At the beginning of last week, the Capitals had two key players that remained unsigned in the forms of restricted free agents (RFAs) Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov. While Johansson has since been signed, talks of a new deal for the 24-year old Orlov seemingly haven’t even begun.
While the Capitals are in a bit of a bind when it comes to salary cap space (according to General Fanager, they have about $3.45 million left to work with), Orlov has proved himself to be a key part of the team’s defensive core. So without a contract after nearly two months since the Caps’ season ended, what exactly is going on?
Coming off a contract that paid him $2 million annually, Orlov is likely asking for $3 million or more per year. The Capitals may not be willing to give Orlov a long-term deal due to a number of factors, the biggest being the 2017 Expansion Draft next summer. Teams will only be allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, and the Capitals will almost assuredly protect blueline cornerstones John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Karl Alzner (assuming they re-sign him and avoid losing him to unrestricted free agency). While General Manager Brian MacLellan has stated that he sees Orlov as a future Top-4 defenseman, his age and skill would make him highly-coveted by the Las Vegas franchise’s GM, who happens to be longtime Caps decision-maker George McPhee.
It also seems as though the Capitals’ decision to make Johansson more of a priority has also added to the mystery. NoVa Caps’ Jon Sorenson recently contacted Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, who seemed to be unhappy about the lack of negotiations between the two sides. Orlov is a talented defenseman, as he put up a career best 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) this past season after missing all of 2014-15 with setbacks in his recovery from a broken wrist. Orlov proved to be a very skilled offensive defenseman, capable of carrying the puck quite effectively and possessing a hard, fast shot. However, his defensive game still needs work after some costly turnovers and bad executions during the regular season.
Orlov would like to stay in Washington, that much is clear. The dilemma MacLellan is facing is that by using up the remaining cap space on a player they could (and would likely) lose for nothing, he could be compromising the team’s chances of retaining key UFAs such as Alzner and right wing T.J. Oshie, and complicating negotiations with pending RFAs Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Nate Schmidt, and Philipp Grubauer (assuming they don’t lose him in the Expansion Draft) among others.
The next few days (and possibly weeks) should be interesting and will likely shed some light on what seems to be a stalemate of sorts between a very talented young rearguard, and a team in a financial dilemma.
By Michael Fleetwood