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What now?

It was just over a year ago that George McPhee finally got what he had been looking for.  In trading Cody Eakin and a second-round pick to Dallas, he ended his search for a legitimate second-line center.  Mike Ribeiro was pretty much everything the Capitals had been looking for since Fedorov retired.  And unlike the previous experiment with the likes of Brendan Morrison, Ribeiro actually produced.  Through the first quarter of the season, Ribeiro was arguably the only Capital producing, to the point where he actually usurped the first-line center role away from Nicklas Backstrom.  When the rest of the team finally awoke from their lockout slumber, Ribeiro settled nicely into that second line, helping Troy Brouwer surpass his goal total from last year.

Yet here we are.  A place we all knew was coming.  It had been clear since the trade deadline that Mike Ribeiro wanted that “last contract”.  At 33 years of age, he was looking for a team who was willing to give him at least 4 years, with a decent salary to boot.  With the salary cap dropping a substantial amount next season, the Capitals appeared unable to give Ribeiro what he wanted.  Both sides had been talking extensively lately, but to no avail as Renaud Lavoie has reported that the Capitals will allow Ribeiro to hit the free agent market come this Friday. 

So, here we are again.  One year later, and no second-line center.  Here are some of the options the Capitals have with regard to filling Ribeiro’s void.

In-House Replacements: Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault

All three of these guys had the opportunity to claim the position before Ribeiro came to town.  Marcus Johansson started last season as a center, but eventually had to make the move to wing because he frankly was terrible, especially in the faceoff circle (granted Ribeiro was terrible as well).  His ineffectiveness eventually led to him catching some games from the press box.  Unless he spends some considerable time working on his center game in the offseason, I can’t see Oates going with him.

Brooks Laich has had success as a center over the years.  He has good strength in the faceoff circle and drives the center lane well.  His problem is that his skill set just doesn’t work as a second line center, at least not on this team.  He doesn’t have great speed and his passing ability, while serviceable, isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.  The assumed line combination would put him with Brouwer and Erat.  I have a feeling the coaching staff would rather have a bit more skill on that line than Laich would provide.

That leaves Mathieu Perreault.  I wish I could have a better read on this kid.  As far as heart and drive, he’s near the top of the team.  Despite his minute frame (5’10”, 185 and that’s being generous), he isn’t afraid to go digging in the corners with the big guys.  Watching him and Chara battling for a puck is both inspirational and comical.  He also has the skill set that is closest to Ribeiro’s.  The problem remains his size.  It’s great that he is willing to muck it up with guys twice his size, but if he doesn’t actually come out with the puck, it doesn’t do much good.  Give the kid some space, and he’ll make the right play.  But put some physical play on him, and he has a tendency to go down rather easily.  He is a great depth center who can fill in for a game or two, but I don’t think he can handle an 82-game grind at that position.

I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath for a prospect coming up through the ranks either.  Only Evgeny Kuznetsov has the makings of a second-line center and he’s at least a year away from putting on a Capital sweater.  But his impending arrival might affect the way they look to fill the void.  It probably –played a part in the decision not to sign Ribeiro long-term. 

If it isn’t going to be somebody already here, then we have to look at the free agent market.  As I mentioned a few months back, the Caps don't exactly have a lot of cap space.  They currently sit at just over 5 million in cap space, with Alzner and Johansson still needing extensions.  This is also assuming that Matt Hendricks will not be back, which seems to be unfortunately the case.  If they couldn’t afford Ribeiro, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about Lecavalier.  He is the same age as Ribeiro, but should look to garner a bit more.  The only hope to bring Vinny here would be if was willing to take a short term deal with a winning team, which isn’t a given with this team.  The guy I would be most interested in the Caps pursuing is Stephen Weiss.  In Weiss, we have a top quality center who has run into some injury problems.    If the training staff signs off on him, his price tag should be much lower.  Given their recent history with low-risk investments (e.g. Wolski, Fehr, Hillen), this is a direction they might lean.

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About F Street Faithful

Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.