It’s not an easy decision for general manager George McPhee, who should have space under the salary cap this summer to add more talent to this roster while Ovechkin and Backstrom are in their 20s. Committing four or five years to an offensively talented player in his mid-30s is a risk.
But after a revolving door of second-line centers that included Brendan Morrison, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, Tomas Fleischmann and Jason Arnott, Ribeiro has shown the Caps what they were missing in recent years.
“He solidifies that second-line center, which we’ve been looking for for a long time,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “He’s one of those that guys that fills that role perfectly, so he’d be a welcome addition for a lot of years, that’s for sure.”
Ovechkin, who befriended Ribeiro last summer, said recently he hoped the Caps would re-sign him for two or three years. The two developed a chemistry on and off the ice, so it’s no surprise that the captain is in favor of Ribeiro getting an extension.
“I would love it, but it’s not my job to sign the players or tell to George or somebody else that we have to re-sign them,” Ovechkin said Monday. “It’s their option, but I think he’s good guy for our team and great guy in the locker room and great guy out there, too, on the ice.”
Much like 2007-08 when he had a career-high 83 points, Ribeiro has excelled in this contract year after the Caps acquired him at the draft in June for a second-round pick and young center Cody Eakin. Coach Adam Oates, who dealt with the distractions of contract negotiations and trade rumors throughout his playing career, said it’s perhaps easier for Ribeiro because he’s older and has been dealt twice.
“You put it in the back of your mind, and it’s not always easy,” Oates said. “Sometimes guys struggle early and they’re worried about production. Fortunately for him he’s got points right off the bat, and he’s played hockey for us every night, which is great.”
Ribeiro has been the Caps’ most consistent performer through 32 games, more than making up for his weakness in the faceoff circle and a few unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Dallas’ front office held onto Richards instead of trading him at the deadline and ultimately lost him for nothing.
It’s a cautionary tale for the Caps and Ribeiro, who could be nearing a major decision that will affect the team and player for the long term.
“That hurt us at the end of it. So that’s something I don’t want to do,” Ribeiro said. “So if we can agree to something, then I would be more than happy. And then if not, I don’t want to screw the team up.”