Brenden Dillon finally agreed to take his friends up on an offer to play some beer-league shinny on Monday evening. By the time he stepped off the ice, his world had changed.
The 30-year-old defenceman had a new hockey home, headed from Washington to Winnipeg.
"Unfortunately, I found out on social media," the newest member of the Jets said Tuesday afternoon with a chuckle as he met the media on Zoom.
"I am still here in D.C. and some neighbours of mine had some beer league, later-night hockey, and I was invited out to that. Sure enough, I got off the ice and just as everyone is winding down, one of the guys checked his Twitter or Instagram and next thing you know you look at your phone and there’s a couple missed calls, and off we go."
The initial shock quickly gave way to another emotion — excitement. Dillon, a native of British Columbia, immediately fills a top-four need for Winnipeg, joining Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and Dylan DeMelo in that role. The 6-4, 220-pounder will bring some much-needed rock 'em, sock 'em style of play to town, and said he's thrilled to start feeding pucks to the talented forward group.
"They’ve got a lot of good pieces in place up front, a Vezina-winning goalie and a defence that I think is only going to get better," said Dillon.
"I think for the city of Winnipeg, I’ve had players I’ve played with in the past, I’ve attended a few weddings there for some friends of mine over the years and just excited to kind of get out there, get with a very passionate and exciting hockey market, to play there in Winnipeg and see the fan base. It’s a lot of fun, as an away team getting yelled at. It will be nice to have some people cheering for."
Dillon just signed a four-year, US$15.6 million contract extension with the Capitals last October, only to quickly become a salary cap casualty this off-season as the team needed to free up money for a number of new contracts, including a five-year, US$47.5 million extension for captain and pending unrestricted free agent Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday.
The writing was on the wall a week ago when the Capitals left him unprotected in the expansion draft. Ultimately, Seattle opted to select rookie goalie Vitek Vanecek. Then came the trade, with the Jets sending a pair of second-round draft picks (in 2022 and 2023) for his services.
"It's just part of being a hockey player; it’s what we signed up for. There’s a lot of good things, a lot of incredible things that hockey gives you, but there are also some tough decisions that go into it," said Dillon. "I had a great little run here in Washington and met some good people and had good relationships but in the hockey world, you’re always looking forward to the next adventure."
A quick YouTube search provides no shortage of highlights which should have Jets fans smiling, especially those who felt the team too often got pushed around in recent years. Losing the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot meant a real changing of the guard when it comes to physicality in the rugged Central Division and Western Conference.
The Jets took a big step to getting some of that back last season when 6-7 Logan Stanley made his NHL debut, then carved out a regular role with the club. And now they have Dillon, who has never shied away from a scrum, big hit or scrap.
"I think for me, skating and positioning is a big part of my game. To be able to be big, to be physical, to be hard to play against. Hard to play against is something I want players on the other team to know at the end of the night. I don’t want them to be coming into Winnipeg and thinking it’s going to be an easy game against us," said Dillon.
"You see the teams that ended up being in the final — guys on both sides — the David Savards, the Victor Hedmans, Joel Edmundson, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry — they’re all big guys but they can all move too. That’s something in this day and age, you have to be able to skate, you’ve got to be able to join the play and create offensively."
Dillon averaged 18:57 of ice per game last season with Washington, trailing only John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Justin Schultz and Ovechkin in that department. His plus-15 rating trailed only Orlov's plus-16. His 143 hits were second-best, and 61 blocked shots fourth-best. He also showed there's some offensive game with 19 points (2 goals, 17 assists) in 56 games.
"I think for myself, I try to chip in when I can. I know what makes Brenden Dillon the best hockey player he can be. That’s somebody that’s clearing out the front of the net, blocking shots, taking pride on the penalty kill, but at the same time creating offence when I can for sure," he said.
"I think I can skate, 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. Watching guys in the playoffs, the Victor Hedmans, these Norris calibre defencemen. I think coming to a team like Winnipeg, there’s a work ethic there. Talking to (Paul Maurice), he’s got a great black and white plan. I hope, for myself, I can be a big piece of the puzzle and make the team better at the end of the day.
"The team as a whole, when you look at it on paper, has so much talent. They have every little piece to be a winning team."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.