As much as we are one big, happy Rink family, the shocking fact is that we don't always agree on everything about the Caps - so throughout the season we'll present mini-roundtables, with each of us weighing in on a pressing question or issue facing the team, a player or the League as a whole. Next up, a look at the Mike Ribeiro situation.
The trade deadline is just days away and there’s one question dominating all others... should the Caps trade Mike Ribeiro at the deadline?
Becca: I’ve probably changed my mind about a hundred times on this question, but right now I don’t see trading Ribeiro as being a viable option - I think they should take their chances and try to re-sign him.
The potential term and money demands are a little scary, especially with the cap going down next year, but the fact is that this is a need the Caps have had for way too long. I’m tired of waiting for Evgeny Kuznetsov or Filip Forsberg to come over; even if they do so soon, there’s no guarantee that either will be able to fit that role right away (if at all). I’m tired of making do with Marcus Johansson or Mathieu Perreault, neither of whom has used their chances in that position to impress me (or the team, clearly). Ribeiro is someone we know fits in the lineup, whether or not his current numbers are sustainable. He can be a good bridge, someone to ease the pressure on the prospects if/when they get here - why trade someone away and create yet another need when there’s a chance the guy you’ve already got can fill that need for the immediate future?
The Caps may not be just a piece or two away from regaining their contender status, but there’s no way to even take a step forward from where they are now without filling that 2C role that has been open for years. Improving a team means signing good players, and Ribeiro is a good player who can help them get back to where they were not so long ago.
To be honest I don’t think the Caps will look to move him... and not just because they agree with my brilliant opinion. Yes, the available pool of rental players at this year’s deadline is incredibly shallow (especially at center) and in theory that should increase Ribeiro’s trade value. But in a salary cap world, the deadline has increasingly become a day where contending teams add complementary pieces and not much else happens - teams that are contenders already have their top two centers and teams on the fringe are less likely to mortgage the future on a pricey rental in order to move up a spot or two in the standings. I just don’t see the Caps moving him, especially as they sit just one point out of a playoff spot themselves, unless the return is mind-blowing.
JP: Anyone who thinks there’s an easy answer to this question is kidding themselves. Putting aside for a moment the difficulty in responding to it without more specifics on what it would take to keep him than "he isn't interested in a short-term contract" and what the potential return for him might be, there are two facts staring George McPhee et. al. square in the face: first of all, alongside Nicklas Backstrom, Ribeiro gives the Caps the most credible one-two punch down the middle that they’ve had since the guy behind the bench was taking face-offs for them .That point looms large when you think about playing in a new division that includes the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, the Staals in Carolina, Claude Giroux in Philly, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan in Manhattan, and John Tavares on the Island, among others and you think about doing so with a number one center who missed half of last season with a concussion history. Plain and simple, the Caps need a number two center who can be a number one center for stretches and play like it for others.
The second reality is that while Ribeiro has been a pretty dominant player on the power play (and if not for the resurgent power play, where would the Caps be right now), he’s been pretty pedestrian at five-a-side in terms of production and downright poor in terms of puck possession, for those who are believers in the importance of such things (and that 42.6% in the dot ain’t pretty either).
And he turned 33-years-old last month.
Frankly, the age doesn’t scare me as much as it does some. Sergei Fedorov, for example, was 38 when the Caps traded for him in 2008, and they got a solid season-plus out of him (when he played). Granted, Ribeiro is no Fedorov in terms of his 200-foot game... but then again, near-retirement Feds didn’t have anything close to the offensive tool-set that 2013’s Ribeiro does.
My bigger concern is the cost, especially with the cap going down and the Caps having significant contractual commitments already on the books. With the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million next year, the team has 16 players locked up for next year and $14.7 million left to fill out the roster, and that includes re-signing Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson and deciding what to do with a second goalie slot, among other moves. Can they adequately do it if Ribeiro is taking up well over one-third of that $14.7m (as he would even if he maintained his current $5m cap hit)? Even if the cap bounces back up in 2014-15 and beyond, it gets tougher. Of course (and to circle back), without Ribeiro in the fold, you can once again add "second-line center" to the top of the Caps’ needs list, and those guys are neither cheap nor plentiful on the free agent market (which is a good thing when you’re a seller, as the Caps may be, but not so much when you’re a buyer).
Ultimately, my decision on this question comes down to whether or not this team can be truly competitive - contending for a Cup - within the next two or three years, a reasonable time frame to expect relatively similar play (though not necessarily production) for a guy like Ribeiro. If so, it’s worth biting the bullet and figuring out the rest along the way. If not, it’s time to cash in the most attractive and realistic trade asset the team has had since 2003-04 and re-tool things a bit.
Right now, it doesn’t look as if the Caps are all that close. Trade Ribeiro.
Geoff: The Capitals cannot trade Mike Ribeiro prior to the April 3rd NHL Trade Deadline because of their team’s standing in the Eastern Conference and the recent number two center struggles in the District. With three points in two nights Washington is only four points behind the Southeast Division leading Winnipeg Jets (who have played one more game than Washington) and a single point out of the East’s eighth slot. Moving Ribeiro early this week would signal a forfeit, a hands-in-the-air swan song to the regular season’s final thirteen games. As it stands, two games could tie the division leader and an overtime loss is all that separates Washington from an eighth seed playoff bid.
Over the past five years Capitals fans have grown accustomed to a revolving door on the second line, pivots from veteran Sergei Fedorov to greenhorn Marcus Johansson occupying the spot for up to months at a time. Ribeiro was brought in to provide a long-term solution to the carousel on the second forward trio, traded from the Dallas Stars during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for prospect Cody Eakin and a second round selection (Mike Winther, 54th). The trade has benefitted both teams, Washington able to secure a lethal scoring second line while the Stars have been reaping the rewards of a young (and tenacious) Eakin. Ribeiro paces the Capitals with 35 points in 35 games, the only Washington skater averaging a point per game.
Trading Ribeiro by Wednesday’s deadline would put the Capitals back to where they were at the end of 2012, an above average team with significant holes that were often masked, instead of repaired. Ribeiro makes Washington wingers Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer twice as difficult to defend, opposing players needing to be cognizant of Ribeiro’s ability to distribute to the big power forwards. By possessing the puck and dictating play around the opposition’s net Ribeiro has improved Brouwer’s offensive output tremendously (13G in 33GP this year, 18G in 82GP last year). Would the departure of Ribeiro damage the second line beyond the pivot’s own 35 points?, I sure think so.
Keeping Ribeiro around does make two unfavorable outcomes possible, the first being that the Capitals could fail to make the playoffs despite refusing to reap Ribeiro’s trade rewards and/or that Washington could also lose Ribeiro to Free Agency in the offseason. However, the juice remains worth the squeeze in 2013 after the weekend’s winnings because General Manager George McPhee’s team is too close to throw in the towel before the regular season’s final month of play. Look for McPhee to eye Ribeiro closely throughout April (and hopefully May) and have a pen and paper ready for the pivot to sign a contract extension when the season comes to its close.
Kareem: It depends on what your expectations are. If you’re adamant that the Caps must make the playoffs every year, regardless of whether they can win the Stanley Cup, keep Ribeiro. If you’re a believer that the Caps are currently in no-man’s-land and that their next window of true Stanley Cup opportunity opens up when Forsberg, Kuznetsov, and whatever spoils of trading Ribeiro can land you, then trade him. Since I’m a believer that you play to win the Cup - not solely make the playoffs - I’m of the opinion that the team trade Ribeiro (provided the return is solid).
So why do I feel this way? Mike Ribeiro is going to ask for no less than 4 years and somewhere between $22M-$25M. The salary cap hit doesn’t bother me as much as the term. Ribs has overachieved this year and is likely not going to replicate his point production going forward. He’s also routinely on the wrong side of the CORSI battle. And he’s 33. He’s not going to be a 1.0+ ppg player ever again. The Caps are likely going to get one or two years of good 2C production for when they’re going to be a decent-but-not-contending squad. But when the new talent arrives and that window hopefully opens up, Ribeiro is likely to be an aging, declining center with a significant salary cap hit, one that prevents the team’s salary flexibility. (Hello, Michal Nylander Part II!) I’d rather roll the dice and try and acquire top flight talent that will be ready for the 2014-15 season (and beyond) than take a short-term view of the Caps needs, a view that handcuffs the team in the long-term.
Kevin: Re-sign Ribeiro. That’s my answer. We’re only 35 regular season games removed from lamenting the lack of a true second line center as the primary reason for the Capitals’ inability to be a powerhouse. Ribeiro is not likely to keep up the point per game pace he’s clicked at since tossing on the red, but who’s asking him to? A good second line center, if you ask me, is someone you can hang your hat on for 50 points. Ribeiro has hit this mark in every season since the lockout, and he’s got a chance to do it again this year despite having only 48 games with which to do so.
I believe in regression with age, but nobody’s looking at Ribeiro and asking for an 82 point season. Despite his long stint on the top line this year, that’s Backstrom’s role and everyone knows it. If Ribs can toss 50 points in the mix for the next three to four years, I think he’s worth hanging on to. The alternative, as we stand now, is treading the same bitter waters of forcing players into that role, like a Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, or a Brooks Laich, who are all stretches at best.
And do I believe the Caps can win the Cup in the next four years? Well, I’m an optimist.
Emily: Next year's salary cap crunch, realignment, and the impending Olympic circus are all factors that to me do not suggest runaway success for the Washington Capitals in 2013-2014, regardless of who is manning the middle of the second line. Trade Ribeiro for picks and quality prospects, and maybe start assembling a true Oatesian roster by signing a couple of good players who will inevitably be squeezed out by the other monster deals being announced now. Build (but not rebuild) to make some noise in 2014-2015.
But that being said, they will sign Ribeiro. How can they not?