Mike Ribeiro had a choice over the summer. He could have accepted the Capitals’ contract offer of three years and roughly $14 million, or he could uproot his family after one year in Washington and dive into the free-agent market.
He chose to uproot and dive into the four-year, $22 million contract offered by the Phoenix Coyotes.
Tonight at Jobing.com Arena, Ribeiro will face the Capitals for the first time since making that decision on July 5.
“You make choices,” said Capitals left wing Jason Chimera, who on Friday signed a two-year contract extension that will likely allow him to retire in D.C. “Teams let go of players as quickly as players let go of teams.
“I think it goes both ways. It’s kind of the bad part about sports. Sometimes you lose some good friends along the way and you wish you could play with them longer, but that’s part of the business.”
When the Caps lost Ribeiro, they waited most of the summer to replace him, finally settling on a one-year, $3 million contract for Mikhail Grabovksi. Through 17 games, Ribeiro has five goals, six assists and is a minus-1 while averaging 19 minutes a game.
Grabovski, who eight games into the season was dropped from the Caps’ second line to the third, has five goals and nine assists and is a plus-3 while averaging 15:58 a game on a line with Chimera and Joel Ward.
Although he spent just one season in Washington, Ribeiro was a popular player in the Caps’ locker room. Chimera said he had a positive influence on many of the Caps' younger players, especially Marcus Johansson, who has taken Ribeiro's spot him on the Caps' second line.
Ribeiro finished last season fifth in the NHL with 36 assists and his 49 points in 48 games was second on the Caps, behind only Alex Ovechkin.
In an interview on Friday, Ribeiro had some interesting things to say about playing alongside the Capitals’ 28-year-old captain, who is tied for second in the NHL with 13 goals in 14 games.
“It was great,” Ribeiro said. “He’s still a kid. He’s still learning how to play the game. A lot of shooters, they like to shoot and it takes time for them to learn all the other parts of the game, but [he’s] a great shooter and a great player to play with.”
Ribeiro said he offered some shooting advice to Ovechkin when he was struggling to find the back of the net at the start of last season.
“I actually told him to stop shooting high and try to go 5-hole a few times,” Ribeiro said. “And he started shooting 5-hole. The thing there is that a lot of people are scared to talk to him because he’s such a big [star] and I don’t really care. I was just telling him what I thought and it helped him to change a bit, to give different looks to goalies.”
Ribeiro’s best offensive outburst for the Coyotes came from Oct. 10-22 when he recorded five goals and four assists and the Coyotes went 5-0-2. In the Coyotes’ other 10 games Ribeiro has just two assists.
Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth said he and the rest of the Caps need to be aware of Ribeiro at all times tonight.
“He’s a great player,” Neuvirth said. “Great hands and he’s got great patience. Every time he’s on the ice we need to be aware of him. A really funny guy, a great teammate. We really miss him, but it’s a business. It’s good for Phoenix, but no friendships on the ice.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates agreed, saying the sight of Ribeiro will probably bring some smiles to his players during warmups tonight.
“It’s always fun to play your old team,” Oates said. “There will be some butterflies [for Ribeiro] and smiles and nods from the guys during warmups, and when the puck drops, hopefully we beat him.”