Ribs salutes the fans after his overtime goal in game five. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

For perhaps the final time in DC, Mike Ribeiro is street. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)

For perhaps the final time in DC, Mike Ribeiro is #swag. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)

The Washington Capitals have been searching for a second-line center for years. Last summer, they finally got one. In a shortened season with the Caps, Mike Ribeiro was excellent — even when his team wasn’t. He anchored Washington’s power play, turning Alex Ovechkin — a guy the Caps have invested $123 million in — into a lethal threat.  He stabilized the top six. He led the league in points on the man advantage, a huge source of the team’s scoring. He will soon be a free agent. The captain wants him back, though, and so does the coach.

“The most important thing is to re-sign Ribs,” Ovechkin told Slava Malamud. “It will be tough without him.”

“You all saw how valuable he was to our team,” Adam Oates added. “Hopefully the parties will work it out because we love him.”

After Ovi heaped praise on Ribs for his work this season, I asked Ribeiro what he learned by playing with the Russian. Seeing clips of him on NHL Network, of course, is different from sending him a cross-ice pass on the power play. Until this season, Ovechkin never depended on teammates. Instead, he’d take the puck into the offensive zone and try to create the play by himself. As we saw the last two years, that stopped working. Oates got him to change that, but in March Ovechkin demanded Ribeiro give him the puck in the neutral zone. Though Ovechkin is superstar, Ribs said no. By the end of the season, Ovechkin was a Hart Trophy finalist.

“He’s still a young player who has a lot to learn about the game and how to play it,” Ribeiro told me of Ovi. “He’s a powerful player.”

“His English was better than when I saw him on TV,” he continued. “Sometimes I was like ‘What is he saying?’ I used to be like that. Guys used to laugh at me the way I speak.”

Losing Ribs would be a difficult loss for the franchise, but it may be a necessary one. The team only has about $5.6 million in cap room for next season. While they could probably get Ribeiro for that, they’d have to shake up the roster a little or consider not re-signing RFAs Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson. Considering Ribeiro is 33 and wants a four- or five-year deal, that’s a tough sell. (Ribeiro, for what it’s worth, said he “can only get better.”)

“It’s important to be hard on the merits and soft on the people and do it right,” Caps GM George McPhee said, before adding that he doesn’t talk about specific negotiations.

Still, Ribeiro reiterated that he likes the area and is hesitant to move his family again. He also wants to win. Until two weeks ago, he had missed the postseason in five straight years. That may have been justification to get the heck out of DC in February, but now it’s a reason to stay.

“Once you make the playoffs, you want to go back,” he said. “You see the potential that we have here.”

“I don’t want to be selfish by signing too much and not being able to get other guys here or re-sign guys here,” Ribeiro added. “If I stay here I want to have a chance to win. … You cannot just re-sign me and have the same kind of team. You want to improve your team.”

Soon, the Caps and Ribeiro will have to make their choices. On July 5, the center is no longer the team’s property. From the coaches to the media, everyone at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Wednesday morning knew they may be seeing him for the final time. Then, Ribeiro emerged. He strode to the podium outside the Capitals locker room wearing a fedora, a diamond earning, and a large chain. A reporter asked him about his opulent look.

“I’m allowed to do what I want to do now,” he quipped.

We’ll see if that includes staying in Washington.

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  • yv

    There are probably zero number of 4-5 years contracts given to 33-yr forward, but Ribs words about not to be selfish and to improve the team sound encouraging.
    At the same time, what a pitiful time for Caps fans when you already have to talk about trades and postseason.

  • 3 years at 4.5 per and not a penny or second more

  • Ya know an unselfish veteran who wants to win a cup should not care about the money.

  • FStreetFaithful

    We could definitely make some room by unloading a certain blueliner who takes up 2.75….

  • Graham Dumas

    Anyone else a bit baffled by Ribs’s comment re Ovechkin? I’m not saying he’s wrong; just an odd thing to say about your captain, no?

  • Get rid of Erskine and Chimera. Those guys not moving at all.it

  • alzner’s still gonna get carlson money (~4mil cap hit) which would only leave us with about 3.8 mil to play with, and that’s without mojo, hendy and kundratek(??) signed.

  • OlietheGoalie

    We don’t have the space. We can’t afford his short fuse.

  • FStreetFaithful

    I would hope Kundratek would stay with a 2-way to give us a little flexibility. This is also why it made no sense to re-sign Volpatti instead of Hendricks. Frankly, if it came down to it, would you take Ribeiro or MoJo?

  • mojo. combination of cap hit, value, tradability, hes a better deal than ribs.

  • This is why trading for Erat was a mistake. His cap hit could have been used to help resign Ribs. I don’t think Erat had much of an impact in the playoff games he played before he got injured. Wasn’t the main reason to acquire him was that he was going to give the Caps playoff depth. Even in the regular season, he didn’t make much of an impression. Caps should have kept Forsberg since he still has upside and is much cheaper.

  • Anon

    Its true, thats what they taught him in the russia. They did a terrible job developing Ovi’s hockey IQ and its starting to show. Hopefully Oates, being the hall of fame centerman that he is, can teach him something about positioning in the offensive zone because, as far as I can tell, he rarely gets any goals during a shift (5v5) in the offensive zone. Im not talking about the rush… I mean working the cycle, he needs to work on that. He already has the skill and shot, just needs the IQ

  • I think Ovi was so talented when he was younger, he didn’t have to do certain things that other players HAVE to do to be effective. I don’t think Ribs was insulting him here at all. Ovi completely changed his game this season and he scored in ways that he never has before. It’s not about having a low IQ or Russian coaches failing him. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. How many goal scorers at this age can do what he did this season? Not many.

  • I completely agree. Though I think Erat was one of the best players for the Caps in the playoffs. He’s really a slick player, great forechecker. He, like Ribeiro, is a master at creating space out of nothing. But again, we trade a guy who could have been apart of a new core of this team for years to come for an aging, expensive forward.

  • yv

    Only a player with very high hockey IQ can be on top of the league for so long regardless of changing coaches, systems, styles, partners and opposition, and then bring his team into playoffs every single year. Just compare to some other snipers of recent years.

  • Is there any way to dump Schultz or Poti to free up cap space?
    I also think we might have to trade either Orlov or Kundratek. A team that needs d-man depth would love one of them. I think we have the 6 D-men we want (assuming Erskine doesn’t continue his playoff suckage)

  • Graham Dumas

    I agree, I’m really sick of the Euro-/Russian-bashing that’s become rampant around the North American hockey community. it’s total crap. Russia has a world-class hockey program, and has for a long time. The game is played differently there, but plenty of great players come out of there.

    Also, agreed on the point of Ovi having it too easy early on. I think that’s true not only of him, but of Backstrom and Greene as well, and I hope it’s something that the divisional shift will get rid of.

  • Graham Dumas

    Agreed. Mojo over Ribs.

  • Not sure Orlov or Kundratek have any value beyond low round picks, so there’s no reason to trade. I still believe Orlov will be a cornerstone player. He just needs to stay healthy, continue his work in the d-zone, and hit the net with his shots!

  • Jeremiah

    i would trade him to a lottery picking team for a first round pick. and draft Lindholm if he is still there. socred more than Backstrom in his draft year. after losing Forsberg, though not a center would help.

    one thing Ribeiro could teach Ovi is how to yell at refs durring games and get penalties for it . i thought his best game in the playoffs was game 5 and toward the end of the season wasn’t as good as the beginning. on the salary cap issue , how much does Shultz get because i wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t here as he wasn’t used at all iin the later part of the season also think orlov should get a better look next year his skating and ability to get the puck to the net would help out

  • Jeremiah

    if they were to keep ribs which seems possible if they were to trade erat or mojo as for what Oates has deemed top six players or left wings would be those two and laich. and it seems since Perrault seem decent as a 3 line center and Oates said he sees laich more as a wing ” at least in one media scrum”. that is all i can think about at this late hour.

  • Jeremiah

    i thought poti’s deal ends this year but if not there are a few teams that are looking for experienced dmen , like edm, nyi, clg.

  • Safoster

    Trade Laich. Erat is better and we don’t need him. Frees 4.5, problem solved. Then buy out Schultz and go to work.

  • Shultz HAS to be bought out. That money can go straight to Alzner. Mojo will get Crabb’s pay on top of his own, Poti being gone will also free up some space too.
    It’ll be fine! (I hope)

  • JP

    Not a fan of the tone of your headline. It makes it sound like shots were fired. Not the case at all. I know you dislike Ribeiro…but com’n man!

  • Red Fan

    Highly agree with the Schultz must go. Zero effectiveness or application in the Oates method of play. I believe that buying out a couple of the constant healthy scratches will not affect the cap.

  • CDizz

    Ribeiro is one of the only players in the league who’s play and point production will not (IMO) drop off with age. The reason most players begin to dip in production is that they slow down, they get less physical, and they simply don’t have the overall strength they used to. Ribs, however, plays the game at a very slow, methodical pace, so speed will not be affected by age. His small stature has kept him from being a physical player in the first place, so that’s not going to change. And the way he creates plays and makes slick passes is all hockey IQ and no strength. We need to resign him – he will continue producing for the Caps on a consistence pace for years to come if we do.

  • CDizz

    *whose play. Dammit.

  • declan

    resign Alzner, let Mojo entertain offers and take the compensation , if we can’t outright move him

  • Keep our blueline in tact if possible, I think the guy who was supposed to be more is Marcus. His 1st year was his best and showed signs of stardom but really hasn’t produced since. We already got rid of our hopeful in Forsberg(dumb) but we still have enough with Wilson and the Kunstuntiov(don’t know his spelling but you get it)keep them and try to keep Mike. We are so frisking close.

  • You’re right. I didn’t realize that until I looked at the twitter feed just now. That’ll free up some space.

  • Every time someone suggests trading #21 is a good idea, God destroys a Capitals player’s groin.

  • liquid8d

    Not sure if I agree with Chimera, but Erskine was terrible in the playoffs.