Capitals general manager George McPhee was circumspect on Friday afternoon when asked by local reporters about his plans for the trade deadline. Nothing new there. McPhee would rather hack his own arm off than offer a detailed look into his plans. It’s a competitive world out there, after all.
So we can’t offer much more insight into the Mike Ribeiro situation. The 33-year-old center is a free agent after the season and says he has no intention of signing the three-year, $14 million offer the Caps have on the table. Washington is just on the cusp of the Eastern Conference playoff race – four points behind the No. 8 seed New York Rangers and seven points behind the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets. The trade deadline is April 3. There are three games between now and then. That’s a tight window to conclude negotiations or roll the dice on re-signing Ribeiro after the season.
“That’s the job. You have to balance these things,” McPhee said. “And I simply make decisions based on what’s best for the organization. And the individual comes a close second. Other than that I’m not gonna talk about individuals. I don’t think that’s fair. But that’s how we approach things. That’s how we approach the deadline.”
So is he a buyer or a seller? Even McPhee couldn’t tell you right now. The Caps (15-17-1, 31 points) are in 11th place in the conference. They have two games in hand on the Jets. Road games on Saturday (at Buffalo), Sunday (at Philadelphia) and Tuesday (at Carolina) should tell the story. But even then there will be 12 games left.
“I think there’s still a lot of hockey to be played. And we want to make the playoffs and we’re gonna continue to push for the playoffs,” McPhee said. “We want to make the playoffs. And that’s the plan going into the trading deadline. What can we do that’s best for the organization and helps us make the playoffs?”
It’s a delicate balancing act. Ribeiro has said he wants at least a four-year contract. McPhee in the past has been reluctant to give plus-30 players multi-year deals. Maybe the two sides compromise. But the organization needs a plan if it has to move on – whether by trade or by allowing Ribeiro to leave and using his salary elsewhere.
“It’s sort of been like the season. It just doesn’t have a great feel to it,” McPhee said of the days leading up to the trade deadline. “But we’ll go in with a plan and decide what’s best for the organization. We have some ideas. There may be nothing happening, there may be a lot happening. I don’t know until we get in there and people start deciding what they really want to do.”
One factor to consider: McPhee said on Friday that the organization considers top prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov a center. He played that position as a junior player at an elite level and at age 20 is considered one of the world’s best non-NHL players. McPhee said the Caps have had discussions with Kuznetsov’s representatives about an entry-level contract and insists that the team’s first-round draft pick in 2010, No. 26 overall, wants to play in the NHL. But for now Kuznetsov has one more season left on his deal in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk. The earliest he could play in North America is after next year’s Traktor season concludes. That will likely happen sometime in March.
“If a guy can show you that he can play center, you try him at center,” McPhee said. “It looks like he’ll be a pretty dynamic playmaking center.”
With Nicklas Backstrom under contract for another seven years, that would indicate the organization is leaning against locking up a veteran to a long-term deal. McPhee disputed that, noting that you can always move a talented center to wing. He gave Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson as examples. Still – it’s an intriguing addition to the Ribeiro negotiations.
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