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Facing restricted free agency again, Dmitry Orlov in a much better position than a year ago

Facing restricted free agency again, Dmitry Orlov in a much better position than a year ago

Dmitry Orlov’s contract saga last season dragged up until two days before training camp when  he was signed to a one-year, $2.57 million deal. Now that year is up and the Russian defenseman is in need of another contract.

Unlike last year, however, there should be no question as to whether he has earned himself a top-four role on the Caps’ blue line.

In 2016, Orlov was coming off an uneven performance in the postseason that even saw him serve as a healthy scratch for a game. After the season general manager Brian MacLellan called him a “high-event” player because “Both ends there’s some events going on.”

The knock on Orlov was that, while he had tremendous upside, he also took too many risks that turned into costly turnovers.

RELATED: Connolly sees a future with Caps

After the 2016-17 season, however, the evaluation of Orlov is much different.

“I think people were a little shortsighted and not seeing his potential and I think we saw his potential come out this year,” said Matt Niskanen who spent the majority of the season as Orlov’s defensive partner. “He still had the guts to make plays and he has that ability where he can break the puck out on his own, he can make things happen in the offensive zone, he can beat people, strong for his size, wins battles. I think we saw his potential come out this year.”

Orlov, who will turn 26 in July, was given a bigger role on the team this season and he certainly made the most of it, setting a career-high in points with 33. No pairing on the team had a greater Corsi for percentage (56.49) or relative Corsi percentage (5.81) than Orlov and Niskanen.

“I tried to do my best, tried to be better than last year, tried to get confidence and get my game going and feel comfortable,” Orlov said. “I play with Nisky most of the time. He's a great player and he great teammate. He knows he can help me and I look at him how he play, try to learn from him. Everything kind of was good.”

So good, in fact, that Orlov and Niskanen will likely be the Caps’ top pairing next season. But, that could also prove to be a problem for a Capitals team that looks to be right up against the salary cap next season.

Orlov was also a restricted free agent last season. He elected not to file for arbitration and the result was a lengthy contract negotiation that stretched into late September. Going through that process again may not be the most enticing prospect and is one Orlov has tried not to think about.

“All season I don't think about that,” Orlov said. “I try to focus on my game and get better hockey player.”

But this year is a bit different. In 2016, Orlov was an inconsistent player with plenty of potential who was also prone to making huge mistakes. The big question for him was whether he was good enough to be a top-four defenseman. This year, he is one of the best and most consistent defensemen on the team capable of strong play on both ends of the ice who is poised to be on the Caps’ top pair next season.

In short, he’s a player the team can’t afford to lose.

"It was a coming out party for him I think,” Niskanen said. “He turned into a stud. He was our best D-man on many, many occasions this year, by a long shot sometimes. I was really proud of him and the way he handled it.”

MORE CAPITALS: With expansion draft, Grubauer faces uncertain future

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Caps release key offseason dates

Caps release key offseason dates

The Stanley Cup has not yet been awarded, but the offseason has already begun for the Caps. The team released a list of key offseason dates for the summer on Monday. Here are some of the more important ones to mark on your calendar.

June 17: Deadline to submit protected list for the Vegas expansion draft

Every team is going to lose one player to Vegas in the expansion draft, but there are rules in place to help teams protect their top players. Each team will have the option of protecting either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight skaters and a goalie. That list must be submitted by June 17. Here's the fun part. For the unrestricted free agents not on the protected list, Vegas will be able to negotiate with those players prior to the actual draft. That means Vegas could potentially come to an agreement with a free agent, select someone else in the draft, then wait to sign that player when free agency starts.

RELATED: How do the Caps overcome their mental block?

June 21: NHL Awards Show and Vegas expansion draft revealed

Braden Holtby will be there as a Vezina Trophy finalist. Also, during the awards the 30 players the Vegas Golden Knights have selected in the expansion draft will be revealed so we will officially know who from the Caps is Vegas bound.

June 23-24: NHL Draft

The Caps do not pick until the fourth round as of now, but there's a long way between now and then. Perhaps general manager Brian MacLellan pulls off a trade or two to try to get some earlier picks back.

June 26: Deadline for submitting qualifying offers to restricted free agents

Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov, Philipp Grubauer all will be restricted free agents this offseason. To retain their rights, teams must submit a qualifying offer by this date. Otherwise, those players automatically become unrestricted free agents.

June 26 - July 1: Caps' development camp

Fans will get a chance to see the Caps of tomorrow in action as they descend upon Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the team's annual development camp. The camp wraps up with a scrimmage that fans can watch on July 1.

July 1: Start of NHL free agency

Given the team's salary cap constraints don't expect to see general manager Brian MacLellan handing out too many contracts.

July 5: Deadline for player-elected arbitration

July 6: Deadline for team-elected arbitration

Of the team's RFAs, Connolly, Kuznetsov, Schmidt, Orlov, and Grubauer are all eligible for arbitration.

July 15: Deadline for players to accept qualifying offers

If RFAs do not accept qualifying offers by this time, those offers expire. The players remain RFAs and the team retains their rights, however. New contracts can still be negotiated.

Sept. 9-12: Rookie tournament

Just prior to training camp, Caps' rookies will take part in a four-team tournament against the Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning. The tournament will take place in Estero, Fla.

Mid-September: Training camp and preseason

The official date has not yet been announced, but the Caps will return to Washington in mid-September to begin training for another quest for the Stanley Cup.

Oct. 4: Opening night of the NHL season

The Caps' schedule has not yet been released, but the new NHL season officially begins on Oct. 4.

MORE CAPITALS: Backstrom scores decisive shootout goal to win Worlds

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Ovechkin's dog debuts camo onesie at Dulles Aiport

Ovechkin's dog debuts camo onesie at Dulles Aiport

Are dog onesies the new male romper?

Alex Ovechkin's dog, Blake, is bound to become a doggo-fashion icon after dawning a camoflauge onesie before catching a flight at Dulles Airport.

Featured on Ovechkin's wife, Nastasiya's Instagram story, (h/t: RMNB) Ovi can be seen wearing navy sweatpants playing dress up with dog, Blake. 

Blake waits patiently, tail wagging as Ovi places Blake's legs in the onesie one-by-one. Nastasiya and Ovi can be heard laughing as Blake struts around, modeling the onesie for nearby passengers, including a child who sits with Blake on the floor.

Although it is unclear where the onesie was purchased, Ovi shows off some of its features including a pocket, possibly to hold treats and a hole for Blake's tail, which is wagging nonstop.

If there were an America's next top doggo, Blake and his onesie would take the prize. What a good boy.