Late-Season Bounceback Evaporates as Sleeping Capitals Lose Mike Ribeiro

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Late-Season Bounceback Evaporates as Sleeping Capitals Lose Mike Ribeiro
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

George McPhee has his principles. The Washington Capitals general manager doesn't like to give extended contracts to players older than 30 years old and he's not about to change his opinion.

While one can applaud McPhee for his ability to hold his ground, he has put the Washington Capitals at a disadvantage as they prepare for the 2013-14 season. The Capitals lost center Mike Ribeiro when he signed a four-year, $22 million contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Ribeiro, 33, was one of the keys to the Capitals' resurgence in the second half of the season that saw them turn early-season futility into a Southeast Division championship. Ribeiro is a clever playmaker who often sees openings that others miss. He had 13 goals and 36 assists for the Capitals in 48 games.

More than the point total, Ribeiro gave the Capitals a legitimate second-line center. With Nicklas Backstrom centering for Alex Ovechkin on the first line, Ribeiro's ability to create scoring plays gave the Capitals two lines that could score consistently. That's a needed commodity among winning NHL teams.

Ribeiro was looking forward to continuing his career with the Capitals, but McPhee was unwilling to give him a contract longer than three years, according to Washington Post Capitals beat reporter Katie Carrera.

Ribeiro said he was disappointed that he couldn't complete a deal with the Caps. "I was surprised," Ribeiro said to NHL.com. "I moved there, moved my family too. My thinking was, if I had a great season they'd keep me there, or find a way to keep me there, but obviously we couldn't."

It looks like Brooks Laich will inherit Ribeiro's second-line center position, and while he is a hard-working player, he has limited offensive skills. Laich scored 16 goals in 2010-11 and repeated that total in 2011-12 before he was limited by injuries and scored just once last year.

The Caps have nearly $8.5 million in cap space available, according to CapGeek.com, but are seemingly falling behind their competition early in the offseason. In the newly realigned NHL, they will be playing in a still-unnamed division with the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

All of those teams have made moves to improve while the Capitals have done little thus far.

That does not mean that the Caps are destined to have a poor season or that they don't have the talent on hand to get back to the playoffs. However, it's going to be very difficult if they don't make a move or two to overcome their losses.

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In addition to Ribeiro, the Caps also lost forward Matt Hendricks, who signed a four-year, $7.4 million contract with the Nashville Predators. Hendricks is a hard-nosed role player who is valuable because he plays a tough, gritty style and is willing to take physical abuse when he is in pursuit of the puck. Hendricks has never scored more than nine goals in a season.

“The system that they play will give me opportunity to move up and down the lineup, and that has a lot to do with the decision that we made,” Hendricks told The Washington Post shortly after he signed with the Preds.

In addition to putting pressure on his remaining players, McPhee is also putting a burden on head coach Adam Oates. The second-year coach showed he could rally his team after a poor start last year, but he had options and offensive talent on his roster.

Unless the Caps can pull off a deal that allows them to bring in productive offensive players on par with Ribeiro, the 2013-14 season could be quite difficult for this team.

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