COMMENTARY | One of the last remarks Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin made after cleaning out his locker for the season was, "The most important thing is to re-sign Ribs." Ribs, as Capitals fans know, is short for Mike Ribeiro, the talented center with soft hands and a knack for getting under the skin of opponents.
It's not surprising that Ovechkin is concerned about re-signing Ribeiro. He was probably one of the most consistent players for the Caps all season. Even when the team was skidding out of control towards the bottom of the standings, Ribs was still making plays and compiling points. His contributions on the team's potent power play unit definitely helped the Caps climb out of the cellar and into the playoffs. His chippy play and skillful stickhandling also made him a fan favorite.
Wants a Long-term Contract
Unfortunately -- and, yes, it would truly be unfortunate -- the Caps are probably not going to re-sign the second-line center. Ribs wants a long-term contract so that his three young children can enjoy some stability and not have to move again for at least four or five years. The problem: At 33 years of age, Ribs ain't no spring chicken, and the Caps simply don't seem to want to extend a long-term contract to the center, even if he is talented and a fan favorite.
In addition, the Capitals are already bumping up against their $64.3 million salary cap and they still have to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Johansson, who is at times maddeningly inconsistent, as well as reliable defenseman Karl Alzner. Another defenseman, Jeff Schultz, who hasn't seen much ice time this year, has asked to be traded. While that may give the Washington Capitals a little more room under the cap, it probably won't be enough to allow them to sign Alzner, Johansson and Ribs.
The Caps also have a young gun, prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, waiting in the wings. It is believed that Kuznetsov has the potential to be a great second-line center for the Capitals. However, that's the problem. He's a prospect with potential, while Ribs is a known entity, who has proven himself in the NHL.
It would be a shame if the Caps couldn't find some way to re-sign Ribeiro. The team has had trouble finding a second-line center for a number of years. The team's lack of depth has often haunted the Caps during the playoffs. Although the team once again failed to make it very far in this year's playoffs, at least Ribeiro was a consistent playmaker, and he even scored the overtime winner in Game 5 of the first-round playoff series between the Caps and the New York Rangers.
A Tougher Division Awaits the Caps
Having a talented second-line center like Ribeiro in the lineup will be especially important for the Caps next year when the NHL's new realignment goes into effect. The Capital's new division will have them duking it out with Philly, Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, both New York teams and Pittsburgh for a playoff berth. As it was, the Washington Capitals almost didn't make the playoffs in this lockout-shortened year. Fortunately for the Caps, its division, which is often mockingly referred to as the Southleast, was very weak this year. In the new division and without Ribs in its lineup, the Caps will probably have a lot of trouble making the playoffs next year.
Jane Ellis has been a freelance reporter for a number of years as well as a former editorial production manager at 4-Wheel & Off-Road Magazine. She is a season ticketholder who has followed the Washington Capitals for approximately 20 years.
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