With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis:
No. 9 Dmitry Orlov
Age: 24 (turns 25 on July 23)
Penalty minutes: 26
Time on ice: 16:01
Playoff stats: 11 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, even, 2 PIM, 13:18
Contract status: Restricted free agent (2015-16 salary: $2.25 million, $2 million cap hit)
Considering the fact he did not suit up for the Capitals the entire 2014-15 season because of a broken wrist, Orlov’s return to full-time duty this season can be looked at only as an overwhelming success.
Was he an adventure in his own end? Sometimes. Was he dynamic in the offensive zone? Many times. Does he need some work to be a top four defenseman in the NHL? Absolutely.
But he may be worth the growing pains.
“I call him a high-event player,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said with a chuckle. “At both ends there’s some events going on. But he’s learning.
“You like it on the (offensive) end and you’re living with stuff on the (defensive) end. Todd (Reirden) is working with him. How do you eliminate the errors and get them down to a level that’s acceptable for us as a team and then still contribute offensively? I think he’s still trying to figure that out.
“I think in the playoffs there was probably a little too much concern with not making the errors and you want him to create some offense. You want him to shoot the puck, you want him to join the rush, you want him to make plays through the middle of the ice instead of flipping pucks (out of the defensive zone). I think it’s just a learning process and the more he plays the better he’s going to get.”
With that in mind, the Capitals are seriously considering giving Orlov a top four role next season (alongside Matt Niskanen?), while dropping veteran blue liner Brooks Orpik to third pair (alongside Nate Schmidt?) and penalty kill responsibilities.
That would be quite a promotion for Orlov considering he began the 2015-16 season as one of the Capitals’ biggest question marks and ended it as the club’s Masterton nominee for dedication and perseverance to the sport of hockey.
Orlov finished the season with career highs in games (82), goals (8) and assists (21) while playing mostly on a third pairing with Nate Schmidt or Taylor Chorney.
“I would say I had a good season, and it was special for me when coaches give me the opportunity to play 82 games,” Orlov said. “I could be better, and I think all players want to do some more than they did. I look forward to playing next season and try to do my best. It was special season for me playing 82 games after missing the whole year. Especially my first time in the playoffs, almost every game. It’s huge for me.”
If there is a flaw to Orlov’s game it is that he has a penchant for giving up the puck to avoid taking a hit. It happened a handful of times near the end of the regular season and Capitals coach Barry Trotz threatened to take Orlov out of the lineup. Perhaps at the urging of assistant coach Todd Reirden, Trotz resisted that urge, allowing Orlov to play through some of his inconsistencies.
That continued until the second game of the Caps’ second-round series against the Penguins, when Trotz pulled Orlov out of the lineup for one game, replacing him with Chorney.
“Everybody says I’m an offensive player, but I want people to see me (as a) two-way player, not only offensive player,” Orlov said. “I want to play on defense, too. I know I can do it. I know I do some mistakes, and I would say nobody’s perfect. In all situations when a player gets more ice time, they have confidence and the better they’re going to be next games, next years.”
Orlov said he was especially appreciative of Reirden’s instruction and encouragement this season. The two spent countless hours on the ice and in the video room going over game situations and Orlov’s decision making in those situations.
“For me, I think he helped a lot,” Orlov said. “He always talks with us and shows some videos and always said good and positive things. If you did something wrong, he will tell you. He’s an honest man, and I think it’s how it should be. If coaches will tell you the truth, it’s easy to understand what you should do on the ice or whatever. It’s nice when coaches always talk to you.”
Because Orlov is a restricted free agent making more than $1 million, the Capitals are required to offer him his current $2.25 million salary to retain his rights. Since his original standard player’s contract was signed between the ages of 18 and 20 and because he has four years of NHL experience, Orlov also qualifies for salary arbitration, which means his price tag could be in the $3 million per season range, even if it is for just one year.
Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, asked the Capitals to play Orlov or trade him back in the 2012-13 season, but that certainly won’t be the case this time around. Orlov said he never put thought into re-signing with the Caps during the season and hopes things go smoothly with negotiations this summer.
“My focus was just play and don’t worry about anything what’s going on,” he said. “Right now, the season is over and whatever’s gonna happen. I’m excited to be here and hope everything will be good.”
Orlov represented Russia in the 2016 World Championships last week, picking up three assists in six games, and will play for his country in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in mid-September.
Like many teammates, Orlov thought the Capitals had the right mix in their locker room to go further than the second round of the playoffs this spring and is looking forward to another crack at the Stanley Cup next season.
“I think it’s just going to be better next year and I know we have a great team,” he said. “It was like a family. I still remember all these moments and just take positive things and move forward and be ready to go next year.”