Now that former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has chosen to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals veteran Mike Ribeiro will soon become the best center available in a weak free-agent class.
Ribeiro was a point-per-game player for the second time in his career last season, tallying 49 points in 48 games. He was also the Capitals' most consistent player, especially when the team struggled at the beginning of the season and plummeted to the bottom of the Southeast Division standings.
According to Renaud Lavoie of RDS, Ribeiro is going to test the free-agent market. Given the high amount of teams that need to upgrade their depth down the middle, he should have plenty of suitors when free agency begins on Friday.
Let's rank the five best fits for Ribeiro.
Note: All salary information via Capgeek.
The Ottawa Senators finished 27th in goals scored last season and only found the back of the net 11 times in their five-game second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Jason Spezza's injury concerns (he's missed 122 games in the past eight years) have created a need for another top-six center on the Senators roster, one who possesses the playmaking skill required to advance past the first round of the playoffs for a second straight season.
Ribeiro would add some veteran experience to this young Ottawa team in addition to the consistent scoring production he provides.
He's also a durable player who has missed just eight games in the past three years combined. Ribeiro hasn't missed a single game in two of the past three years. As a team that was hurt badly by injuries last season, any player whom Ottawa signs in free agency has to be durable.
The Senators have $22,074,167 in salary cap space, which leaves them with more than enough room to upgrade at center in the free-agent market.
The Tampa Bay Lightning didn't have much depth down the middle last season and decided to buy out top-six center Vincent Lecavalier, creating an even larger need for an upgrade at this position.
With $9,159,523 in cap space this summer, general manager Steve Yzerman should consider signing Ribeiro as his team's second-line center.
Steven Stamkos is his team's only elite-level center right now, which isn't a good situation for the Lightning to find themselves in when they rely so much on their offense to bail out the team's lackluster defense and goaltending.
As the Lightning transition to a new division next year that includes strong defensive teams such as the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, upgrading the team's playmaking skill, specifically at the center position, should be a priority for Yzerman during the offseason.
The New York Islanders are a young team on the rise and would benefit greatly from the veteran experience that a guy like Ribeiro could provide them.
His 49 games of playoff experience would certainly help the Islanders. More than half of the players on the 2013 roster made their postseason debuts in Round 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Aside from superstar forward and Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares, the Islanders don't have much high-end offensive skill at the center position. Frans Nielsen is a quality young player, but he's not a second-line center at this stage of his career. Veteran forward Brad Boyes was productive as a center last year, but he's an upcoming UFA and not anywhere close to Ribeiro's caliber.
As a player capable of scoring at a point-per-game pace and excelling as a playmaker on the power play, Ribeiro would upgrade the Islanders' depth down the middle and make an offense that ranked seventh in goals scored in 2013 even more dangerous.
With a league-leading $32,812,667 in salary cap space, New York has more than enough financial flexibility to meet Ribeiro's demands and add a legitimate top-six center to its roster.
The Nashville Predators are desperate for offense after finishing last season ranked 29th in goals scored and 17th in power-play percentage.
Injuries hurt their scoring depth in 2013, but even with a healthy roster, the Predators still lack the necessary amount of offensive skill to contend for a playoff spot in a competitive Western Conference. David Legwand was the Predators' top-scoring center last year with just 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists).
The team's lack of a top-tier playmaker on the first line is a real concern, which is why signing Ribeiro makes a lot of sense for Nashville. Top prospect Filip Forsberg will likely be the team's most talented center next year, but asking a rookie to play a significant role is far from an ideal situation.
Signing Ribeiro is an option that general manager David Poile must consider if he wants his team's struggling offense to improve. At the moment, the Predators rely too much on the strength of their defense and elite goaltender Pekka Rinne to win games consistently.
With $11,248,690 in cap space, Poile has enough flexibility to sign Ribeiro to a fair deal.
The Winnipeg Jets might have made the playoffs in 2013 if they had a little more depth and talent at center. The team's big offseason signing in 2012 was veteran center Olli Jokinen, who tallied only 14 points in 45 games after racking up 61 points in 82 games during the 2011-12 season.
Jokinen's disappointing performance was one reason why the Jets finished 30th in power-play success. Adding a player with Ribeiro's goal scoring and playmaking skills would be a tremendous boost to the Winnipeg power play. He tied teammate Alexander Ovechkin for the most power-play points (27) last season, including a league-leading 21 assists with the man advantage.
The Jets have a number of quality wingers, including Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and young star Evander Kane. To maximize these players' offensive production, Winnipeg must acquire a top-six center via trade or free agency before next season.
Luckily for the Jets, they have an astounding $25,984,167 in cap space to upgrade at center and re-sign their important free agents.