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McPhee, Capitals see Ribeiro as good fit

by Ben Raby

ARLINGTON, Va.Mike Ribeiro had a feeling he would be traded to the Washington Capitals. He just figured it would have happened earlier in his career.

"When I got traded to Dallas [in September 2006], I thought I was going to come here," Ribeiro said Saturday at the Washington Capitals annual Fan Fest. "Back then [the Capitals] didn't have [Nicklas] Backstrom so I thought I was coming here."

Instead the former Montreal Canadiens center was dealt to the Dallas Stars where he would spend the next six years, recording at least 18 goals and 59 points each season.

But following the 2011-12 campaign, which again saw Dallas miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ribeiro was prepared for a change of scenery.

Capitals see potential bargain in Wolski

Mike Ribeiro may the biggest acquisition of the Washington Capitals' offseason, but the team is hoping that left wing Wojtek Wolski becomes its biggest bargain.

Wolski is coming off an injury-plagued season in which the former 20-goal scorer was limited to four goals and 12 points in 31 games with the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. Wolski signed a one-year $600,000 deal with the Capitals last week.

"He was really good, really honest, real blunt," general manager George McPhee said of his meeting with Wolski last week.

"He said, 'I know my career's on the line. I have to play better. I took my foot off the gas the last couple years.' This year was a tough one for him because he was hurt but I think he scored the [50] points [in 2006-07], got a big contract and just didn't play as hard as he should have after that."

Wolski underwent sports hernia surgery last season but was given a clean bill of health from the Caps' medical staff last week.

"He's in great shape now," McPhee said. "The ability's there and I think the commitment's there again. I get seduced by talent from time to time. I like it. We have a good group of forwards that are big and play hard and this was an opportunity to sprinkle a little more talent in there."

Wolski was selected in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche in 2004 but has never matched the 20 goals and 50 points of his rookie season. The Caps are his fifth team in less than three years.

"For him the last couple of years have been tough years," coach Adam Oates said. "He's kind of fallen a little bit and he really admitted that to us. Obviously he's gone through a lot of self-analyzing about his game and where he is. He said he's at the crossroads of his career. Very talented guy and [McPhee] said, 'Look, we're willing to give you an opportunity. You got a chance to play with some really good hockey players to resurrect yourself,' and he was great about it."

-- Ben Raby

"I kind of knew I was probably going to get traded, I just didn't know where," he said. "We changed coaches twice and we didn't make the playoffs the last four years so you figure that the next thing they may do is trade the top salary or the top player, so I was waiting for it."

Enter the Capitals, who have been searching for a No. 2 center since Sergei Fedorov returned to Russia in 2009. The Caps acquired Ribeiro at the NHL Draft last month for Cody Eakin and a second-round pick, and the hope is that the 6-foot, 177-pound forward helps fill the void down the middle.

"As you saw last year when [Backstrom] went down, we got thin there," general manager George McPhee said.

Since 2009, the list of Washington's No.2 pivots has included Fedorov, Tomas Fleischmann, Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Jason Arnott, Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich.

"We have flexibility now," McPhee said. "You can move [Laich] in and out, center or wing, Johansson center or wing and Perreault and [Jay] Beagle center or wing. I like having that flexibility depending on how your team is playing, or who you're playing against ... Ribeiro brings us some real good playmaking and hockey sense."

Ribeiro also hopes to help a Washington power play that ranked 18th last season (16.7 percent).

"The first thing that crossed my mind," he said, "was the power play and being able to have [Mike] Green and [Alex Ovechkin], two right-handed shots and to be able to dish to those guys. Hopefully we can have a great power play because nowadays special teams are one of the most important things in the game."

Ribeiro arrived in the D.C. area last week in search of housing for his wife and three kids. The visit also gave the 11-year veteran a chance to meet with new Caps coach Adam Oates.

"Growing up I watched him play," Ribeiro said. "We're kind of similar in a sense -- he wasn't that fast, I'm not that fast, he's a guy that likes to create plays and I'm kind of the same. … He looks cool and relaxed and really down to earth, and for players like us, it's nice to know that your coach played in the League and knows the game a little bit more. I'm 32 and I've learned a lot but there's a lot more to learn, too, and I'm excited for it."

While Oates acknowledged that Ribeiro was much skinnier than he thought and that he "looks like a rapper" (Ribeiro was wearing a diamond earring and chain necklace Saturday), the Caps' new bench boss is also looking forward to having him in his lineup.

"As a coach, you always watch the guys in the position you played so centermen are the first guys I kind of see in my mind all the time," Oates said. "To be a playmaking center along with Nick, obviously, I'm pretty excited about it and I hope he is too. … Very, very excited and we're glad to have him."

NOTE: The Capitals are still in need of two assistant coaches to work with Oates, but according to McPhee an announcement could come as early as next week.

"We have made some progress," McPhee said. "I hope to have an announcement next week on one of the assistant coaches. I think it's a good fit for the club. I think we're getting close to wrapping it up. We have agreed and we just have to iron out a few more things."

Dean Evason and Jim Johnson served as assistants under Dale Hunter last season but have accepted positions as head coach of the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals and assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks.

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