The day before free agency, Dmitry Orlov signed a six-year, $30.6 million contract with the Capitals that will keep the 25-year-old first-pairing defenseman in Washington until 2024.
On Thursday, Orlov spoke at length with Sport-Express’s Aleksei Shevchenko and the pair covered a variety of issues, including how serious Orlov was about signing with KHL CSKA. Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, said earlier last week that his client came within a day of returning home to Russia.
“CSKA definitely called, but we never said anything concrete to them, since we decided to wait and see what Washington offered,” Orlov said, tamping down his agent’s original comments. “In the end, it all worked out that way. I’m really happy that I got to sign this contract. It’s long-term, so I can breathe a sigh of relief.”
Orlov also revealed that he and his wife Varvara will now buy a house in the Washington DC area and finally stop renting an apartment, which they’ve been doing since the Novokuznetsk native landed in the nation’s capital full time.
Other topics Orlov discussed include what he thought the reasons were behind the Capitals’ second-round loss to the Penguins, his past wrist injury that “did not return to 100 percent,” and why Russia never beats Canada.
Translated by RMNB’s Graham Dumas, the full interview is below.
Your contract with Washington is for more than $30 million with another $12 million as a signing bonus. Is the money already in the bank?
Dmitry Orlov: “There [in the US] the system works a little differently. For the next few years on July 1, the money will come in parts. They don’t ever pay it in one lump sum.”
Dmitry Orlov: “You’ve seen my contract. Every year I get a different amount, but the bonus always comes in earlier.”
Are there any secret clauses in your contract? Any no-trade clauses or anything like that?
Dmitry Orlov: “Before each season, I have to list six teams to which I don’t want to be traded. It wouldn’t be right to name the teams on this years’ list, so I’m not going to comment further on that.”
Obviously the contract is great. But they say you could have returned to [play in the KHL in] Russia; is there any truth to that?
Dmitry Orlov: “CSKA definitely called, but we never said anything concrete to them, since we decided to wait and see what Washington offered. In the end, it all worked out that way. I’m really happy that I got to sign this contract. It’s long-term, so I can breathe a sigh of relief.”
You mean you’re going to take it easy and party?
Dmitry Orlov: “Funny. But no. To the contrary, I understand how serious the upcoming seasons are going to be for me. I have to do everything I can [to ensure] Washington wins the Stanley Cup. I meant more that, for the past two years I haven’t had any certainty in the future. Before last season, I didn’t have a contract and went to the World Cup as a free agent. The same thing happened in May for the World Championship. Now all the uncertainty is over with.”
I know that in the NHL they don’t just pay people for nothing. So, does the team have a guarantee that you won’t lay off the gas?
Dmitry Orlov: “They certainly will. I haven’t spoken to the coaching staff yet about my role on the team. All of that is up ahead, but I understand perfectly well the responsibility that has been placed on me. I will do my best to live up to those expectations. I hope that even next season will end up better [than this one did].”
Everyone laughs at how the Capitals play stunningly in the regular season, but then all these problems arise in the playoffs. Why?
Dmitry Orlov: “Maybe [our opponents] figure us out and prepare really well? I don’t have the answers. Ahead of Game Seven against Pittsburgh, there wasn’t any sort of concern [on the bench]. We were on the upswing: we’d caught up to the Penguins and evened the series. The beginning of the game was going great for us, and then… No one has any explanations. But we definitely have to forget all that and get over our second-round complex.”
So there is a complex?
Dmitry Orlov: “We probably started to develop one. But it’s the sort of thing where you yourself have to forget about it and play calmly, without paying attention to what they write or say about us. We’re a strong team, after all.”
How did you take the loss to Pittsburgh?
Dmitry Orlov: “It was a shock, that’s all I can say. Evgeny Kuznetsov and I had it easier: we joined the Russian National Team and concentrated on something else, which helped us get rid of our dark thoughts. It’s too bad we didn’t win anything in Cologne. A win in [the World Championships] would have healed us for sure.”
When are you going to start training for the next season?
Dmitry Orlov: “I’ve already started. For now, I’m in Moscow. But I’ll head back to Washington about two weeks ahead of camp. There they’ll put us through a graduated workout: on one day you’ll rest, on another you’ll be pushing yourself hard. I already spent all my vacation time on traveling, trying to get rid of all the negative [feelings].”
You went to Italy. I saw you were in Pisa at some point, but it seemed like you didn’t like it.
Dmitry Orlov: “I liked everything there a lot. It’s just it took four hours to get there. Maybe that’s why you thought that. But I had a great time [there] with my wife.”
Where do you live in Washington?
Dmitry Orlov: “Well, after having signed my contract, it’s time to think about buying a house. Up until now, we’ve been renting an apartment.”
Leo Komarov pays $10,000 a month in Toronto. Are the prices that bad in Washington?
Dmitry Orlov: “No way. It’s much, much less. But our housing market is strong. If you buy a house, you don’t have to worry about the price dropping. There are a lot of offers in the District, but I’ve already picked out the neighborhood where I’d like to live. The most important thing is that it not be too far from the [Verizon Center] or [Kettler].”
Is it far now?
Dmitry Orlov: “To [Kettler] it’s about 10 minutes, and about 20 minutes to the arena. But Washington can have traffic jams. Obviously they’re not as bad as those in Moscow, but no one wants to spend their free minutes sitting in a car.”
I’ve noticed that Russian players in the NHL value minutes in particular. Here [in Moscow] we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that you can lose an hour or two.
Dmitry Orlov: “I don’t like to be late, so I’d rather show up ahead of time. But over the course of a long season the last thing you want to do is to waste your time on nonsense. I’d rather spend that time at home, laying on the couch, chilling out.”
How did you spend the five-day vacation that the NHLPA gave you during the regular season?
Dmitry Orlov: “You know, they should really make it next season so that teams coming off of the break don’t go up against teams that have been playing [during that week]. We came off our break, and it really wasn’t easy for us. But the break itself is a great idea. My wife and I went to Aspen. She went skiing, and I just enjoyed the beautiful sights.”
I really liked how your season went. What about you?
Dmitry Orlov: “It was good that I spent the whole season on one level. I didn’t feel like I was losing strength physically, and my previous injury didn’t bother me. But the results just didn’t come.”
You didn’t play a lot on the power play.
Dmitry Orlov: “Well, at the end of the season they started trusting me more. But yes, it’s possible that I didn’t play much on the power play, but that was a decision by the coaches. We had a lot of defensemen who could play on special teams. It’s altogether possible that [the coaches] preferred someone else.”
You already mentioned your injury, but we don’t know the details. You had to miss almost an entire season, right?
Dmitry Orlov: “That was a really tough time for me. I want to say thank you to all those close to me who supported me, but I would never want to go through something like that again. You come into the locker room every day, talk to your teammates, but you never do anything. As for the injury itself, I actually had been hurt before. They put pins in my wrist, and when they took them out, it caused an infection. At some point I realized that it wasn’t healing normally. It was good that the doctors caught the issue, but I can tell you that the pain did not go away without some consequences. My wrist did not return to 100 percent. But I am used to it already, and I feel amazing.”
Which wrist was it?
Dmitry Orlov: “I’m not going to say. But if you didn’t notice it during games, that’s pretty good. How can I put it: it doesn’t prevent me from playing, but I know that the problem is there.”
What was the hardest part of your North American career?
Dmitry Orlov: “Aside from the injury?”
Dmitry Orlov: “The first [few months]. I remember, I came from Russia to Hershey, a small city in America. I didn’t speak the language, I was alone. I remember there was an AHL game going on. I went into the stadium, and said hello to someone. Then I realized it was Dmitri Kugryshev.”
Dmitry Orlov: “But the next year it got a lot harder. Dmitri left, there were no Russians on the team, and what can I say about Hershey?”
It’s a small city.
Dmitry Orlov: “And everyone knows each other. There’s no choice of where to go out or what to do. One time I had a concussion. I was recovering for a long time, and I had no idea what to do with myself. I would go to the locker room and listen to the guys, which, by the way, is how I learned English.”
You don’t score often, but your goals are beautiful. Any thought of moving up to forward?
Dmitry Orlov: “I used to play forward, but that was a long time ago. Probably before I went into the MHL [Russia’s version of the AHL]. I’ve got some skills, but you don’t get that many opportunities to play forward. Besides, Washington has people to score goals.”
Did it take you long to get used to the North American style of play?
Dmitry Orlov: “You know what surprised me? We’re all used to how everyone hits each other here. But the coaches told me, to the contrary, that it’s not worth hitting people for the sake of hitting them, that is, that hits are not the most important thing.”
Nikita Zaitsev got a really good piece of advice when he arrived in North America. He got a lot of advice, but I remember one thing in particular: if the puck is going toward the net, you have to work your legs; you can’t ever let the forward get around you.
Dmitry Orlov: “That’s right. Another difference [between Russian and North American play] is that the coaches here really sharpened by focus on stick work. You should always have quick hands, you should always be focused on the puck, so as not to give the other player a chance to shoot, get away from you, or deke.”
Everyone in the NHL is talking about Connor McDavid’s contract. They say his nickname on the team is Jesus. I saw him at the World Cup, too. What do you think, is he really a genius?
Dmitry Orlov: “He’s a really talented guy who can do whatever he wants with the puck when he’s moving at very high speed. He earned his contract.”
You’ve played against him. What was it like?
Dmitry Orlov: “Yeah, we played against him. Once he scored on us. It seemed like the forwards were coming in two-on-two, but they both got around us, and it was a two-on-none. The only consolation was that we weren’t the only ones to fall for that trick. But with Connor, you need to pay attention and be extremely careful.”
What do you need to work on in your game? Just don’t tell me you have to work on everything, that’s boring. Is there anything that you need to work on particularly hard?
Dmitry Orlov: “You know what? I have got to get rid of my habit of always needing to adjust my uniform, especially my elbow pads. The guys on the team already make fun of me for that. I don’t even know if it’s because something’s bothering me, or if I do it subconsciously. Sometimes, of course, you have to correct them, but not that often.”
Finally, when are we going to beat Canada? We lost at the World Cup, and at the World Championships. It’s gotten old.
Dmitry Orlov: “We played pretty well against them in Toronto and Cologne. They had a couple of breakthrough moments that kept us from winning. But probably the reason [for losing] lies deeper. It’s not news for me to say that we need to strengthen our youth development system. We need to clean up youth hockey, so that the young kids have a chance to develop. When that happens, it will impact professional play as well.”
Translation by Graham Dumas
Headline photo: Rob Carr
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