A restricted free agent, Orlov did not elect for arbitration, and the team did not either, so there’s no imminent deadline for negotiations. Not filing for arbitration was a peculiar move, as a hearing could be leverage for a player. Reasons for not electing to go to arbitration are typically that a deal is already in the works or that the player’s most recent year wouldn’t be looked at favorably by an arbitrator, neither of which seem to apply to Orlov. Avoiding arbitration also helps to avoid hurt feelings during arguments about a player’s worth.
Expect Orlov to get a bridge deal with a one- or two-year term. Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, declined to comment on negotiations beyond saying that both sides are talking and it’s a normal process. With Washington re-signing Marcus Johansson to a three-year, $13.75 million deal with an average annual value of $4.583 million, there’s limited salary cap space left for Orlov. According to generalfanager.com, the Capitals have $3.45 million left in salary cap space, but that can’t all be dedicated to Orlov.
Washington will need to save some of that salary cap space to give itself roster flexibility for call-ups during the season, as injuries will inevitably strike. General Manager Brian MacLellan has also indicated he’d like to use the 14th forward spot as a rotating one for the organization’s top prospects to get NHL experience. After the Capitals pushed to sign forward Zach Sanford out of Boston College, he figures to be in competition for NHL playing time, and he carries a cap hit of $875,000, if playing in Washington. Jakub Vrana is also expected to make his NHL debut next season, and he’s got an $863,333 cap hit.
With a 14th forward considered, that leaves the Capitals with about $2.6 million for Orlov. Before the 2014-15 season, Orlov signed a two-year deal worth $2 million a year, but he made $2.25 million last season, so Washington has room for only a modest increase in salary. Orlov missed the entire 2014-15 season, and despite some inconsistent play, he was a key cog in an oft-injured defense last season, one of three blue-liners to play in all 82 games. He scored eight goals with 21 assists.
His qualifying offer expired on July 15, and that just means the Capitals are no longer bound to matching last year’s $2.25 million salary, but they still retain the negotiating rights to him. Because Orlov’s birthday is after June 30, his unrestricted free agency years won’t start until 2019-20, so even if Washington signed him to a two-year deal, he’d still be a restricted free agent at its conclusion.
The Capitals have indicated that keeping Orlov in the organization is a priority, as MacLellan said earlier this summer he envisions Orlov taking on a greater role in the future and moving up from the third defense pairing to play more minutes. Orlov’s season was plagued by costly turnovers, but Washington attributed that to his development being hindered by the lost 2014-15 season, and the coaching staff often reasoned that the offensive chances he created outweighed what he gave up. That’s supported by Orlov having the best even-strength Corsi-for percentage (53.2) of the team’s defensemen and top 20 in the league for defensemen who played at least 1,000 minutes.
“I call him a high-event player — at both ends there’s some events going on,” MacLellan said in May. “But he’s learning. You like it on the one end, and you’re living with stuff on the other end.”