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Ribeiro Happy to Be With Stars

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Center back on one-year deal, looking to stay longer

Among the Dallas Stars’ off-season transactions that might have been missed by the casual fan was the re-signing of center Mike Ribeiro to a one-year contract on July 12.

Having Ribeiro back for 2007-08 will be a big boost to a Stars club that struggled at times creating offense last year. The crafty, slick-passing Ribeiro led the team in scoring last season with 59 points, including an impressive seven goals and 14 points in nine games down the stretch heading into the playoffs. In the Stars’ seven-game first-round loss to Vancouver, Ribeiro added three assists, including one on captain Brenden Morrow’s dramatic overtime winner in Game 5.

Ribeiro was a restricted free agent, meaning the Stars still controlled his rights and would have had the right to match any offer another team might have made him (the way Buffalo matched Edmonton’s offer to Thomas Vanek) or would have received a handsome compensation package if they chose not to match (like Anaheim did in accepting three high drafts picks when the Oilers signed Dustin Penner). 

Signing for just one year, however, means that the 27-year-old Ribeiro, under the rules of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, will become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Ribeiro, set to earn $2.8 million, is thrilled to be back in Dallas for another year, and although he would prefer to remain in Dallas long-term, it remains in his best interests financially to at least prepare to test the free agent waters.

“Happy, really happy,” Ribeiro said after returning to the Metroplex to skate with a bunch of his teammates before training camp begins Sept. 14. “For sure, I’m going to look for more, maybe a long-term after the season. I’m a free agent at the end of the season, but hopefully we can find an agreement before the end. I would like to stay here as long as I can. Family’s here, kids in school, and if I can stay here, that’s the best thing I can do. It would be nice to have a long contract and stabilize your family and stay in one spot.”

Stars General Manager Doug Armstrong indicated that he would like to retain Ribeiro’s services beyond this season, but in the new NHL’s salary cap environment, signing him for a longer term deal would have meant having to pay him more. That’s because he’d essentially be buying a year or more of Ribeiro’s potential unrestricted free agency, when market forces have shown, especially this past July, that highly-skilled players can command a lot of money.

“Mike’s going to be an unrestricted free agent when this contract expires and I think unrestricted free agency obviously has its attraction to players and in a salary cap era,” Armstrong said. “To get a longer term deal right now, we would have had to pay a premium to do that, and I think we’d rather just talk to Mike about his unrestricted years in January or when we’re allowed to, and we’ll address it at that time. So I just thought that a one year deal would be best for Mike, for his situation, and also for the Stars.”

“I’m still a free agent next year, and I don’t think they were ready to go for a long-term,” Ribeiro said of his reasoning for agreeing to a one-year pact. “I’ll have a full year here from now to the end, and maybe if I have a good start, maybe we can start negotiating by January. We’ll go one step at a time, we’ll start the season and we’ll see.”

As the Stars most dangerous offensive weapon over the last month-plus of last season, especially after teaming up so well with Morrow down the stretch, it’s clear that Ribeiro will once again be a key contributor to the club’s fortunes.

“It’s exciting to have somebody with that much skill,” said Stars defenseman Philippe Boucher, who often manned the point on the power play with Ribeiro up front. “We always know he’s looking to pass, he’s looking for other players, on the power play or five-on-five, when you need a goal, it’s really good to have someone like that. It’s an exciting time for him, I’m sure.”

After joining the Stars just after last season started, Ribeiro fit in well with coach Dave Tippett’s puck possession style and displayed the kind of skill that made him a second-round draft pick (45th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens in 1998.

“He’s a good offensive player,” Tippett said last year. “He does good things with the puck, he’s strong on the power play, very creative and finds open guys, and if you can put some shooters with him, he can usually find them. He’s found his little niche on our team. We have a lot of real gritty, hard-working guys on our team, but you have to balance it off with some good skill players, and he’s one of those good skill players.”

Playing hockey for his hometown team in the media fishbowl of a rabid hockey hotbed was a dream come true for Ribeiro, but four-plus seasons in such an atmosphere began to take its toll on the slithery 6-foot, 178-pound center.

“Once (goaltender Jose Theodore) left, they kind of started picking on me,” Ribeiro said of the Montreal reporters. “There’s a lot of them there, there’s French and there’s English and it’s about which one of them comes out with the best story and there’s competition among the media. They can be nice sometimes and be nasty at other times, but I guess that’s part of it.”

Despite leading the Canadiens in scoring with 65 points in 2003-04 and then adding a solid 51 points in 2005-06, which was fourth on the club (not to mention adding 17 points in 17 games for Blues Espoo in Finland during the lost lockout season), Ribeiro fell out of favor among the Montreal faithful, and the move to a more anonymous environment in Dallas seemed to suit him well.

“I think I had a good year, and it was good to get out of the media circle and the pressure, and even more low key,” Ribeiro said. “There’s a lot of key players here, a lot of Stars where you can be behind them and you just do your own thing, and I think I enjoyed that.”

“I think he had a really good year last year, it was a good change for him probably to leave Montreal coming to a new team,” agreed Boucher, another Quebec native who grew up rooting for the Canadiens. “He helped us a ton and I think a lot of our offense will be going through him this year. We saw what he’s capable of on the power play and five-on-five.”

Now that he’s back in town after a relaxing summer, working out and preparing for the upcoming season, Ribeiro is just happy to be around his teammates again.

“I went back home to Montreal for a few months, went to see family and stuff, really stayed home training and enjoyed myself with the kids,” Ribeiro said of his off-season. “It feels good (to be back). Back home, I trained alone, and it’s always fun to come to the rink and hang out and be with the boys and train and see everyone here. I guess it’s more fun to come to the rink and work out than to the gym.”

Having a focused and motivated Ribeiro on the ice can only help the Stars’ chances for success this season, and hopefully, for both parties, allow them to come to a mutually-beneficial arrangement lasting beyond next July.

Armstrong looks forward to another productive year from his center, and when the blackout on negotiating a new deal lifts in January 2008, he plans on pursuing Ribeiro for next season and beyond.

“I think that he came in, he had a very good year, and he’s going to be a very young free agent and we think he’s got a lot of great years ahead of him,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think he really has to prove anything, we think he’s a really good player, he’s going to have a very good season. We’ll address his unrestricted free agency contract at the appropriate time.”
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