It took until Washington’s training camp was two days away for the Capitals and Orlov to agree on a one-year, $2.57 million contract that leaves Washington with enough salary cap space for a 14th forward or an injury call-up later in the season. Orlov will still miss the start of training camp because he’s competing at the World Cup in Toronto, but he now knows where he’s headed once Team Russia is finished playing in the tournament.
“It’s easier to know where you’re going to be after the World Cup, you know?” Orlov said. “Some guys didn’t sign right now, and they don’t know where they’re going to be or where they need to go for the season. For me, I’m going to Washington. You know, I have apartment there and have a lot of friends there. I think we have a good team, so everything should be fine.”
The reason contract talks took this long was believed to have more to do with Orlov wanting a more substantial role with the team than disagreements over salary or term. Orlov averaged about 16 minutes per game last season, mostly playing on the third defensive pairing. He didn’t kill penalties, and his power-play time was limited.
Throughout the summer, the Capitals’ coaching staff and management repeatedly spoke of giving more responsibility to Orlov, potentially pairing him with Matt Niskanen or John Carlson in a top-four role. That would involve playing more minutes with more challenging defensive assignments.
“For sure, it’s good, you know?” Orlov said. “They talk to me in the summertime a few times, so it’s always nice to hear. But I need to show them what they expect from me and they want to see from me, so I need to be working hard and do my best to be this defenseman, top-four. For sure, I respect what they say, but I need to show on the ice my game to be this defenseman.”
Though he didn’t be get much of a raise from last season’s $2.25 million salary, the sales pitch was that he’d have an opportunity for more production as a top defenseman and then sign a more profitable deal in a year, when Washington is expected to have more salary cap space because Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, T.J. Oshie and Karl Alzner will be hitting unrestricted free agency. Orlov will be a restricted free agent again next summer.
“Last year was my first full year, and I should show and improve my game,” Orlov said. “I hope I will stay healthy all year and play better than last year, learning like a player and growing like a player. I think I have everything to do that with our team.”
After he missed the entire 2014-15 season with a wrist injury, Orlov was one of three blue-liners to play in all 82 games last season, showing flashes of a high offensive upside with strong possession metrics. That was occasionally counteracted with costly defensive lapses, but by the end of the season, Washington coaches seemed pleased with his development. He scored eight goals with 21 assists.
For Team Russia in the World Cup, Orlov has been averaging the hefty minutes on the blue line. Through two games, he’s played at least 30 shifts, including power play and penalty kill. He said he’s hopefuly that experience has helped him grow as a player, which he’s hopeful will carry into another season with the Capitals.
“I’m excited and hope we will have a good year because we have a great team and great teammates,” he said. “It’s just going to be a fun year. I had a fun experience last year, so it should be a good year for us. … When I finish in the World Cup, I will be happy to be back in D.C.”