The Capitals have a problem, one that almost any organization would kill to have; with the expansion draft looming (teams can only protect 3 defensemen), they will have to leave some really good players unprotected and exposed in the upcoming expansion draft in the Summer of 2017. One of these is Russian defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who I have been advocating to trade almost all offseason, given the Capitals’ need for speed and forward depth which was exposed in the playoffs. So, if the Capitals are to move Dmitry Orlov, how does his hole (probably on the third pair) affect the Capitals’ roster moves during free agency? There are a few different scenarios on how this could play out.
WHAT IF: The Capitals Trade Dmitry Orlov for Forward Help
Despite his incredible puck skills and potential as a defenseman, Dmitry Orlov seemed too much of a defensive liability for me in both the regular season and playoffs. He would regularly make high-risk passes in the defensive zone that would lead to grade-A scoring opportunities for the Caps’ opponent. Despite this, other teams (looking at you, Edmonton) may take a gamble on his potential (and may even protect him in the expansion draft).
The Capitals need more speed, especially in the bottom-6, and Taylor Hall can provide that and much, much more. Hall has been under incredible pressure since being drafted first overall by the Oilers, and a change of scenery could be that much more beneficial to him. Outside of Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov could also be solid options in a trade with Edmonton. Hall and Eberle carry 6 million dollar cap hits, while Yakupov carries a 2.5 million dollar cap hit. If the Capitals were to trade for one Eberle or Hall, Edmonton would no doubt need to eat salary, something I am unsure if they are willing to do, given their interest in big-money free agents like Milan Lucic. However, given their desperate need for a number-1 defenseman, they just might be willing to retain some salary from Hall or Eberle in order to make this deal work.
With a newfound hole on the third defense pair, the Capitals would need to address this quickly. I feel that Madison Bowey is ready for the NHL, but the case of Tom Wilson is still looming large over the head of the organization, and rushing prospects to the NHL before they’re ready is not a course of action an organization that expects to win a Stanley Cup should take.
As for free agents, there are some interesting names to consider. Brian Campbell, despite his best years being behind him, could take a cheap, 1-year deal and contribute to the Capitals on both ends of the ice. Justin Schultz, who just won a Stanley Cup (grr), is an offensive-minded, right-handed defenseman with decent upside, and at just 25 years old, he might be willing to take a “bridge deal” (a one or two year contract that is relatively inexpensive) in order to boost his future earnings potential. A final defensive option is Dan Hamhuis, someone who the Capitals were supposedly interested in at this year’s trade deadline. Hamhuis’ asking price at the deadline was probably too high (because Jim Benning is deluded), but at 33 years old, Hamhuis may be willing to take a pay cut to contend for a Stanley Cup. Coupled with the fact that Hamhuis spent 6 years with Barry Trotz in Nashville, a reunion is not only possible, but could be affordable for a cap-strapped team like Washington.
WHAT IF: The Capitals keep Orlov
I’ll be the first person to criticize Orlov’s style of play, but I’ll also be the first to recognize that he has terrific upside as a defenseman. Orlov could make contributions to this team that not a lot of other defensemen around the league could, as there aren’t many defensemen with the raw ability that Dmitry Orlov possesses. Orlov is a restricted free agent (RFA), meaning that teams cannot sign him outright, but must sign him to an “offer sheet,” which could then be matched by the Capitals. If a team signs Orlov to a high enough offer sheet, the Capitals could get massive compensation.
The above video provides a great explanation on RFAs and compensation. However, I don’t think Orlov will get this kind of massive offer sheet, and will thus stay with the Capitals. I would be OK with this if it weren’t for the upcoming expansion draft, where teams can only protect (prevent from being taken by Las Vegas) 3 defensemen. It would behoove the Capitals to protect John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Karl Alzner, and if Dmitry Orlov were to sign a long-term deal, the Capitals could risk losing him for nothing. But, given his upside and the Capitals cup window, this is an option that the Capitals could take (if the Caps win the Cup, the offseason really does not matter).
With Orlov staying, the Capitals would need to find forward help in free agency. There are two names that stick out above the rest, and those are Radim Vrbata and Brandon Pirri.
Vrbata has played top-line minutes the past few years in Vancouver, scoring 31 goals in 2014-15 (he missed quite a few games this year, and only scored 13 goals). At 35 years old and in the twilight of his career, the Capitals could get Vrbata, a really solid scoring option, for not a lot of money on a one-year deal.
The second name is Brandon Pirri, who was not extended a qualifying offer by the Anaheim Ducks, and has thus become an unrestricted free agent. Pirri has been a career bottom sixer so far, which is exactly what the Capitals need. Pirri has decent size, good speed, and has shown flashes of brilliance from his time in Florida. He can kill penalties, and take faceoffs if need be. Given his lack of track record, Pirri could accept a bridge deal from a cup-contending team in order to boost his value, and maybe even get traded for more assets at the deadline.
There is no easy answer of what to do with Dmitry Orlov, but with the expansion draft looming, the Capitals should at least enquire about what sort of return they could get for him. Of course, if he gets “offer-sheeted”, the Capitals should not hesitate to take the draft-pick compensation that comes from it.
Welcome to “silly season” everyone.
By Matthew Jacobson