Caps Land Middle ManPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
For the better part of the last two decades, the Washington Capitals have had a very good center at the top of their depth chart. Michal Pivonka, Adam Oates, Robert Lang and Nicklas Backstrom have all filled that top pivot spot ably for the Caps over those years. Washington has struggled somewhat to capably fill its second-line center spot over that same span of time. On Friday night at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, the Caps made a move designed to address that shortcoming. The Capitals dealt center Cody Eakin and their second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft (54th overall) to the Dallas Stars in exchange for veteran center Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro was a second-round choice (45th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. He broke out with the Habs in 2003-04 – his fifth season in the league – with a 20-goal, 65-point season. Ribeiro has had at least 16 goals and at least 34 assists in each of the last eight NHL seasons, and he has played 74 or more games in seven of those eight campaigns. That means he has had at least 50 points in each of the last eight seasons, and that 50-point level has proven to be an elusive barrier for the Caps’ second-line pivot for the better part of the last two decades. In a span of 15 seasons starting in 1996-97, the Caps have had just one campaign in which they’ve had two centers with as many as 50 points. That was in 2002-03 when Lang had 69 points and Michael Nylander had 56 points for Washington. The 32-year-old Ribeiro comes to the District with one year remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $5 million for the upcoming 2012-13 season. In theory, he’ll be primed for another good season that would hopefully lead to another multi-year payday in Washington or elsewhere starting in 2013-14. Caps general manager George McPhee engineered the deal about a week shy of the start of the free agency hunting season, a hunting season that is decidedly lean in top six pivot possibilities. With Backstrom and Ribeiro in the fold for 2012-13, the Caps hope they’re sufficiently fortified up the middle. Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson are also centers, but the Caps have frequently deployed both on the left side, too. As a junior player in the Quebec League many years ago, Ribeiro led all rookie scorers and he finished third in the league. He debuted with the Canadiens as a 19-year-old in 1999-00. Ribeiro had his ups and downs with the Habs; he split time between Montreal and the AHL for each of his first four pro seasons before his breakout campaign of 2003-04. After dipping to 16 goals and 51 points in the first campaign after the lockout, Ribeiro was dealt to Dallas for defenseman Janne Niinimaa just prior to the start of the 2006-07 season. The deal turned out to be a dud for the Habs. Ribeiro flourished in Dallas while Niinimaa totaled three assists in 41 games with Montreal in 2006-07. He hasn’t played in the NHL since; he returned to Europe where he played in the Swiss and later the Swedish Leagues starting in 2007-08. Ironically, Niinimaa went to Dallas in the first place in a deal with the New York Islanders that involved current Caps defenseman John Erskine. Here’s Ribeiro’s draft year scouting report from the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau: “A creative playmaker with excellent puckhandling skills … has impressive vision and anticipates the play very well … carries the puck with confidence and possesses natural playmaking ability … a very shifty player who is deadly around the net … positions himself well for the transition of play in the defensive zone … a hard worker with a good attitude towards the game … needs to improve his skating.” For some good analysis of how best to deploy Ribeiro, check out these posts at Japers' Rink and Red Line Station.
For Adam Oates, Tuesday was a red-letter day of all red-letter days. Early in the afternoon, he was named as the 16th coach in Washington Capitals history. After three years as an assistant coach with Tampa Bay and New Jersey, Oates ascended to the top of the NHL’s coaching ranks. Hours after that