GLENDALE, Ariz. – Mike Ribeiro had every intention of returning to Washington after one point-a-game season with the Capitals.
When it became clear the Capitals could no longer afford him, the highly-skilled centre had one place in mind: Phoenix, where he could reunite with former coach Dave Tippett.
“I wanted to be coached by someone I knew and someone I had a good relationship with,” Ribeiro said. “I’ve always had good coaches, but to have someone I could talk to and comfortable with, that was important to me.”
The Coyotes have been searching for a top-line centre seemingly since they moved to the desert in 1996 and had been hampered by the lack of an owner the past four years.
Its ownership situation close to being resolved, Phoenix finally had the financial flexibility to lure big-name players to the desert. During free agency, the Coyotes landed one of the biggest by signing Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million deal.
A fast centre who has great skill with the puck, Ribeiro gives the Coyotes an immediate upgrade up front, someone who can create scoring chances for himself and his wings, along with giving them a much-needed boost on the power play.
Ribeiro has been a consistent scorer during his 14-year career, topping 50 points in a season eight times, including 49—36 of those assists—in 48 games with Washington last season. He also was the NHL’s top power-player scorer last season and joins a team that was among the league’s worst with a man advantage.
“If you look at our off-season checklist and if you have 10 of them, the No. 1 thing on our list was finding a creative offensive centre that can help our power play,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “That’s been No. 1 for me for three or four years and to be able to land Mike Ribeiro (is great).”
Ribeiro came into the league and put together a couple of big seasons with Montreal before landing in Dallas.
Four years with Tippett helped turn Ribeiro into more than just a scorer, rounding him into a two-way player who could be on the ice in any situation, whether it was the power play, penalty kill or in key defensive situations.
“To be a top player, you have to be able to play in all situations and that’s one of the things in the four years in Dallas, he continued to expand those roles,” Tippett said. “He understands to win, you have to play well defensively, but he also understands his role that he has to create offensively, so he’s a good all-around player and I think will be a real good fit for us.”
Tippett was the tipping point for Ribeiro when he went searching for a new team.
Straightforward and even-keeled, Tippett has been known as a players’ coach, whether it was in Dallas or Phoenix. Ribeiro had a great relationship with Tippett when they were together in Dallas and once the Capitals decided to go a different direction, he knew the coach he wanted to play for next.
“He knows what I can do and maybe lets me freely do more stuff offensively, but at the same time be a good defensive player, too,” Ribeiro said. “I think I learned a lot from it (the time with Tippett). He’s not a coach who’s going to scream at you, more talking to you down to earth. That’s why guys like him so much. He’s normal, he respects you. That was a big part of me being comfortable on the ice.”
But to feel comfortable with the Coyotes, it was going to take more than just Tippett for Ribeiro to play for them.
Since former owner Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy, the Coyotes have been operated by the NHL, limiting their ability to lure top players because of financial restraints, but also because players were reluctant to a join a team that had an uncertain future.
A few days before the start of the free agency period, the Glendale City Council approved an arena lease agreement with Renaissance Sports and Entertainment, clearing the last hurdle toward the group completing its purchase the team.
That was enough to convince Ribeiro to play for the Coyotes.