PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Capitals have been looking for a No. 2 center to play behind Nicklas Backstrom since Sergei Fedorov left for the KHL in the summer of 2009. They hope they finally found one Friday night when they acquired Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for young forward Cody Eakin and a second-round choice (No. 54) in the 2012 NHL Draft.
"We wanted to add a little bit of skill to our lineup," Washington general manager George McPhee said. "We liked the way we played in the playoffs. We've got some big, gritty forwards, but we wanted to put another skilled guy in the middle of it to see if it helps. I think it makes our team immediately better."
Ribeiro had 18 goals and 63 points last season, and he's had at least 51 points in each of the past eight seasons. Since Backstrom's arrival in Washington five years ago, he's the only Washington player who's primarily a center to put up those kinds of numbers for the Caps.
Dallas added Ribeiro from Montreal in September 2006, and he averaged 67.8 points in his six seasons with the Stars. While Washington has craved another center for three years, the Stars have Jamie Benn and Steve Ott to play in the middle of their top two lines.
"We talked to them last year at one point and around the deadline, but they were in the playoff hunt and we were in the playoff hunt," McPhee said. "It was hard for them to take him out of their lineup when you're in the hunt. They wanted to make a change at center, and we've been after this player for a while."
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The Capitals have tried a number of options at center to complement Backstrom. McPhee signed Michael Nylander to a four-year contract before the start of Backstrom's rookie season, but injuries and ineffectiveness quickly pushed him out of favor. The Capitals traded for Fedorov before the deadline that year and signed him to a one-year deal for 2008-09. Since then, finding a No. 2 center has been an ongoing pursuit.
They traded for Eric Belanger and Jason Arnott, and have tried internal options Tomas Fleischmann, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson. Brooks Laich, who has also played on the wing, was in that spot for Washington's postseason run.
"I prefer to make a trade than sign free agents," McPhee said when asked why he made the deal. "That other process is expensive and usually more term than you want. Sometimes you get it done and by the end of November you are asking yourself, ‘What did I do here?' You win the battle for a player and you're trying to trade him two months later."
Ribeiro, who turns 33 in February, has one season left on a five-year, $25 million contract and will count $5 million against the salary cap in 2012-13.
Eakin was a third-round pick by the Capitals in 2009. He had four goals and eight points in 30 games with Washington this past season. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 179 pounds, but his biggest strengths are his speed and quick release.
"Cody Eakin is a young, competitive player who we've had our eye on for some time," Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said in a statement. "He plays a solid two-way game and epitomizes the 'hard to play against' mentality we're building our team around. Cody's future is bright, and we're excited to add him to our club."
Added McPhee: "We gave up a real good kid in Cody. He's going to play a long time in this League, but obviously Ribeiro will come in and play much higher in the lineup."