Capitals Need Dmitry Orlov to Have a Career Season

One of the pressing topics for the Washington Capitals is their defense. The goalie situation is set for at least this season, and the offense is still the same old offense with just a few more gray hairs. With the questions surrounding the blue line, Dmitry Orlov has a chance to prove he’s worth his salary—and then some.

Capitals Will Ask More of Dmitry Orlov, and Receive Exactly That

After the Capitals were ousted early from the postseason once again, pessimistic extremists called for a roster overhaul, targeting the heads of aging, high-priced players beyond their prime and skaters who had misplaced their edge. The argument and emotional response were warranted, but the rash reaction was wisely avoided.

Washington Capitals Dmitry Orlov
Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Orlov, 30, is under contract through the 2022-23 season, and his annual salary demands $5.1 million against the cap. He’s the second-highest-paid defenseman on the roster, behind John Carlson, but the eighth-highest paid player on the team. Carlson is the star on the blue line and one of the best defensemen in the league, but Orlov has the potential to give the team top-line play and production.    

Orlov’s Progression

The Capitals selected Orlov 55th overall in the 2009 NHL Early Entry Draft. He made his American Hockey League debut with Washington’s affiliate, the Hershey Bears, in February 2011, and a month later, signed his entry-level contract with the Capitals. In November of that year, he made his NHL debut, and on June 30, 2017, he signed a six-year, $30.6 deal.

From 2017-2020, he didn’t miss a game. He did miss games last season due to COVID-19 protocols, however. During that span, his points-per-60-minutes (PTS/60) increased from 1.0 to 1.3, and his Corsi For percentage (CF%) went up from 48.1% to 53%. Here are some basic stats to consider with the last two shortened seasons adjusted to calculate an 82-game pace.

YearGoals*Assists*Points*Plus-MinusAverage TOIHits*Blocks*Takeaways*
*Stats are adjusted to reflect an 82-game pace

Orlov will progress this season with a little work on his consistency as a well-rounded defenseman. It’s not about hope for Capitals fans. It’s about necessity. Martin Fehervary is young and raw, and Michal Kempny is coming off two seasons of injuries. Don’t be surprised if Orlov has a career year in 2021-22 because he has to, and based on last season, he will.

Increasing His Value

Orlov is the 52nd highest-paid defenseman in the league. He finished 48th in points among defensemen last season, and 62nd in points-per-game, so his salary is in line with the league average on the surface. However, when stats such as ice time, penalty minutes, and his plus-minus rating are considered, his value increases. He was 98th in total penalty minutes, which is great among players who skated in at least 50 games and had the 23rd-best plus-minus rating among defensemen in 2020-21.

Orlov was 98th in average ice time per game among defensemen, but his 1.3 PTS/60 put him at 47th among NHL defensemen for that category–a 15-position bump in the points-per-game rankings.

In short, his salary is on par with his performance, give or take. However, he has a great opportunity to earn more money and a possible extension this season before he reaches free agency in the summer of 2023.   

Orlov’s 2021-22 Outlook

This season there will be a slight transition on defense. The Capitals will rely on how quickly Fehervary can develop and also how healthy Kempny truly is. That adds value to Orlov. Head coach Peter Laviolette will call on the Russian to do more than Carlson in a sense.

Carlson will probably see a small increase in his already heavy amount of ice time, but his role on the first line and the power play won’t change. Orlov will be asked to be the balance. He may start the season on the first line with Carlson, but Laviolette may have to utilize his versatility and move him down, so the second and third lines are also strong. Expect an increase in ice time for Orlov by around three minutes.

Dmitry Orlov Washington Capitals
Dmitry Orlov, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Orlov has a chance to prove he’s worth more than what some may consider already too much. He has increased his play and production in specific areas each of the last three seasons but needs to avoid regression in certain areas to become a complete player. His projections for this season should include 15-plus goals and the first sur-40-point season of his career.

On the contrary, if he doesn’t shine when he needs to, the Capitals as a whole will struggle, and a potential extension may be replaced by a discount contract in free agency from another team in 2023. Considering no defenseman other than Carlson is under contract in Washington past the 2022-23 season, this is a vital year for Orlov to perform, and if so, both sides will reap the rewards.

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