Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs
After missing the entire 2014-15 season due to complications from surgery on his wrist, Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov had to prove to the Capitals last season that he could still be a factor. Despite some struggles defensively, Orlov managed 29 points in 82 games. This season, he is set to surpass that by a wide margin and as a pending restricted free agent, is due for a raise. But with an Expansion Draft inevitable and a surplus of free agents to re-sign, should the Caps consider dealing Orlov to avoid the risk of losing him?
While the Caps are a much better team with Orlov on the ice, one of their many pending free agents is defensive stalwart Karl Alzner, who will be due a sizable raise from his current $2.8 million salary, and with the Caps currently up against the salary cap ceiling, re-signing both Orlov and Alzner, as well as the team’s other restricted and unrestricted free agents, will prove exceptionally difficult.
As mentioned above, Orlov struggled quite heavily defensively last season, including costly turnovers and bad reads. Under the tutelage of Associate Coach Todd Reirden, Orlov has become a much better two-way defender this year. But when it comes to defense, Alzner is far superior to Orlov. After remaining unsigned for the majority of the offseason, Orlov finally re-signed with the Caps on a one-year deal, a risky bet that so far, has turned out to be a good one, as Orlov currently has four goals and 25 points in just 49 games played, putting him on pace for seven goals, a career-high 35 assists, and a career-high of 42 points.
If the Caps do make re-signing Alzner a priority (which they likely will), and do get a new deal (that would likely carry a cap hit of $6 million or higher), they would undoubtedly protect him as one of three defensemen they can safeguard from the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. This would leave General Manager Brian MacLellan with some very difficult decisions to make. If the Caps decided to shop Orlov at the trade deadline in just over a month, they could command a high price for the 25-year old blueliner. A first-round draft pick wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility and adding stock to their already deep prospect pool of blueliners wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
The problem with trading Orlov is that the Caps don’t have an obvious replacement within the organization to take his place. While key defenseman John Carlson has been sidelined with a lower-body injury, the Caps have had a top-four consisting of Alzner, Orlov, Brooks Orpik, and Matt Niskanen. The third-pairing consists of solid young blueliner Nate Schmidt and veteran Taylor Chorney, who have both played well together and who saw extensive playing time last season with injuries to Carlson and Orpik. If Orlov was dealt, a top-four of Orpik, Alzner, Carlson, and Niskanen would still be a formidable force, aided by the reliable play of Schmidt and Chorney.
If the Caps keep Orlov (which is the most likely scenario), they will still have tough decisions to make regardless. If they are unable to re-sign Alzner and Orlov can continue to improve defensively, then perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad of a loss. But even still, Alzner is a big reason why the Caps have the best defense in the NHL and if he leaves, the Caps may struggle to immediately replace him. Which is why trading Orlov isn’t as farfetched as it might initially seem.
By Michael Fleetwood