PITTSBURGH — The Washington Capitals have lacked a second-line center since the departure of Sergei Fedorov three long years ago. Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Jason Arnott, Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison were part of the rotating tryout process.
But general manager George McPhee's top offseason priority was finding a more concrete answer, something he hopes he now has after acquiring Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars on Friday.
"We think he's a 1 or 2 center in this league," McPhee said. "I just felt like at some point this summer we wanted to add a skill guy, and if it was at center ice, that would be ideal."
In the trade, the Caps gave up 21-year-old center Cody Eakin and the 2012 second-round pick acquired last year in the Semyon Varlamov trade with the Colorado Avalanche, 54th overall.
Ribeiro undoubtedly brings questions given his off-ice issues, which included an arrest for public intoxication in 2010, but he should slide perfectly into the second-line center role, just behind Nicklas Backstrom on the depth chart. The 32-year-old is a playmaker who put up 18 goals and 45 assists with Dallas last season and has topped the 50-point mark in each of the past eight seasons.
"We wanted to add a bit of skill to our lineup. I just didn't like the way we played in the playoffs," McPhee said. "We got some big, gritty forwards and we just wanted to put another skill guy in the middle of it to see if it helps, and I think it makes our team immediately better."
With Ribeiro in the fold, Laich should be able to enjoy a more comfortable role as a wing or third-line center. Another top-six wing is likely needed, but Ribeiro's presence makes pieces fit into place better.
"It's nice to have options. We know that these two guys, Nicky Backstrom and Ribeiro, can play center. And then we're lucky that we have guys that we can move all over the place: Brooks Laich can play center or wing, Marcus can play center or wing and [Matt] Hendricks can play center or wing and [Jay] Beagle can play center or wing," McPhee said. "It's nice to have that flexibility so you have a different flavor of lineup for whoever you might be playing on a given night or in a playoff series. You have options and if you have injuries you can move people around."
Ribeiro also gives the Capitals some flexibility when planning for the future. He has just one season left on a five-year, $25 million contract and comes with a manageable $5 million cap hit.
McPhee made it clear that he was glad to get his second-line center via trade rather than free agency because of the pitfalls of excess term and salary that often come with that process.
This is a nice first step in what could be a lengthy retooling process this summer, but McPhee wasn't showing his hand about plans for the start of unrestricted free agency July 1.
"In free agency, we'll just explore things like everybody else. There's no urgency to have to do anything," he said. "We have some young goalies and good young D and the forward group now that played really well last year and we just added Ribeiro. I think we're in pretty good shape."
In good shape at center, for sure, if this pans out as planned. McPhee admitted he had been interested in dealing for Ribeiro last offseason and at the trade deadline. Now he and the Caps have him.
"To find that kind of skill, I'm looking forward to watching," McPhee said.
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