Photo: Patrick Smith
With the Capitals facing an upcoming Expansion Draft and a multitude of pending free agents potentially and likely hitting the open market, the Capitals had decisions to make. Among the key defensemen lost over the summer was promising youngster Nate Schmidt, via the Expansion Draft. A pending restricted free agent, Schmidt was slated to be one of the Caps’ Top 4 blueliners this season, along with fellow young rearguard, Dmitry Orlov. And while the Caps protecting Orlov over Schmidt in the Expansion Draft seemed like a no-brainer at the time, losing Orlov may not have been as much of a loss had the Caps kept Schmidt. Here’s why.
When one looks at Orlov’s numbers last season compared to Schmidt’s, it’s easy to see why keeping him was a priority for the Capitals’ front office. The former second-round pick put up a career-high 33 points (six goals, 27 assists) in 82 games played, with a plus-30 rating compared to Schmidt’s three goals and 17 points in 60 games played. However, had Schmidt played a full 82-game season, he would have finished the season with four goals, 19 assists, and 23 points. While not exactly the same, it’s enough to prove that Schmidt was and is capable of more offensive production.
But Orlov also saw time on the power play and averaged 19:32 of ice time a night compared to Schmidt’s 15:29. Had Schmidt been given the same amount of ice time and power play opportunities, he may have put similar numbers to Orlov.
When one looks at both players’ numbers this season, the previous statement isn’t farfetched. In 16 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, Schmidt has one goal and seven assists for eight points, with a plus-3 rating, while averaging a much higher 22:28 of ice time a night. These totals put him on pace for a career-high five goals, 40 assists, and a career-high 45 points. Two of his assists have come on the power play. Orlov, who was rewarded for his productive 2016-17 season with a six-year, $30.6 million contract ($5.1 million salary), has played just one more game than Schmidt and has only two assists and minus-3 rating while averaging 23:14 of ice time a night, along with power play time.
When one compares both young defensemen, they are very similar in their playing style. Both play solid defense, but are primarily offensive-minded blueliners. Had Schmidt remained with the Capitals, he would have been playing Top 4 minutes and likely been playing a similar role to his current one in Vegas.
While it has been only 17 games into the season for Orlov and the Capitals, Orlov must step up his offensive production soon to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. He’s clearly capable of more, but with a large contract comes large expectations. While protecting Schmidt over Orlov seemed ludicrous at the time, Schmidt has clearly proven that with a similar role to Orlov’s, he is able to be a productive, impactful blueliner. This is not suggesting that protecting Orlov was mistake. The Caps and Orlov himself know he is capable of more. But had the Capitals protected Schmidt, it may not have been as big a risk as it would have initially seemed.
By Michael Fleetwood