The Capitals don’t have many decisions to make this summer. When NHL free agency opens on July 5 the two key players they have headed to the open market are center Mike Ribeiro and winger Matt Hendricks.
Ribeiro was acquired at the trade deadline last June to be the second-line center Washington had long sought. He played well early as the team struggled and finished with 13 goals and 36 assists. In the Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series loss to the New York Rangers, Ribeiro had just two points – though one of them was the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 5. But the two sides differed on length of contract right before the April 3 trade deadline with the Caps offering three years. Ribeiro wants more regardless of what exactly the final dollar figures will be.
“If I can stay in the city and retire here, it’s more about the kids. I don’t want to move them too many times,” Ribeiro said of his daughter and two sons. “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. I still believe, you know, I can get better. I don’t see myself getting worse.”
But Ribeiro is also 33 and the Caps have been reluctant to hand out long-term contracts like that to players past 30. In a tight salary-cap world it’s a risk general manager George McPhee has not been willing to take very often.
“It’s always a delicate process, whoever you’re negotiating with,” 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.”
Is there a middle ground there? Ribeiro just concluded a five-year contract worth $25 million. He made $5 million per year. If he wants term, as he’s said repeatedly, how far is he willing to drop his annual price to stay in Washington? And what will other teams on the open market be willing to pay a productive center?
There is only a limited amount of money to pay Ribeiro and Hendricks plus restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson. An amnesty buyout is a possibility, though McPhee scoffed at the idea of using it. Or a trade could clear more money under next year’s $64.3 million salary cap, if needed.
“Like I said before, I don’t want to be selfish by signing too much and not being able to get other guys here or re-sign guys here,” Ribeiro said. “Once you make the playoffs, you want to go back, and you see the potential that we have here. If we can bring in guys or be better next year as a team, your chance of winning will increase, and that’s where I want to be.”
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