Orlov is expected to play in the top four of the Capitals’ defense, with Matt Niskanen or John Carlson as potential partners for him. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of this one-year deal.
The signing leaves the Capitals with about $880,000 in salary cap space this season, enough for a 14th forward to make the team out of training camp, or flexibility for an injury call-up later in the season.
With the start of Capitals training camp just days away, there is now optimism that the team will reach a one-year deal with restricted free agent defenseman Dmitry Orlov, according to multiple sources. While Orlov has been playing for Team Russia at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, his representation and the Capitals have continued negotiating.
Washington’s side of things is relatively straightforward: With generalfanager.com reporting that the Capitals have about $3.45 million left in salary cap space, Orlov can be expected to get a deal worth something in the neighborhood of $2.6 million, as Washington has to leave some room for a 14th forward or an injury call-up later in the season. Orlov made $2.25 million last season.
The reason the contract talks have taken this long likely has 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 has repeatedly spoken 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. Though he wouldn’t be getting much of a raise on a one-year deal worth about $2.6 million, the sales pitch could be 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’s NHL options are limited as a restricted free agent who didn’t choose arbitration. The Capitals retain his NHL negotiating rights. But Orlov does have one other outlet open to him: The Russian Kontinental Hockey League’s CSKA Moscow owns Orlov’s KHL negotiating rights. CSKA General Manager Sergei Fedorov told Russian media that he’d be interested in signing Orlov, even if it were for just one year.
A recent example: Restricted free agent Valeri Nichushkin, represented by the same agent as Orlov, signed a two-year deal with CSKA Moscow this week instead of re-signing with the Dallas Stars.
Fedorov has said that he believes Orlov’s intention is to continue playing in the NHL. The KHL could offer Orlov more money and the greater playing role he desires, but when asked about that avenue earlier this month at a Team Russia practice, Orlov expressed a desire to continue playing in North America, if possible.
“You know, I play five years in USA, so of course, I like it here,” Orlov said then. “And I would like to stay there, but I don’t know how it’s going to happen. We’ll see.”
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, even though he was playing protected minutes. He scored eight goals with 21 assists.
If the Capitals don’t re-sign Orlov, they have little time to fill the blue line vacancy. They would either promote a prospect as a temporary solution or sign an affordable free agent with their limited salary cap space, though it’s unlikely either option would yield a player who could play in the defense’s top four, as Washington had envisioned Orlov doing.