Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us."
-- Boris Pasternak


Would it surprise you to know that since he arrived in the NHL in 2011-2012, Dmitry Orlov has more goals (57 in 643 games) than Duncan Keith (54 in 770 games)?  Or that he has more assists (180) than Tyler Myers (174 in 678 games)?  Or tha he has more points (237) than Erik Johnson (228 in 632 games)?  Or that his plus-102 rating is better than Kris Letang (plus-95 in 642 games) or Mark Giordano (plus-72 in 747 games)? Or that his points per game (0.37) is better than Zdeno Chara (0.36 in 752 games)?  All of those defensemen are better known, more highly respected, or with more awards than Orlov has earned.  In fact, Orlov has only once received votes for any postseason awards, the single fifth-place vote he received for the Norris Trophy in 2016-2017.

And last year was a career year for the 31-year old defenseman with career highs in goals (12), points (35), game-winning goals (four), power play goals (two), matching his career total to that point), and shots on goal (127).  His plus-25 rating was second-best of his career (plus-30 in 2016-2017), his ten even strength goals tied a career best (in 2017-2018), and his 9.4 shooting percentage was second-best of his career (9.6 in 2020-2021). 

Odd Orlov Fact… Dmitry Orlov is only defenseman in Caps history to post more than 50 career goals (57), more than 200 career points (237), a rating better than plus-100 (plus-102), and more than ten game-winning goals (14). 

Fearless’ Take… Orlov occupied an odd place in the compensation tables in 2021-2022.  There were only six defensemen age 28-32 (it was Orlov’s 30-year old season) with cap hits between $4.75 and $5.5 million (Orlov had a $5.1 million cap hit).  Nevertheless, Orlov led that group in goals (12), and was third in points (35) and points per game (0.46).  He was also a quite consistent player on offense over the last four months of the season, averaging at or near a half point per game in each of those four months.  And if he was productive overall, he was productive with a purpose.  The Caps were 10-1-0 in games in which he scored at least one goal, 20-3-2 in games in which he recorded at least one point.  They were 13-3-6 in games in which he skated at least 22 minutes.

Cheerless’ Take… Orlov had one of those seasons with a strange split.  Some players do have different home and road numbers, but fewer have their better numbers on the road.  So it was for Orlov – goals (seven on road, five at home), assists (14/9), points (21/14), plus-minus (plus-21/plus-4) and shooting percentage (11.7/7.5).  This despite averaging 21:07 in ice time at home and 20:48 on the road.  And while Orlov might be a master of the hip check, his hitting was not tied to success.  The Caps were 19-14-7 in those games in which he was credited with two or more hits.  Not that hitting mattered much with Orlov at all; the Caps were 8-6-2 when he was not credited with a hit.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 700 career games (he has 647), would be fourth Caps defenseman to play in 700-plus games (Johansson (983), Carlson, 887), Langway (726))
  • 200 career assists (180, would be eighth Caps defenseman to record 200 assists)
  • 300 career penalty minutes (269)
  • 1,000 career shots on goal (867)

The Big Question… Is this going to be Dmitry Orlov’s last season as a Capital?

According to capfriendly.com, of 26 roster players (including three on injured reserve), the Capitals have 14 on expiring contracts, 11 that would result in unrestricted free agent status for the players.  Dmitry Orlov is in the last year of a contract that will leave him an unrestricted free agent upon its expiration.  It is arguably the most consequential expiring contract on the team.  Orlov has been productive over the last seven seasons (51-155-206, plus-97, in 524 games) and has been durable (only 11 of 535 games missed).  Of 29 defensemen to dress for the Caps over that span, he leads all of them in games played, is second in goals (51), second in assists (155), second in points (206), first in plus-minus (plus-97), first in overtime goals (three), second in game-winning goals (13), fourth in ice time per game (20:28), first in goal differential on-ice at even strength (plus-102), first in credited hits (825), second in blocked shots (600), and second in takeaways (294). 

Orlov is, perhaps, the best two-way defenseman on the team at the moment and might be the best to play for the Caps over the last 20 years.  That he does it in virtual anonymity, largely in the shadow of John Carlson, let alone the rest of the league’s “elite” defensemen.  He is another of those players that coaches can send out on the ice with certain expectations of performance and durability and have them met, allowing them to address other areas needing attention.  One has to wonder how, or even whether, the Caps could replace his skill set and “no drama” sort of game in the near term were he to depart in free agency after this season. 

In the end…

The matter of whether the Caps can or will retain the services of Dmitry Orlov is a matter to get more attention as time goes on, but it will be lurking in the back of the minds of Capitals Nation.  Orlov, with another season like last one, could put the Caps in the position of making a difficult decision – not whether to re-sign him (we think that is pretty much a no-brainer -- but how they will be able to fit him under the salary cap with as many expiring contracts as they have and potentially many spots to fill (not all of which might be filled by in-house prospects).  All things considered, fans should be hoping that the Capitals brain trust is forced to earn their salaries next summer when attention turns to the financial side of the game.  Still, it would be a surprise to us, and an unpleasant one at that, if Orlov was to leave the only NHL organization he has ever known.

Projection: 80 games, 11-27-38, plus-17