(photo by Brian Murphy)
For the second year in a row, the Washington Capitals made their biggest splash of the offseason by trading away a draft pick for a veteran player.
Last season, the Caps sent their first-round pick to Chicago for forward Troy Brouwer, who picked up 18 goals and 15 assists for 33 points in his first season in Washington.
This time around, Washington finally landed a true second-line center that the team has lacked — acquiring 32-year-old Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for undersized forward Cody Eakin and a second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.
While shipping off high draft picks in consecutive seasons for established players could be viewed as risky business, these moves show that general manager George McPhee clearly feels his team needs to win sooner rather than later. He’d never admit it publicly, but waiting two or three years for the next wave of talent to crack an NHL roster doesn’t appear to be a luxury GMGM can afford these days.
“We wanted to add a little bit of skill to our lineup,” McPhee said. “I just didn’t like the way we played in the playoffs. We’ve got some big gritty forwards and we just wanted to put another skilled guy in the middle of it to see if it helps. I think it makes our team immediately better.”
Which is why McPhee had no issue pulling the trigger on a deal to acquire a playmaking center with the abilities of Ribeiro. GMGM admitted after the deal was complete that Ribeiro was someone he had targeted for a while and was someone he hoped to pry away from Dallas back at last season’s trade deadline.
“I had been after this player for a while, so we got it done,” he said. “We gave up a real good kid in Cody. He’s going to play a real long time in this league, but Ribeiro will come in and play much higher in the lineup right away.”
Price tag aside, the Capitals were able to add a 12-year-veteran who picked up 407 points in 461 games with the Stars and, just as importantly, has thrived as a first- or second-line center throughout his entire career.
“As you saw last year when Nicky [Backstrom] went down [with an injury], we got thin there,” McPhee said. “Thankfully, Brooks Laich stepped in and played really well and Matty Perreault stepped in and scored 16 goals for us. I just wanted more depth at that position because it’s nice to have a couple of top playmakers there in Backstrom and Ribeiro.”
Over the weekend, Caps fans and the local media got their first chance to meet Ribeiro during the team’s development camp at Kettler Iceplex. During his first media session, Ribeiro said the trade didn’t really come as a surprise.
“I actually kind of knew I was probably going to get traded, I just didn’t know where,” Ribeiro said. “We changed coaches twice and we didn’t make the playoffs the last four years so you figure that the next thing they may do is trade the top salary or the top player, so I was waiting for it and just didn’t know where I was going.”
Once the deal was finalized, Ribeiro said he was excited to land with the Capitals. And while it might take a little time to adjust to playing on a new team with a first-time coach and unfamiliar players, Ribeiro had little trouble envisioning himself in Washington.
“Actually, when I got traded to Dallas, I thought I was going to come here,” Ribeiro said. “Back then, these guys didn’t have Backstrom and I thought I was coming here. Obviously it’s a team with a lot of skill and a lot of talent and I’m here to create. I’m a guy that likes to create so it’s nice to have to guys who can put the puck in the net.”
Ribeiro said the first teammate to reach out to him once the deal was done was captain Alex Ovechkin. It should come as no surprise that he’s already looking forward to taking the ice with The Great 8.
“It’ll be great. That was the first thing that crossed my mind,” Ribeiro said of playing with a player as skilled as Ovechkin. “I like right handers; he’s a right-handed shooter and it will probably be easier for me during the game — it’s easier to give the puck to a guy like that and score.”
While playing alongside an elite talent like Ovechkin is never a bad thing, the person who will likely have the biggest impact on Ribeiro next season is coach Adam Oates.
Oates, you may remember, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this offseason, thanks to a highly-productive 19-year career as a playmaking center. This is not lost on Ribeiro, who said he’s excited to learn from his new coach.
“We’re kind of similar in a sense — he wasn’t that fast, I’m not that fast; he’s a guy that likes to create plays and I’m kind of the same,” Ribeiro said. “Obviously he was probably better than me as passer, but it was nice. It was nice and comfortable, he looks cool and relaxed and really down to earth and I guess for players like us, it’s nice to know that your coach played in the league and knows the game a little bit more. I’m just anxious to come here and learn again. I’ve learned from all my coaches and I’m sure I’m going to learn again.”
Ribeiro has one year left on his contract, which will pay him $5 million this season. Whether or not he’s in Washington beyond that will largely depend on how things go between him and Oates.
If the first-time coach is able to elevate Ribeiro’s game to another level and help him fill the void the Capitals have had up the middle in recent years, it’ll be a safe bet Ribeiro is in town for a while. If not, the player and the team can move on without a high-priced or messy divorce.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.