Wednesday night, while the Washington Capitals hammered the Pittsburgh Penguins several stories below at Verizon Center, defenseman Dmitry Orlov sat at his usual perch in the press box. He had just returned from a doctor’s appointment, another follow-up during the long, torturous process of recovering from wrist surgery, and in front of him was a grip strengthener, which he would use while, for what seemed like the umpteenth time this season, watching his teammates play.
Orlov’s latest meeting, now more than eight months after going under the knife in New York City last May, revealed nothing concrete, prolonging the uncertainty that has stretched throughout 2014-15. At first, he was scheduled to return during the preseason. Then he felt close last November. “We’re getting there,” he said in Denver, where he practiced with the Capitals on their road trip. But nothing has been finalized. Nothing has been decided. Orlov’s health has improved, his strength and flexibility slowly crawling back, but his status remains the same.
“He went, they looked at it, they’re still evaluating it,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re going to need some more time. They’re looking at different options but they’re trying to get the strength up. The strength is not where it should be right now and they’re trying to figure out exactly what they can do to get it where it needs to be.
“Right now, I’m going to give you a little bit of a convoluted answer, but we don’t quite know. They’re still talking amongst their team, their staff members in terms of the trainers and doctors. I don’t have a defined answer, but hopefully we’ll have that in the near future. I shouldn’t say very near future, but in the near future.”
They have stood at this crossroads for several months now, and both the Capitals and Orlov hold out hope that the 23-year-old defenseman will still play this season. But, with the schedule more than halfway completed, and Orlov needing a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League simply to readjust to the rigors of game action, each passing day makes it increasingly likely he could be shut down.
Still, that seems to be a last resort, and though it’s possible Orlov could need a second procedure – scar tissue has accumulated around the wrist, so even if he plays this season, removing that could still be necessary over the summer – he remains determined to get back on the ice.
He has traveled with the team on some road trips and missed others. He has practiced for several weeks now without a non-contact jersey, forming a fourth pairing with whichever healthy defenseman will be scratched that night. He has stayed late, conducting drills alone, and helped goaltending coach Mitch Korn as one of the pre-practice shooters. He still has another year remaining on his contract, and Trotz has cited his potential as a “top-four defenseman.” Even if the current fear is realized and this season becomes lost, he still seems factored into the team’s long-term blue-line plans.
“It’s got to be boring, because he’s not playing, he’s an athlete, he wants to play, he wants to be a part of it, but it’s probably frustrating,” Trotz said. “I said just come to work and have fun and look at it. … I know it seems like a long time, but in the whole scheme of things it’s a very short time.”
For now, though, Orlov’s appointment Wednesday amounted to a checkup and nothing more. No second procedure was scheduled. No return date was declared.
“Nothing’s been ruled out, to be honest with you,” Trotz said. “That’s why I can’t give you an answer. If we were leaning one way or the other I could tell you, but we’re not.”