For the second year in a row, the Washington Capitals addressed a major roster need at forward in a draft night deal, picking up center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Cody Eakin and the 54th overall pick in this year’s Entry Draft.
In Ribeiro, General Manager George McPhee hopes to have finally found an answer to Washington’s absence of a second-line center. The 32-year-old Montreal native, with 10 NHL seasons under his belt, has recorded at least 51 points in his past eight campaigns, including a career high 27 goals and 56 assists for the Dallas Stars in 2007-08. Last season, Ribeiro recorded 18 goals and 45 assists in 74 games, ranking 17th overall in the NHL in points and 11th in assists among centers. His 63 points would have put him second in the Capitals last year, behind only Alex Ovechkin.
While the chances of Ribeiro supplanting Nick Backstrom on Washington’s first line or first power play unit are negligible at best, he’ll be a mainstay of the second line and second power play unit. Ribeiro also brings impressive moves in the shootout, giving Washington a nasty one-two punch along with Matt Hendricks should a game go past 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime. Most importantly, Ribeiro is a sizable upgrade over the platoon of Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, and the other centers who slotted in the second line through the past season.
Beyond his deft passing touch, Ribeiro brings a great deal of feistiness to Washington’s roster. He’s known around the league as a pest and agitator, providing less outward physicality than a player like Troy Brouwer or Jason Chimera but more than skilled at verbal harassment and making lasting impressions on opponents. His mouth has gotten him in trouble on numerous occasions, most notably when he was dealt to Dallas in 2006 by the team that drafted him, the Montreal Canadiens. Ribeiro was much-maligned in the press and thought he was under-utilized by the team; when he played against the Habs in Montreal this season for the first time since the trade, he scored a goal and then taunted the Montreal fans when he was named the game’s first star.
The upcoming 2012-13 season is the last year of a five-year, $25 million contract Ribeiro signed with Dallas in 2008. He will count $5 million against Washington’s salary cap, and will be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Ribeiro becomes the third highest paid Capital player (pending deals with RFA Mike Green and UFA Alexander Semin, if the latter returns), but at a salary level commensurate with his skill and production. Including Ribeiro, Washington now has just over $49 million in salary tied up with 18 players, meaning McPhee has over $20 million to spend on the five roster spots still open.
Heading to Dallas in the deal is a player that was slotted to have an opportunity to fight for one of those other remaining slots, Cody Eakin. The 21-year-old was impressive in his first full professional season in 2011-12, recording four goals and four assists in 30 games with the Capitals on top of 13 goals and 14 assists in 43 games for the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
Eakin was Washington’s 85th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and excelled for several years as a member of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. Despite his unquestionable skill, Eakin’s size has raised issues: he’s listed at an extremely generous 6’0″ and 190 pounds, and isn’t particularly physical. Chances are that Eakin would make the Caps roster out of training camp in 2012-13, but his potential tops out as a bottom six player. The youngster is still on his entry level contract, schedule to be paid $638 thousand this season and next.
Also heading to Dallas is a second round pick (54th overall), which was acquired from Colorado on July 1, 2011 as part of the trade that sent goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Avalanche. The other pick the Capitals acquired in that trade was Colorado’s first round pick in 2012, 11th overall, which Washington used to select Swedish forward Filip Forsberg.
Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.