There was much rejoicing in and around the greater Washington area. Orlov, almost indisputably the Capitals’ most improved player over the previous season, has become a reliable fixture on Washington’s top pairing along with Matt Niskanen, and the move helped shore up a Capitals blue line that had been decimated by the twin devils of Free Agency and the Expansion Draft. With Iron Man Karl Alzner departing to fields plus verts in Montreal and Nate Schmidt sucked into the gaping maw of GM George McPhee and Vegas, Washington turned to Orlov.
The Capitals are betting hard on Orlov, hoping that the young Russian can not only sop up high-value defensive minutes like a back-checking Brawny paper towel, but also (presumably) quarterback the top power-play unit and even kill some penalties. Orlov earned the contract through hard work after a somewhat tumultuous young career, and the Capitals rewarded him big time.
Now, all that remains to be seen is if he’s worth it.
It’s been an off-season of big defensive signings around the league. So, how does Orlov’s deal compare to those signed by other similar blueliners this summer?
Let’s take a look-see!
Washington Capitals | 26 years old | 6 years x $5.1 million AAV
A few cold, hard, vital facts jump out about Orlov.
First, he is both the oldest and the most experienced player on this list. His five active seasons in the NHL are more than any other defenseman here, and Orlov has certainly seen his share of ups and downs during that time.
His 0.33 points per game over his career is the second-fewest on this list (ahead of only fellow relative old man Brian Dumoulin), and barely more than half the rate of group leader and offensive firebrand Shayne Gostisbehere (0.60). Orlov’s offensive point-shares, however, jump him up to second on this list - again, behind Gostisbehere - and his defensive point-shares have him leading the group by a mile (13.5 to second-place Parayko’s 10.4).
It should be noted, though, that if you only consider the last two seasons - in which Orlov’s play has dramatically improved - his points/60 total skyrockets to 1.11, good for 8th in the entire NHL among defensemen and most on this list.
No other player on this list drove possession in 2016-2017 for his team as much as Orlov, too. His Corsi-For percentage relative to his teammates (that is, how much possession tilted for or against his team when that player was on versus off the ice) led all Capitals defensemen at 4.5%, and trailed only Andre Burakovsky among all Washington skaters. For reference, Shayne Gostisbehere came in second among this group at just 3.4%, and Nikita Zaitsev brought up the rear at -1.8%.
Orlov also led this group in primary assists/60. His even-strength 0.59 rate was good for 6th in the entire NHL among defensemen. The one thing the firebrand Russian doesn’t do much of, despite having one of the very best slapshots on the Capitals (hello, sexy Oshie one-legged slapper) is shoot. Orlov’s 4.65 shots per game in ‘16-’17 put him fourth of the six players listed here.
In his final season, Orlov will be 31 years old and making $5.1 million.
Philadelphia Flyers | 24 years old | 6 years x $4.5 million AAV
What can you say about Sugar Shayne Gostisbehere that Philadelphia fans haven’t already tried and failed to express with emojis?
Gostisbehere is the most potent offensive weapon on this list, with a career mark of 0.60 points per game that puts him easily ahead of the other skaters by a full 28%. He also leads the group in career shooting percentage, offensive point-shares per game, shots per game, and goals per game (a statistic in which he more than doubles the nearest challenger, Colton Parayko).
It appears that the Flyers don’t yet trust the young American much on defense, however. In 2016-17, Gostisbehere led the entire team in offensive zone start percentage (69%, nice) while getting the call to defend his own defensive zone fewer times than any other player on the roster. Given that Gostisbehere led this group of newly-signed defensemen - ranked eighth among NHL defensemen - in individual Corsi events per 60 (basically, shots-for minus shots-against) at 13.85, it remains to be seen whether Ghost Bear is simply out-gunning his opponents at the expense of defense, or if Philadelphia should be deploying a stout blueliner better.
In his final season, Gostisbehere will be 29 years old and making $4.5 million.
Carolina Hurricanes | 23 years old | 7 years x $5.3 million AAV
The youngest player on this list, Jaccob Slavin may be just 23 years old, but the fresh-faced American has made quite an impression on the Hurricanes in his two seasons in the league.
If there’s one thing Slavin knows how to do, it’s get defensive. He’s positively locked down the Carolina blue line like an accurately-tracked tropical storm. Since he joined the league in 2015-16, no other player on this list has faced such difficult assignments or been deployed so fearlessly by his coach. Slavin has taken just 31.3% of his face-offs in the offensive zone, making him the least-sheltered player on this list. The most sheltered? Gostisbehere (who is the single most sheltered defenseman in the NHL over the past two years), and Orlov.
Slavin has faced brutal competition early on in his career, finding himself dropped via a cruel stork into the Metropolitan Division, the NHL’s mid-Atlantic thunderdome-cum-slaughterhouse. In fact, according to HockeyAnalysis.com, no other defenseman in the NHL has faced tougher competition. Slavin’s Opposition Goals For Percentage (that is, the goals-for percentage that his opposition amasses when not playing against Slavin) is a league-leading 51.3%. When the same opposition faces Slavin, that percentage plummets like a bad stock to just 45%. Oh, and that difference in percentage is also the largest in the NHL.
There is, perhaps, a reason why Slavin’s deal is the richest on this list, worth a total of $37.1 million over 7 years, despite having just two years of experience.
In his final season, Slavin will be 30 years old and making $5.3 million.
St. Louis Blues | 24 years old | 6 years x $4.7 million AAV
Alberta’s own, Colton Parayko does one particular task exceedingly well: move the puck. Parayko has only been in the league for two years, but over those two years no other player on this list as amassed a higher Primary Assists/60 rate than his 0.58 clip. In fact, he trails only KHL-bound Andrei Markov (and who wouldn’t want out of Montreal, amirite?) and Washington’s John Carlson(!) among all NHL defensemen. What’s more, his Points/60 (1.06) puts him second on this list behind only Dmitry Orlov, and his 31 assists in 2016-2017 was just one behind group leaders Gostisbehere and Zaitsev at 32.
Parayko is a force on the power play, too. He has more Goals/60 on the power play over the last two years (1.57) than any player on this list, likely due the to the fact that he shoots more on the power play (14.37 shots/60) than any other player on this list.
He convincingly drives possession at even strength, too. His teammates (when sans Parakyo) post an average Corsi-For percentage of 50.1%, essentially dead even in possession. When Parayko is on the ice with them, that number leaps to 53.0%, solidly driving play.
In most other statistics (both offensive and defensive), Parayko is squarely middle of the pack, both among this group and in the NHL at large.
In his final season, Parayko will be 28 years old and making $5.5 million.
Pittsburgh Penguins | 25 years old | 6 years x $4.1 million AAV
In the Mad Men-style marketing meeting in Pittsburgh about Brian Dumoulin, filterless cigarette smoke intermingled with scotch and Heinz yellow mustard, and advertising executives tried out buzz words.
“Dude is old as sin in playoff experience but still young of flesh.”
The final one is closest to the truth. Dumoulin, who has two Stanley Cup championships to his name courtesy of two of the most excruciatingly painful playoff eliminations in Washington Capitals history, is a no-nonsense, few-frills, steak-and-eggs type of defenseman.
It’s true: if you’re looking for sizzle and Snapchat filters, Dumoulin ain’t it. Among this group, Dumoulin brings up the distant rear in nearly every offensive category. Points-, goals-, assists-, and shots-per-game? Dumoulin’s last in all of them. In fact, among NHL defensemen who have played at least 1500 even-strength minutes over the last two seasons, Dumoulin is dead last in shooting percentage. In his entire NHL career, Dumoulin has taken 405 shots, put 186 of those on net, and scored just two goals.
But what you get with Dumoulin is a blueliner who knows how to turn it on in the playoffs. The American has appeared in 54 total Stanley Cup playoff games, leading this group and putting his total a full 43% beyond second-place challenger Colton Parayko. His 0.20 assists per game in the playoffs put him comfortably second among this list, and when combined with his 0.26 points per game in the playoffs, makes him the only player among the group whose offensive production increases during the crunch time of the playoffs.
Sure, maybe he ain’t sexy. But those shiny diamond championship rings sure are.
In his final season, Dumoulin will be 30 years old and making $4.1 million.
Toronto Maple Leafs | 25 years old | 7 years x $4.5 million AAV
The only true NHL rookie on this list, Zaitsev spent five seasons developing in the KHL before making the move to North America. He made an immediate impact with the Maple Leafs, playing all 82 games and trailing only Jake Gardiner in points (36) among Toronto defensemen.
Zaitsev does take a fair amount of penalties. His 38 PIM in 2016-2017 were the most in a single season of the entire careers of any of the six players in this group, behind only Dmitry Orlov’s 51 PIM last season. He also posted a fairly abysmal -1.8% Corsi-For percentage relative to his teammates, but he was entrusted with very difficult minutes; he and defensive partner Roman Polak had the highest defensive zone start percentage among Leafs blueliners. In fact, Zaitsev took a higher percentage of his face-offs in the defensive zone (35.1%) than any other player on this list.
Of course, like all Russians (including Orlov), Zaitsev had the option to return to the KHL if he and the Maple Leafs were unable to come to terms on a new contract, but Zaitsev’s agent Dan Milstein claims, “While we did have offers to come back to the KHL, it was never an option. [Zaitsev] bought a one-way ticket to come to the National Hockey League and he wanted to stay here.”
Don’t let L’Homme Nikita’s status as a “rookie” fool you. He is an experienced professional defenseman, and the Leafs intend to lean on him to allow their talented young offense to soar.
In his final season, Zaitsev will be 31 years old and making $4.5 million.
Now you’ve got some background on just who these players are, what they command on the open market, and how Orlov and his deal stack up to them.
All told, only two players on this list (Slavin and Zaitsev) signed deals worth more total money than Orlov. But with Orlov at or near the top of the pack in most offensive categories, and with his defense rapidly improving over the last two seasons, Capitals fans can feel pretty good about the deal GM Brian MacLellan scored with Dmitry.
It’s a winner. And hopefully, the Caps will be too.