Defenseman Dmitry Orlov entered the 2019-20 season under a lot of pressure. After setting a career-high in goals (10) and posting a +10 rating in 2017-18, he only notched three goals (two of them came in one game), a +3 rating, and gave the puck away 80 times (the second-most on the team) last season. In addition, he was expected to carry a burden of the workload on the Washington Capitals‘ blueline after his partner, Matt Niskanen, was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas on June 14.
Orlov was one of the Capitals’ key cogs during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2018 as he averaged 24:12 of ice-time per game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a year after he posted a career-high +30 rating. But he has not been the same player since.
Despite averaging the second-most ice-time per game among Capitals skaters (21:38) so far this season, Orlov is struggling once again as his -8 rating is the worst on the team. While his 14 takeaways lead the Capitals, turnovers have continued to be an issue for Orlov as his 12 giveaways are the third-most. Orlov is mostly known for his offensive abilities but with three goals in 82 games last year and one in 16 this one, the Capitals aren’t reaping the benefits out of him.
It is important to acknowledge that there has been an adjustment period for him, changing defensive partners twice already this season after being a mainstay with Niskanen for the better part of three seasons. The coaching change in 2018 after Barry Trotz resigned and signed a five-year contract to become the New York Islanders’ head coach may have also contributed to Orlov’s decline over the past couple of seasons but head coach Todd Reirden has been there all of this time and worked specifically with him and the rest of the defense during Trotz’s time in Washington.
As Orlov turned 28 in July, it is fair to assume that his best playing days are in the rearview and he will only digress as time continues to pass. The fact that he is only in the third year of a six-year contract that pays him a steep $5.1 million annually is further evidence for the argument that the time to move him might be soon.
The Capitals will be up against the NHL salary cap when forward Richard Panik, who is currently on long-term injured reserve with an upper-body injury, returns, which should be sometime soon as he took contact for the first time during Tuesday’s practice and is eligible to come off of injured reserve after Saturday. The Capitals only have $125,737 in cap space, so additional moves will be required to make room for him.
While moving Orlov is not going to happen for now at least, the Capitals could explore it further down the road if his play keeps declining to get some breathing room from the salary cap. His contract indeed includes a modified no-movement clause but requires that he submits a list of only five teams that he cannot be traded to, so there are still a lot of options to explore.
And some teams that are weak on the backend could be willing to make a deal, like the Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, and Anaheim Ducks who have all been looking for more defensive depth on the trade market as of late. However, if the Capitals were to put Orlov on the market, they will likely want a top-four defenseman in return and none of those teams are in the position where they would be willing to give up one of their top defensemen. So, the Capitals will likely have to find another trade partner if they are looking for an instant replacement for Orlov. The Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers are two other teams that could be willing to make a shakeup on defense as both are near the bottom in goals-against this season, though Minnesota could be one of the team’s on Orlov’s no-trade list.
Orlov will not get dealt soon but could come on the block come trade deadline time or the offseason unless his play turns around. With the Capitals tight up against the salary cap once Panik returns, moving Orlov would give them a lot more room to work with as opposed to assigning center Travis Boyd or forward Chandler Stephenson, who have each played well so far this season, to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. He’s safe for now, but that may very well change come February or June if his play keeps declining.
By Harrison Brown