April 21, 2021

OPINION: Prudent for Capitals to lock up Ribeiro

Earlier this season, when things looked bleakest for the Washington Capitals, I wrote an opinion that it would be extremely difficult for Washington Capitals GM George McPhee to “blow up” the Caps — sell off everything that wasn’t nailed down and start over again. The biggest part of that problem is that the “core” of this team is nailed down and virtually untradeable.

But the one part of this team that isn’t nailed down is its most tradeable asset at this point: free agent-to-be center Mike Ribeiro, currently enjoying the finest season of his career by per-game numbers.

With the Caps resurrecting their playoff hopes with the back-to-back wins in Winnipeg against the current Southeast Division leader, the “buy or sell” discussion has enraged anew. The debate, then, is what do they do with the extremely talented Ribeiro? Fish or cut bait?

There are only two real options here: trade Ribeiro before the April 3 deadline in what should be a tremendous sellers market, or sign him to a long-term extension. Allowing him to play through the end of his contract, hit the open market, and sign elsewhere for no compensation would be a dereliction of duty.

Count me on the side of re-signing the feisty center-iceman.

According to the indispensable Capgeek.com, Ribeiro is one of the league’s top unrestricted free agents. Hell, he might be THE top UFA. With 10 goals and 24 assists, he’s certainly the most complete player that could become available among the UFAs, which include other big names such as Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Elias, Saku Koivu and Jarome Iginla.

Of course, another UFA lurking out there is former Caps winger Alexander Semin, but that ship has sailed right into the sunset and perhaps off the edge of the map.

Back to Ribeiro though. His talent should be in high demand at the trade deadline, so should McPhee dangle the 33-year-old and see what shakes? The Caps could use a healthy influx of young talent and stockpile draft picks, especially with next year’s draft class so highly touted. Could the Caps get an NHL-ready potential top-six forward and a first round pick for Ribeiro? Maybe, depending on the desperation of potential trade partners.

For my money, though, the bird in hand is better than two in the bush.

If Ribeiro wants to stay in D.C. and can be re-signed to a reasonable market-value deal, then I would endorse that idea. He’s going to want a three- or four-year deal, and probably upwards of $6 million per year, but he’s worth it. Will he be at the end of the contract? Great question. Set-up guys age slower than pure shooters (cough, Ovi, cough), so the Caps would have a decent shot at the investment paying off.

The biggest question, though, isn’t about the talent, or even the investment. It’s whether it makes sense to commit to an older player for any length of time. Should the Caps give four years to a player already 33 years old?

The Caps have 11 players signed through the 2014-15 season (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Ward, Brouwer, Beagle, Green, Carlson, Erskine and Holtby). There, ladies and gentlemen, are your “core” Capitals, for better or worse. We should expect Karl Alzner to join them on a long-term deal after this season ends. Does Ribeiro fit in there?

Next season, we could see Filip Forsberg make his North American debut. The following year, Evgeny Kuznetsov could (should) follow him after the Sochi Olympics. There is a potential influx of talent coming, and the Caps have a lot of hope tied up in those two youngsters. Should the Caps sell off Ribeiro to the highest bidder and try to find more talent in the age bracket of the two talented, but very young, forwards?

It’s a fascinating question, whether or not to retain Ribeiro’s services. With the Caps set to enter an inarguably tougher division next season, their path to the playoffs will no longer travel through the sunshine states — rather the mean streets of New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh annually. What could be the price of being a cellar-dweller for several seasons cost in goodwill from the fans, waiting for youngsters to grow into reliable contributors? All the while wasting the primes (or just past-peak prime) of the team’s best players in Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich and Green?

No, this team can’t be sellers at the deadline. They need to get more talented, not less. They can’t realistically trade Ribeiro for “hope” and wait out the promise of potential.

If I were McPhee (and I’m glad I’m not), I wouldn’t buy or sell at the deadline. I’d play my hand, take my lumps this year regardless of how it plays out. I’d re-sign Ribeiro. Then in the off-season, I’d sign Alzner to a long-term deal, try to trim the fat as best I could, maybe see if there’s a market for Green or Ward, and find a free agent emerging top-six winger to add to Ribeiro, then allow this coaching staff to have a full offseason and training camp to mold a team to their coaching philosophies and not just try to put a team together on the fly.

It might not be the popular way to go about things. But I think it’s the most prudent, considering the Caps situation and roster construction.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Trackbacks

  1. […] opinion is public: the Caps should try to re-sign Ribeiro. I went into great detail in the post on my site, but the Caps have only two options: trade Ribeiro […]

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