- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Washington Capitals searched for a second-line center for the past few years. They might have to review their options again this summer if Mike Ribeiro leaves in unrestricted free agency.

Ribeiro said Wednesday he needs a four- or five-year deal, which might be a tall order for the Caps to give a 33-year-old.

“I don’t see myself getting worse,” Ribeiro said. “It can only get better. I can be out there. I can work out more. There’s a lot of room there to improve and, you know, that’s why I don’t think I should have less than four or five years.”

Ribeiro was second on the Caps in points (13 goals and 36 assists for 49) behind only Hart Trophy finalist Alex Ovechkin. Ribeiro was the Caps’ first-half MVP, taking the load off center Nicklas Backstrom and other stars who weren’t producing early.

“Every team has a star first-line centerman. Every team has a goal scorer,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “It’s that second-line center and that supporting cast that is what really makes teams stand out.

“So if we are able to retain Ribs next year, which I really hope they do, I hope it works out for both parties that you have that dangerous second-line center so you can roll over Nicky and Ribs one-two and have tough matchups for other teams to deal with.”

Ribeiro had just a goal and an assist in seven games against the New York Rangers, but he did score the Game 5 winner, the final goal Henrik Lundqvist allowed in the series. It might be the final goal Ribeiro scores in a Caps uniform.

“It’s always a delicate process, whoever you’re negotiating with,” general manager George McPhee said. “It’s important to be hard on the merits and soft on the people and do it right. But I’ve never really discussed contract negotiations. As I’ve said 100 times, it never helps the process. And so we’ll get to work on it and see what develops.”

Ribeiro and his wife have three children, and he’d like to sign a long-term deal for some stability. He made it clear he would like that to be in Washington.

“If I can stay in the city and retire here, it’s more about the kids,” Ribeiro said. “I don’t want to move them too many times. School, they’re going into high school now, so if I can stay here until they go to college, or stay in the city until they go to college, that’s my focus. It has to be four or five years.”

Matt Hendricks is the other prominent impending unrestricted free agent. The forward, who turns 32 next month, is believed to be seeking a long-term deal.

“You want to get what you feel you deserve and what is right,” he said, “and that’s what happens in the negotiating process.”

Erat had dislocated elbow

Martin Erat suffered a dislocated left elbow in Game 4 of the Caps’ series against the Rangers, he said Wednesday. The 31-year-old left wing said he would have been ready for the second round of the playoffs had the Caps advanced.

“I feel better,” Erat said two days after Washington was eliminated. “It’s kind of sad, you know, when I was getting ready to go back and I’m not going to be able to.”

Surgery is not required, and Erat expects to be 100 percent for training camp.

Laich explains status

Forward Brooks Laich was never really an option to play in Game 7 for the Caps, despite being close to returning after groin surgery.

“He didn’t have any practices with contact, so for me it wasn’t a decision to put him in Game 7,” coach Adam Oates said. “It wasn’t at all. We wanted him for the second series and we had to be good enough to get there and we weren’t.”

Laich, who confirmed Dr. Michael Brunt performed his minor groin procedure in April, would have liked to play in Game 5 but was held out.

“Prior to the series or during the series, I guess, our medical staff and George McPhee and the coaching staff, they made the decision that my return wasn’t going to be predicated upon circumstance but upon timeline,” Laich said.

“They said that this was decided before that we weren’t going to risk you based on circumstance; we were going to look out for your long-term health and your career and the answer I got is sort of ‘protect myself from myself,’ which is what I really need.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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