Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To Trade or Not to Trade...

... Ribeiro is the question. The trade deadline is fast approaching, and unless the Caps string together a streak to match the Blackhawks, Penguins, or even the Blue Jackets, there is little doubt that they would fall squarely in the "seller" category come April 1.

All eyes are on Mike Ribeiro, the leading points-getter for the team, top-10 in the league overall and top o' the league in power play points, all at a career-best pace to start a season. He is also a 33 year-old UFA come this offseason, unless he is signed by Washington, likely at a raise on his current $5mil deal. So what comes next? Does McPhee re-sign the best fit at second line (first line?) center the team has seen since Fedorov? Or does he trade Ribeiro to address other holes in the lineup, high pick(s), high-level prospect(s), or some combination of the three?

I fall very firmly in the "re-sign" camp. Mike Holden (along with many others) falls into the "trade" camp. Mike has graciously agreed to a joint post laying out the pros and cons of trading the other Mike out of DC. We take our appropriate positions.

Show Me the Money!

I noted these stats above, but I feel they bear repeating. Mike Ribeiro currently leads the Washington Capitals in points. Mike Ribeiro is tied for 10th in the league in points.  Mike Ribeiro leads the league in power play points. Mike Ribeiro, 33 year old, is scoring at the best rate of his career 28 games into a shortened season, on a new team, with a new coach, with a new system. The same excuses being used by many (myself included) to help take away the sting from this Caps' season apply to Ribeiro as well, and he is thriving like never before. It has been a decade since he scored less than 50 points in a season.  His career worst season was a 16 goal, 51 point effort in 05-06, his last season in Montreal.

Basically, Ribeiro is playing the best hockey of his not-unsuccessful career. It has been pointed out that most NHLers see significant dropoffs in production at Ribeiro's age. Now, I'm not saying that Ribeiro is going to pump out better than a point-per-game for the next five years, but I absolutely expect him to continue at his career pace (~63 points per game) for the next three or so. Some may say I'm naive. But what seems more likely, perhaps the most consistent scorer in the league continuing his career pace until his mid-30s, or his scoring falling from a career-best to a career-worst within three years? I vote the former.

More importantly than prognosticating his scoring ability, what effect would trading Ribeiro have on Washington? The Capitals have been searching for a second line center for years, and now they have one. I repeatedly hear that Washington has a dearth of top-6 forwards. My response is how many top-notch players does a team need? Are Penguins top-liners (yeah, I went there) Pascal Dupuis (twice broke 40 points since 2001) or Chris Kunitz (four full seasons since 2005) top-6 forwards in the minds of Capitals fans? Is (currently injured) a rejuvenated Brooks Laich not? How many have argued for Eric Fehr to be given top-line duties, let alone top-six? Backstrom, Ovechkin, Ribeiro, Fehr, Laich, and Brouwer would be very formidable in this league. That's six players capable of putting up more than 20 goals and 40 points apiece in a full season. I'm not buying the lack of top-6 talent argument.

I'm not saying the Caps forwards are without issue, I just think chemistry and system changes are more responsible. I'd rather move players like Chimera and Johansson, who are skilled but seem to struggle in finding any kind of consistency in either production or team role. As high-end bottom-six players, they can be more easily replaced than Ribeiro. A top-4 defenseman is a more convincing need, but not one that I would want to lose Ribeiro for one with so many promising defenders coming into their own right now (a la Oleksy, Kundratek, and Orlov). In fact, I think the Caps could spare a Chimera or a Johansson, along with a young defender (not Orlov!) to fill a hole elsewhere on the line.

And what would the Caps gain? A first round pick would presumably be in the mix. But that doesn't really help Washington next year, or necessarily even the year after that. Not many teams are likely to have a higher pick than McPhee and his scouts will have to work with come July, and with the new lottery system it's even more of a gamble. How about a high-level prospect? You mean like Grubauer, or Kuznetsov, Wilson, or Forsberg? Or maybe a less-risky version of Galiev or Barber? While a healthy level of depth is near mandatory, Washington really is not in much need of near-future prospects as they literally have some of the best in the world on deck as it is.

The only trade that really makes sense would be to bring back another top-6 forward, maybe someone that could finally lock down the other wing on the top line. I could handle that kind of trade, but you're talking about trading apples for apples. Maybe you don't like our Granny Smith as much as Colorado's Red Delicious, but they're both apples. I prefer the devil you know. Insert similar cliche here.

In short, I think Ribeiro is the answer to a long-standing problem, and trading him would only re-open that gaping wound. I think the complaints of a lack of forward talent are vastly over-stated, and I think there are better moves that could be made without negatively affecting the team to the degree that moving Ribeiro would. All of this assumes that 1) Ribeiro wants to stay in DC and 2) Ribeiro does not want a long term (i.e. > 3 years) for more than $6mil per year. Those are the numbers I would be comfortable with. If he indicates a strong desire to sign anything beyond these terms, by all means, move him for as much as you can get.

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