Let’s say the Capitals falter over the next five days and slip out of realistic playoff contention. Let’s say they decide to move veteran center Mike Ribeiro. The two sides were still negotiating earlier this week. But if the team decides it can’t re-sign him then what is the return? That’s a difficult question to answer. Washington general manager George McPhee could hope that with so many teams still in playoff contention he can incite a bidding war for a quality center he acquired last summer from the Dallas Stars in a draft-day trade.

But there’s no getting around that Ribeiro is the ultimate short-term rental. He has 11 goals and 24 assists and has had a wonderful season. But he at best will play in 12 regular-season games if traded to another team, not including at least one playoff series if he goes to a contender. As of Friday night, the market was quiet in the wake of Pittsburgh’s aggressive trades for forwards Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla and defenseman Douglas Murray. Will that change between now and the April 3 deadline?

“That doesn’t mean that it won’t open up. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t make hockey trades,” McPhee said. “A lot of people are reluctant to do rentals because it’s sometimes hard to re-sign those players and you do have to put a team on the ice next year. So you have to be careful. But there may be more hockey trades than the types that we’re used to.”

So being a rental clearly hurts his value. A number of teams may want Ribeiro – and maybe some team hopes it can get a jump on negotiating a long-term contract with him – but that doesn’t lend itself to truly elite prospects coming back to Washington. That’s not really how the NHL works now. A productive player on an entry-level deal is worth his weight in gold. It will be tricky for McPhee to convince another general manager that Ribeiro, as good as he is, boosts their title chances enough to part with such a piece.

Of course, a first-round pick in a deep draft would be a nice acquisition, too. But is losing Ribeiro for an unknown future player worth it? That would leave the Caps without a second-line center for the rest of this season and going into the summer. As we explored earlier this week, there are other ways to acquire another one, but it isn’t easy. Tough choices in an uncertain market as the Caps try to gauge Ribeiro’s value  – both to other teams and to themselves.

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