Who the Tampa Bay Lightning Targets in Free Agency: Brenden Dillon

Dillon will be a free agent this summer, as he is on an expiring deal. With his four-year, $15.6 million deal expiring this summer, Dillon needs a new contract for next season. According to Jets’ writer Scott Billeck, the organization plans to let Dillon walk in free agency. The veteran blue-liner has experience with four different NHL clubs over his 892-game career. After a disappointing first-round exit, the Jets must decide between Dylan DeMelo and the experienced defender due to salary cap constraints. Ultimately, expect the 33-year-old to be available on the open market in July. What is there to like about his game as a potential fit in Tampa Bay?

Dillon Scouting Report

With Dillon being a free agent, it is huge to know what a team is to expect out of him. Known for his defensive prowess, Dillon plays a sandpaper style of hockey that many NHL General Managers rave about. The 33-year-old ranked first in Winnipeg with 221 hits, tied for tenth league-wide. Moreover, Dillon ranked third on the Jets with 111 blocked shots. The Canadian blue-liner played second-pairing minutes on a structured defensive team last season. Furthermore, Dillon ranked third in defensive zone start percentage at 5v5 (10.66 DZS%) amongst Jets defencemen while facing top six forwards every night. In summary, Dillon posted sound defensive results against quality competition.

Dillon spent most of his minutes alongside Neal Pionk last season. The pairing controlled 46.7% of the on-ice expected goal share (46.7 xGF%), the lowest possession rate out of all Jets defensive pairings with over 150 minutes played. When Dillon was without Pionk, he saw an increase in his possession metrics and defensive play. Isolated from his partner, Dillon is a dominant two-way defender who could provide impact despite his age.

Production-wise, Dillon notched eight goals (career-high) and 12 assists for 20 points in 77 games during the 2023-24 season. In his 892-game career, the veteran has 37 goals and 159 assists for 196 points. In short, Dillon is a fringe second-pairing defender with shutdown abilities and a little offensive upside. With that, why would Tampa Bay find interest in an experienced defender like Dillon?

Dillon’s Strengths

Without question, Dillon is best known for his defensive skill and presence. The defender finished first amongst the Jets’ top-four defencemen in expected goals against per hour at 5v5 (2.53 xGA/60), according to NaturalStatTrick. Furthermore, Dillon also provides value on offence. Microstats data from JFreshHockey had Dillon in the 84th percentile of in-zone offence amongst defencemen at 5v5 last season. From seven recently tracked games here at Last Word, the Lightning control 61.43% of the point passes at 5v5 (61.43 PTP%). These numbers indicate the Lightning control offensive possession in-zone by activating their defencemen. Dillon can use his bullet of a shot from the point to generate offence for the Bolts next season. Now, what are some weaknesses of Dillon’s game?

Dillon’s Weaknesses

The biggest weakness of the veteran’s game comes in transition. Dillon is not an efficient puck-moving defenceman via AllThreeZones‘ workbook. The 33-year-old ranked in the 21st percentile of retrievals leading to exits per hour amongst defencemen in 2024. Dillon experienced a decline in his top speed with age, another risk of bringing the blue liner on board for next season. Dillon turns 34 in November, so how effective will he be in a Tampa Bay sweater? Unless Dillon finds a way to maintain his top speed in the off-season, the Lightning might not be interested in the veteran defender.

Tampa Bay Lightning Free Agency: In Or Out On Dillon

Dillon is a solid option in free agency this summer for the Lightning, and he will most likely be available on the open market. He plays a physical style of hockey against tough competition, but Dillon can also get involved in the offensive cycle. If the Lightning can add Dillon to the roster for around $3 million annual average per season, the deal might be worth it.

However, the Lightning are set on the left side for next season with Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, and Emil Martinsen Lilleberg. Julien BriseBois may maximize his cap space by investing in forward help, potentially a reunion with Anthony Duclair. Tampa Bay is better off targeting the right side of the defensive core, which needs a re-haul. Therefore, while not the worst option in the world, the Lightning are best off avoiding Dillon in July.

Advanced percentiles via AllThreeZones, HockeyViz, and JFreshHockey (paid subscription required)

Raw stats via NaturalStatTrick & EvolvingHockey

Main Photo: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports


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