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Rink Roundtable: Who’s Next?

Now that Strome and Milano have new deals, who should the front office tackle next?

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Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

With the Caps enjoying their Bye Week, we’re sifting through some burning questions facing this team as they head into the stretch run of the season. First up, delving into the latest contract extensions for the Caps and who should get the next deal.

With new deals handed out to Dylan Strome and Sonny Milano over the weekend, the Caps now have 10 players on the current roster who are set to become UFAs this summer (Eller, Hathaway, Sheary, Johansson, Aube-Kubel, Orlov, Jensen, TvR, Gustafsson, and Irwin). Which one of those players would you say is the top priority to re-sign?

Luke: By far the most important player they have to re-sign is Dmitry Orlov or Nick Jensen, hopefully both. They are top-three defensemen and important to the Caps success going forward, especially over the next three seasons while Alexander Ovechkin is still around. They both have their plus and negatives. Orlov, a drafted, developed, and overall great two-way defender, has put in his time with the Caps, and it would suck to see him gone. He’s also almost a year younger than Jensen (Orlov will be 32 start of next season, Jensen will be 33). But what Jensen loses in being a year older he makes up with speed and having less tread on his tires. Orlov played his first full NHL season at the age of 20 (60 games) and has played 680 games to date. Jensen didn’t play his first full season until he was 26 (49 games) and has only played 460 games to date. And as stated earlier, he also has speed, something the Caps desperately lack. Hopefully this doesn’t come down to an either/or situation and both are signed to team friendly deals. Orlov probably wants to stick to the only team he ever played with and he also has a couple of Russian buddies (one of whom is chasing a NHL record) and Jensen isn’t flashy and also probably wants to stick with something stable. Here’s to keeping both!

Alex: I agree with Luke on Dmitry Orlov, both because I think he is an important part of Washington’s system and because he’s a homegrown Cap and it would be sad to watch him play somewhere else. The Caps will struggle to replace some of these UFAs (because keeping all of them is not in the cards) but I think Orlov will be the hardest to replace by far. The Capitals have been struggling lately, especially with the injury to John Carlson. Orlov has had injury woes of his own, but when he is healthy and on his game he is Washington’s most complete defender. I don’t think they can afford to lose him next season. Just for fun, my honorable mentions for this question: Conor Sheary and Garnet Hathaway.

J.P.: Instead of answering who the Caps’ top priority to re-sign is (since Luke and Alex nailed it - it’s Orlov), I’ll tell you who they need to be the most wary of re-signing: Nick Jensen and Erik Gustafsson. Let me first say that both players have been great in their time in D.C., particularly this season, whether in a complementary role or stepping up in the absence of Carlson and/or Orlov. But that level of play might well price them out of the Caps’ plans. Both blueliners are on the wrong side of 30 and will be looking to cash in on career years (Jensen in points and minutes, Gustafsson in… okay, he was better for Chicago in 2018-19, but still).

Put another way, The Athletic pegs the market values of Jensen’s and Gustafsson’s play this season at $5.5M and $7.9M, respectively, and while no one would expect them to re-sign at those numbers, it’s an indication that they may well be too expensive for the Caps to consider on extensions for them. Obviously there are deals for both players that would make sense for Washington. But Brian MacLellan and his staff have done a terrific job of identifying undervalued free agents (like Gustafsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the blueline currently), and should roll the dice on those low-risk/medium-to-high-reward types rather than paying a premium for past overperformance.

The Peerless: Orlov. There is not another defenseman like him in the pipeline who can contribute consistently at both ends of the ice and do so without being flashy. I’m not a fan of big free agent signings, and this team really cannot afford it. The only thing that would concern me is term. Orlov will be 32 when next season starts. If term gets out to the 5+ year range, I’d be concerned about value on the back end. Among forwards, I’d like to see Sheary re-upped. Versatile, consistent in terms of effort, can play on any line on either side.