ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals have spent the better part of four years trying to find a second-line center. Now that they have one in Mike Ribeiro, the Capitals aren't ready to let him go.
The NHL Trade Deadline passed Wednesday, and much to Ribeiro's relief, the 33-year-old is still with Washington. Ribeiro is in the final year of a five-year, $25 million contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"The relief is more about staying here [this season]," said Ribeiro, the Capitals' second-leading scorer with 11 goals and 24 assists (35 points) in 36 games.
"My contract -- I don't think I'm worried if I'm going to sign for next year's season -- that will happen. It was more about knowing whether I'd be staying here or not. Obviously with the last two weeks or so, you can see our potential and what we can do. I'm happy here and hopefully we can keep winning and make the playoffs."
The Capitals are 5-1-1 in their past seven games, and Ribeiro said the team's recent success has been a pleasant distraction as the deadline approached and his name surfaced in trade rumors.
"The stress was more about, 'Am I staying here or moving [this season]?'" Ribeiro said. "The contract -- I don't think I'll have a problem to sign so it's just a matter of time. For me, it's [important] to keep playing well, and if we make the playoffs and if we win in the playoffs then it will be even easier to sign. So now it's just about focusing on winning games and getting into the playoffs.
"I think we have a good thing going here, we're close to our division and we're close to making the playoffs."
General manager George McPhee said the Capitals didn't intend to sell at the deadline and that moving Ribeiro, who was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a trade last offseason, was never his intention.
"I wasn't interested in trading any of our guys that are going to be unrestricted players," McPhee said.
"They've played well for us this year and we have lots of time to talk. We'll see what the future brings. I just didn't think that it would be the right thing to do for our team and our fan base."
Ribeiro played primarily alongside Alex Ovechkin on Washington's No. 1 line to start the season and has more recently been flanked by Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer on the Capitals' second unit.
"He's a very, very important piece of this team right now," Brouwer said of Ribeiro.
"With him not being moved, guys know that we have that second-line center that adds another element of dangerous ability to put the puck in the net and be a solid two-way player behind [No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom]. He's been phenomenal for us all year long. Guys are still hoping that if he doesn't get traded here that they'll find a way to keep him here for a while."
The Capitals acquired Ribeiro from the Stars at the 2012 NHL Draft in a trade for forward Cody Eakin and a 2012 second-round pick.
The 6-foot, 177-pound center has come as advertised, according to his teammates, as far as his ability to create offensively and serve as a veteran leader.
"He brings a whole other dynamic to the team," Capitals center Jay Beagle said. "I've never played with a player like him before. He's so relaxed and he makes the game look so easy out there. [Ribeiro] bring this slow-it-down mentality. He's very slippery, very tricky. He's a one of a kind."