- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2013

Before Mike Ribeiro played a single game for the Capitals, he knew he wanted to stay in Washington for the long term. He moved to the area with his wife and three children after getting traded from the Dallas Stars last summer, spending the balance of the NHL lockout putting down roots.

The only problem was Ribeiro had only one year left on his contract, and with the April 3 trade deadline fast approaching, the 33-year-old center’s future is uncertain. The Caps could extend him as part of the core that already includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich and Mike Green, trade him or lose him for nothing.

Ribeiro wants stability for his family in the form of a long-term contract.

“Five years for me is long term,” Ribeiro said. “Two, three years I don’t think it’s long term. … Four, five, six [is] long-term. Then 10 years like Ovi, that’s a marriage thing.”

Ribeiro doesn’t need to be married to the Caps like Ovechkin, who’s in the fifth season of a 13-year, $124 million contract, or Backstrom, who’s in the third season of a 10-year, $67 million contract. But after spending four full seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and six with Dallas, the playmaking center wants a place he can call home for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t want to move too much, so if we can agree to a long-term [contract], then I’ll be more than happy to stay here,” Ribeiro said Sunday. “I don’t know if I’m looking for two years, change places and then another two years. I don’t think I want that. So we’ll see what we’re going to come to.”

Washington management approached agent Don Meehan about a new contract a month ago, but Ribeiro didn’t think it was time to talk. With the trade deadline looming, negotiations are ongoing as the Caps seek to remain in playoff contention.

Ribeiro has been a major part of the climb as the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals and 24 assists. That would be a career-high 87-point pace over an 82-game game season.

But teammates say his value goes beyond production.

“Before the year, a lot of us didn’t know a lot about him,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “Once he got here, it really surprised a lot of us how committed he was to the team goal, how he views the ice, the whole ice surface.

“He’s not just an offensive threat. That’s a great quality and a very smart hockey player. It almost kept us calm; he was a big calming influence through the better part of the first half.”

Even taking those intangibles out of the equation, Ribeiro, who’s in the final season of a five-year, $25 million contract, could command upwards of $6 million annually if he hits the open market.

That’s even at the age of 33, given the lack of quality centers expected to be available when unrestricted free agency begins July 5.

While the Caps could be willing to give him a three-year deal that would take him to age 36, Ribeiro would prefer not to settle for that.

Asked if it was feasible to work out a four- or five-year contract before the trade deadline, Meehan said in an email: “Hard to say at this time.”

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.

Fellow French-Canadian center Perreault said to look no further than the NHL’s No. 1-ranked power play as evidence of Ribeiro’s impact.

The same could be said for Brad Richards as a teammate of Ribeiro’s with the Stars in 2010-11, when he had 29 power-play points in the final year of his contract.

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.”



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