The case for trading Mike Ribeiro

Ribeiro Lays a Hard Check on Wideman

Mike Ribeiro (Dallas Stars) Lays a Hard Check on Dennis Wideman (Washington Capitals). Photo credit: clydeorama

The following is one half of a point/counterpoint pair of posts. Ryan Boushell, who leans more toward re-signing Ribeiro, has posted his view on his blog, Rocking the Red in Pittsburgh.

If the Washington Capitals can re-sign center Mike Ribeiro, preferably before the April 3 trade deadline, for two years at close to the $5 million he currently makes per season, they should do so with little hesitation. But, with the supply of first and second line centers in the 2013 free agent market already looking thin and Ribeiro putting up the best numbers of his career, the 33 year-old can likely do better in both dollars and years if he waits and tests the market this summer. This could be his last chance at a big, multi-year payday before signing some smaller contracts in his late thirties.

As well as Ribeiro has played this season, this type of ‘big payday’ contract is something the Caps should avoid in this case. Signing Ribeiro for 4+ years at $5 to $6 million per year, for example, could give a Washington team with large financial commitments to Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green even less room to maneuver in the future and would mean they’d have Ribeiro under contract until he’s at least 37.

Chances are Ribeiro won’t continue to put up the numbers he is right now for many more years. He’s posted 1.10 points per game this season through Tuesday’s loss in Pittsburgh, while averaging 0.77 per game since joining the NHL in 1999. Only once before has Ribeiro averaged over a point per game for an entire season, back in 2007-08 with the Dallas Stars, and he’s likely to face a decline in production over the coming years now that he’s reached his mid-thirties.

There is the outside chance that Ribeiro could prove his career averages wrong and continue to produce at his current level for a couple or few more years. But the Caps might also be able to get solid production from a less expensive veteran or a slightly younger player in that role, without having to take on the larger risk of a long-term deal, while also freeing up a million or so in cap space to spend on other needs.

Additionally, toward the end of any long-term deal given to Ribeiro, Caps prospect Filip Forsberg—who will likely join the team for 2014-15 season—could be pushing him for second line center minutes, depending on how quickly Forsberg adjusts to the NHL. By that point, Ribeiro could be tough to move at $5 to $6 million per year if his production has dipped.

So, if the Caps can sign Ribeiro to a reasonable two or perhaps a three-year deal prior to April 3, that’s one thing. Signing him ‘at all costs’ and for several years at around or well above what he makes now is another story.

If the Caps wait until the summer, they’re likely to overpay for Ribeiro, provided they’re able to keep him at all given the competition they’re likely to see from other buyers. And, unless he’s really enjoying Washington and sees a great future for himself with the organization that outweighs money, Ribeiro would be foolish not to play the free agency game before deciding to return to D.C. All of this creates an interesting situation for the Caps as April 3 approaches.

At no other time of year do NHL general managers give up more for players than they do at the annual trade deadline, as teams attempt to bolster their roster for the final stretch of the regular season and the playoffs. A solid second line center having a season like Ribeiro could bring a rather large return, such as a first or second round draft pick and a prospect or roster player, for example.

Another factor to consider is that with other free-agent-to-be centers Ryan Getzlaf now signed to an extension by the Ducks and the Panthers’ Stephen Weiss out for the remainder of the season with an injury, the market for Ribeiro is likely even better now than it was just a few weeks ago. If ever there were an opportunity for the Caps to sell high, this is it.

But, even though getting back big assets for a guy you might need to overpay going forward is attractive, the Caps should have a solid plan in mind to fill the hole that will be left at second line center for 2013-14 before they deal Ribeiro. There are several ways the team can do this.

Given the lack of top-tier, NHL-ready centers in the Caps system and a very young Forsberg still a year away from coming to the U.S., an immediate replacement for Ribeiro will almost certainly need to come from outside the Caps’ system.

One way to do this is through free agency but, as mentioned above, the pool for legitimate, second line centers looks thin this off-season and, just as some general managers tend to overpay in assets at the trade deadline, teams often have to overspend in dollars to land the most in-demand free agents each summer. Unless the Caps can find a veteran with a good year or two left in him, which is certainly a possibility, or come up big in the bargain bin, the best way for the Caps to replace Ribeiro might be the way they brought him to DC: via an off-season trade.

In one of the more ideal scenarios, the Caps could sell high on Ribeiro in the next two weeks to a team looking to make a run at the Cup this year and then trade for a center this summer when they might be able to give up a little less than teams normally do at the deadline. And through a trade, the Caps might find someone toward the end of a deal whose salary is less than what Riberio’s will be next season.

The Caps also might be able to find an offensive-minded center that comes without Ribeiro’s temper and penchant for complaining to the referees, which has resulted in three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in 29 games this season. His latest allowed the New York Islanders to score the game winning goal back on March 9.

Now, don’t get me wrong here as I map out these options for a Caps team without Ribeiro. It would be great to see the Caps keep the best second line center they’ve had in years, provided he cuts back on smashing his stick and yelling at refs when he doesn’t agree with a call. But the conditions under which it make sense to keep him, on a fairly short-term deal at close to the salary he currently makes, appear to be somewhat unlikely. And if the packages being offered for Ribeiro at the trade deadline get so valuable due to a bidding war—for example, two or three solid assets via a combination of picks and players—it might make sense for the Caps to unload him even if re-signing him to a short-term deal at his current salary is possible.

While Ribeiro’s numbers would be great to have again next season, balance between present and future is critical to maintaining a competitive roster season after season. If through smart trades now, the Caps can better set up their team for success the season after next—when Forsberg and highly-touted prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov will likely join a team that might already have prospect Tom Wilson with a year of NHL experience under his belt—they need to seriously consider it.

Next season should in no way be written-off though. The Caps need to find an approach where they can compete and have a shot at a long playoff run next year, but without committing to too many big contracts that could handcuff the franchise three or so years from now. A large, long-term contract for a 33 year-old having a career year like Ribeiro sends up red flags in this department.

But all present vs. future strategy and other complexities aside, if re-signing Ribeiro to a responsible deal isn’t looking likely and the Caps playoff chances appear bleak as April 3 approaches, he must be dealt. There’s simply too much to be gained at the deadline to risk letting Ribeiro just walk this summer while getting nothing in return.

For the counterpoint to this, see Ryan Boushell’s post, “To Trade or Not to Trade…”

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About Mike Holden

Mike Holden is a blogger and communications professional who also writes at mikeholden.com. He can be found on Twitter at @mikeholden. Read more of his sports writing.

Posted on March 20, 2013, in NHL, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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