When he signed a one-year contract late last summer, Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov was making a bet on himself to match or exceed his career-high 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) from the 2015-16 season. So far, it’s proven to be a good one. Which makes General Manager Brian MacLellan’s job this summer even more challenging.
Orlov is one of a number of free agents (both restricted and unrestricted) that the Capitals will have to make decisions on come late June and early July. As a restricted free agent, Orlov could be tendered a qualifying offer by the Caps to retain exclusive negotiating rights, and while that is likely to happen, there are other factors for the Caps to consider.
One of the Caps’ top unrestricted free agents is defensive stalwart Karl Alzner, who is due for a substantial raise from his current $2.8 million salary. There is also the upcoming Expansion Draft for the Capitals’ front office to consider as well. The Caps can only protect THREE defensemen, and it could ultimately come down to who the Caps value more (Orlov or Alzner) for the third spot (John Carlson and Matt Niskanen are most likely to be the other two protected). While Orlov has higher offensive upside and has improved his two-way game, Alzner far outweighs him when it comes to defense.
Orlov currently has five goals and 24 assists, and has matched his career-high in points with 18 games left to play in the season. He has seen an increase in playing time in an increased role (he is averaging 19:40 minutes of ice time this season, over three minutes more than last season), and his defensive game has improved under Associate Coach Todd Reirden. The Capitals netminders boast a .938 save percentage when Orlov is on the ice, compared to .904 last season.
Orlov is still just 25, meaning he hasn’t hit what many call the “prime years” of his career (usually between 26-30 years of age). While he is inevitably due a raise from his current $2.57 million salary, his strong performance has nonetheless further complicated the decision-making of MacLellan and strengthened his case for staying in DC. Whether that happens is yet to be seen.
By Michael Fleetwood