Center Mike Ribeiro spent one spectacular season with the Washington Capitals, but became an unrestricted free agent on July 5 and quickly signed with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Caps will miss his talented play in the 2013-14 NHL season, but to what extent?
Everyone knows why Ribeiro wasn’t re-signed to a new contract earlier this year. The 33-year-old was looking for a five-year deal in an effort to finish his career in Washington and keep his family rooted. However, the Capitals’ elite knew that it wasn’t going to happen (not without a bunch of trades and juggling), and general manager George McPhee made it official.
Popular with the fans, McPhee endured some colorful rebuttal for his decision regarding Ribeiro, but there was no alternative for the GM. There was no way that McPhee was going to take a chance on giving a long-term deal to a guy who’d be 38 by the end of his contract. No way. McPhee never hands more than three years to a 30-something-year-old.
The math didn’t add up for McPhee when he looked at the available cap space given that he had a few younger players still to sign. So, “Ribs” (as he was affectionately labeled by the D.C. faithful) packed his bags and headed to Arizona on a four-year, $22 million contract. Clearly, the GM in Phoenix believes Ribeiro is worth the risk. Given how Ribeiro played for the Caps, there is plenty of evidence to prove that he can shine in Phoenix.
Last season, Ribeiro was one of the main reasons the Caps turned their struggling season around and made the playoffs for the sixth-straight year. He played a significant role on a Capitals power play that produced an NHL-best 26.8 percent conversion rate. Six of Ribeiro’s 13 goals last year came on those power plays on the way to one of his best seasons in the league. He’s topped 50 points in a season on eight occasions, and during last season’s shortened campaign, he chalked up 49 points, including 36 assists. Had the season featured 82 games, he was destined to hit the 90-point mark.
However, he’s gone—and he may or may not match those numbers in Phoenix. Also questionable is how the newly-signed Mikhail Grabovski, 29, will do as the Caps’ second-line center. The former Toronto Maple Leaf signed a one-year, $3 million deal on Aug. 23 coming off of a fairly mediocre season for the Leafs. He scored 16 points including nine goals over his 48 games with Toronto last year.
Grabovski needs to return to his best form to avoid McPhee’s inbox being hit with one million “I told you so” emails. During the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Grabovski tallied up a combined points total of 109 points including 52 goals. He’ll need to rekindle that flame.
If “Grabs” (as he will probably be affectionately labeled by the D.C. faithful) can get back to his earlier output, if he gels well with his fellow second liners (likely Troy Brouwer and Martin Erat) and if he can produce points on the power play, then the Capitals won’t miss “Ribs” too much. Otherwise… McPhee will hear about it — since he’s the guy that all Caps fans love to hate.