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.
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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.”
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