Before the Capitals embarked on their make-or-break four-game road trip at the start of last week, we noted a lot was at stake – not only for this season, but shaping the Caps’ roster in the new salary cap world of 2013-14.
By going 3-1-0 on that trip, following a 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh with back-to-back wins in Winnipeg and a shootout victory in New York Sunday night, the Caps inched to within two points of a playoff spot with 16 games to play.
So, with nine days and four games remaining until the April 3 NHL trade deadline, we’ll pose the question again. Should the Caps be buyers, sellers or should they stand pat?
More directly, should they trade Mike Ribeiro, or try to re-sign him?
Ribeiro, 33, is in the final year of a five-year, $25 million contract he signed with the Dallas Stars. He has repeatedly said he wants to remain in Washington. He likely would accept a deal very similar to the one that will expire after this season.
Five years, $25 million.
Actually, because Ribeiro is in the midst of one of his best offensive seasons – he leads the Caps and is ranked eighth in the NHL with 34 points, and is tied for second in the league with 17 power-play points – it’s conceivable he could fetch a contract in the $6 million per year range.
Ribeiro and his agent, Don Meehan, know this. So does Capitals general manager George McPhee and the 29 other NHL general managers who have been calling to gauge the Capitals’ temperature leading up to April 3.
“He’s been traded before, it’s not his first time,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said of Ribeiro, who spent four seasons with the Canadiens and six with the Stars before the Caps acquired him for Cody Eakin and a draft pick at last year’s draft.
“You put [the contract year] in the back of your mind. It’s not always easy. Sometimes guys struggle early and they worry about production.
“Fortunately for him he got points right off the bat and he’s played [good] hockey for us every night, which is great.”
Great for Riberio, great for the Capitals, but at what cost?
Here are six questions facing McPhee and the Capitals as the April 3 deadline approaches:
Question 1: At 33, how does Ribeiro fit into the long-range plan of the team?
Answer: Aside from 20-year-old prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is expected to stay in Russia at least until after the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Capitals do not have a center who is as offensively skilled as Ribeiro.
If the Capitals knew Kuznetsov would join them at the start of next season or were given some assurances he would arrive after the Olympics, they might be willing to trade Ribeiro. But so far they have no assurances when or if Kuznetsov will play in the NHL.
Question No. 2: At 38, will Ribeiro be durable enough at the end of his contract to justify paying him $5 million?
Answer: Not likely. Ribeiro has been very durable throughout his 10-year NHL career, especially when you consider his frail frame, missing no more than 16 games in any season. But to think Ribeiro will be racking up 70-point seasons at age 37 and 38 might be a stretch.
Question No. 3: If the Caps trade Ribeiro, what could they get for him?
Answer: The guess here is a first-rounder for a team near the top of the NHL standings and a second-rounder for a team near the bottom, plus a prospect. If that’s the case the Caps could get a player near the bottom of the first round or near the top of the second round of the June draft, which is considered very deep in talent.
Question No. 5: If they trade Ribeiro while they are on the cusp of the playoffs, what does that tell the fans, not to mention their first-year coach and the other players in the locker room?
Answer: Well, the message is that you’re throwing in the towel on this season and that’s not always an attractive proposition for a team that has made the playoffs in five straight years and has gotten to the second round in three of those years.
Oates clearly likes what Ribeiro brings to this team on the ice and his quirky personality and infectious smile makes him a well-liked player in the locker room. Trading him would look like a white flag.
Question No. 6: What if the Caps keep Ribeiro and are unable to sign him in the offseason? Have they then lost a valuable asset that could have landed them a significant return?
Answer: Yes, and that may be the question weighing heaviest on McPhee’s mind.
For years the Capitals have sought a second-line center who could take some of the pressure off Nicklas Backstrom and Ribeiro has fit the bill. He’s worked just as well with Alex Ovechkin and the Flavor of the Week left wings Oates has used on the top line as he has with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, who are his current linemates.
“He and Backy, they understand the game,” Oates said. “Centerman is the one position where they have to play all four corners of the rink. [Ribeiro] knows how to make reads in every corner. That’s their calling card. Both he and Backy know that and they become mini-coaches as they get older.”
So if you’re the Capitals, what do you do with Ribeiro? Trade him? Re-sign him? Keep him through the end of the season and let him sign elsewhere? Join the conversation below: