Over the next month, Defending Big D will be counting down the most important "impact" players for the upcoming season for the
Many things were said about Mike Ribeiro when he was traded to the Dallas Stars for Janne Niinimaa.
He was supposed to be a floater. He was supposed to be a diver. He was supposed to be a locker-room cancer.
And while the road through the Metroplex hasn't been entirely smooth for the former Montreal Canadiens second-round pick, those obstacles have been minor speed bumps in the grand scheme of things. Ribeiro has been nothing short of the Stars most breathtaking playmaker since joining the team in 2006, executing no-look passes with ease and terrifying a generation of goalies with his shots from behind the goal line.
Ribeiro led the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons before an errant stick to the throat cost him a chunk of 2009-10, and last year he posted his third 50-assist campaign in four seasons.
But the Stars will be asking even more from the 31-year-old center this year.
How much more? Find out after the jump.With the departure of Brad Richards for the New York Rangers, Riberio will become the veteran focal point for the Stars offense once again. And while Richards might have received the lion's share of national media attention for his 77-point season last year, other teams still approached Ribeiro as the Stars No. 1 center.
According to QUALCOMP, an advanced metric that measures the average quality of opponents faced by an individual player, Ribeiro faced other team's top players more often than any other regular forward besides linemate Brenden Morrow. And Ribeiro still thrived, scoring 19 goals for the second consecutive season and racking up 52 assists. He also played a big part in Morrow scoring a career-high 33 goals.
But he was a frustratingly inconsistent goal-scorer, failing to score for the first 16 games of the season. He also had a nine-game goalless drought in January and February as the team started its tailspin out of the playoff picture.
The Stars can't afford to have that happen this year. While the forward depth has been improved, the loss of Richards and trade of James Neal leaves some serious questions about the depth of the Top 6, and Ribeiro re-finding a consistent scoring touch would help immensely. It would also take some of the pressure, and maybe a little of the opponent's attention, off of Jamie Benn, who will be centering a top line for the first time in his career.
"That’s what you want, you want that," said Ribeiro, who topped 50 assists and 70 points for the third time in five seasons in Dallas, of the additional pressure of being the go-to guy.
"It’s a little bit harder. I think last year I adjusted pretty good and didn’t really care about first or second, and it will be the same this year. We’ve got Bennie, I think that he is ready to take a big step and we’ll see how we go. It’s a team. Some nights it might be Bennie’s line that will be the top line and other nights it will be me. But I am ready to be the first one and play against those top D’s and those checking lines. But I won’t mind if it’s Bennie’s line or Tommy Wandell’s line. It’s more we just have to stay focused on what we have to do as a team and win some games."
One thing that should help is the addition of right winger Michael Ryder, another mercurial scorer who has shown chemistry with Ribeiro in the past during the duo's days in Montreal. Ribeiro has always preferred a left shot and right shot winger alongside him, and Morrow and Ryder should be the ideal combination of crash and flash.
The downside is that none of them are what you would call a defensive wunderkind, though both Ribeiro and Morrow have both shown they have great effort, if not instincts, on the backcheck. Ribeiro's line finished in the middle of the pack on the team in +/- last year, and any improvement in that area would only serve to make them more dangerous.
Ribeiro should also get a reprise from his penalty kill duties with the additions of Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak, both speedy defensive specialists, which would ideally leave him fresher to create offense at even strength or on the power play. He averaged just less than a minute per game on the PK last year.
And we all know what Ribeiro is capable of when the leash is taken off in the shootout. He led the team with six shootout goals and a 60 percent conversion rate last year. That's Sergei Zubov-like levels of mastery.
But the bottom line is this: Ribeiro has been everything the Stars have needed him to be since coming to Dallas in perhaps the greatest trade of the post-lockout era. This season, they will need him to do a little bit more.