Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin had skated together on the Washington Capitals’ top line for more than a month when the star winger and franchise centerpiece offered his initial impressions of the veteran center.
“He’s a great guy,” Ovechkin said on March 8. “I hope we’re gonna sign him for next year. Maybe two, three years. I don’t know. I’m not judge. But you can see the results. He’s right now our best points man on our team, and he gives us results.”
Throughout this abbreviated 48-game season, Ribeiro has been the Capitals’ most consistent performer, their leading scorer who has filled a crucial need for a highly skilled playmaker behind Nicklas Backstrom. For all of his positive contributions to the Capitals, though, Ribeiro’s future with the team is uncertain.
Ribeiro, 33, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. While he’s open to re-signing with Washington, he is seeking a long-term contract, ideally, a four- or five-year deal.
“If we can agree to a long-term then I’ll be more than happy to stay here,” Ribeiro said Sunday. “I don’t know if I’m looking for two years and then change place, then another two years. I don’t think I want that.”
With eight days remaining before the NHL’s trade deadline, Capitals General Manager George McPhee and the rest of the organization’s top brass must decide how to proceed with Ribeiro.
If they view him as a significant piece of the roster puzzle, they’ll likely try to re-sign him before he becomes a free agent on July 5. If not, or if the Capitals don’t believe they can reach an agreement with Ribeiro on a new deal, they could opt to move him before the April 3 trade deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing as a free agent.
Should Ribeiro, who is in the final season of a five-year, $25 million contract he originally signed with the Dallas Stars, test the open market, he could command upward of $6 million per season as one of few top-line centers available this offseason.
Whether the Capitals can afford to let him walk away or trade him, however, is another matter. When Washington acquired Ribeiro in a draft-day trade from Dallas for prospect Cody Eakin and a second-round draft pick last summer, it was to fill a perennial need for center depth.
For three seasons, the Capitals had experimented with several options at center on the second line — including Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Belanger and Brendan Morrison — with little success. Ribeiro brought the skills necessary to balance the forward lines and provide instant offense. His team-high 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) have made it easy to overlook his deficiencies in the faceoff circle (42.5 percent) and his occasional propensity for unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties.
“He solidifies that second-line center [position], which we’ve been looking for for a long time,” said winger Jason Chimera, who has skated on a line with Ribeiro several times this season and sits next to him in the dressing room at the team’s practice facility. “He’s one of those that guys that fills that role perfectly, so he’d be a welcome addition for a lot of years, that’s for sure.”
It’s unknown whether Ribeiro can obtain a four- or five- year deal, given that such a contract wouldn’t conclude until he was 37 or 38 years old. That alone is reason to give any team pause: Only 27 players age 37 or older have suited up for an NHL game this season.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, McPhee has rarely signed a player in his 30s to a contract longer than two years. The only exceptions are right wing Joel Ward, who was 30 when he agreed to a four-year, $12 million deal as a free agent in the summer of 2011; center Michael Nylander, who was 34 in July 2007 when he signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract; and defenseman Tom Poti, who was 30 in July 2007 when he agreed to a four-year, $14 million contract.
For Ribeiro, it’s is a matter of providing stability for his wife and three children, ages 7, 8 and 13. Before this season started, the Montreal native said he was hoping to put down roots in a city to minimize the disruption to their lives.
“Family comes first and if I can get a five-year [contract], then I’m 38. I don’t want to move them. I want to stay in a city for at least the next 10 years, until they’re done with high school and go to college,” Ribeiro said. “For me to be stable somewhere, if we can do that here, I think we’ll be more than happy.”
Ribeiro said the Capitals approached him and his agent, Don Meehan of Newport Sports, a month ago, but given the team’s struggles, he didn’t believe it was the right time to focus on contract negotiations. Now, with the trade deadline approaching and the Capitals two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Ribeiro expects to know over the next few days whether he will have an extended stay in Washington.
“Hopefully I can stay here and sign a long-term deal with them,” Ribeiro said. “We’ll see what happens this week. I think this will be a big week for decisions to be made.”
On Monday, Ovechkin reiterated his support for keeping Ribeiro in a Capitals sweater but restated that it’s not up to him.
“I would love it, but it’s not my job to sign the players or tell to George or somebody else that we have to re-sign them,” Ovechkin said. “It’s their option, but I think he’s good guy for our team and great guy in the locker room and great guy out there too on the ice.”
More on The Capitals:
Boswell: Open window means re-sign Ribeiro
Greenberg: Stats say pass on Ribeiro
Hamilton: How quickly things change
Sunday: Capitals end trip successfully