DALLAS - OCTOBER 28: Center Mike Ribeiro #63 of the Dallas Stas skates the puck past Rob Scuderi #7 of the Los Angeles Kings on October 28 2010 in Dallas Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Mike Ribeiro was a Dallas Star for six seasons. In those six seasons the Stars made the playoffs twice. He averaged 77 games played per year, 21 goals, 47 assists, and 68 points. He played with an arrogance that rubbed off on his teammates when the Stars were going well and set the tone for the type of game they were going to play.
With his offensive production came other issues. His defensive issues are relatively common knowledge at this point. He struggled in the faceoff circle. He took long shifts. Over his six years in Dallas there were, particularly in 2011, some unprofessional off ice incidents. Overall in his time in Dallas Ribeiro was a big net positive. He gave the Stars mountains of offensive production and all they moved to get him was Janne Niinimaa.
I know a lot of fans have grown attached to Ribeiro. Some of you were probably introduced to hockey by watching Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow skate together during their last two playoff runs. It was his time to go though. As the season wore on it became more and more clear that Ribeiro didn't fit on the roster going forward. After the jump I'll show you what the Stars see, and hopefully even if you don't like it, you will at least appreciate the motivations behind the move.
Mike Ribeiro was going to cause strategic and logistical issues for the Stars in the 2013 season.. It''s very easy to look at the deal and come to a conclusion similar to "the Stars just removed 60 points from their line up and got significantly worse at present". This is too much of a black and white conclusion to come to in a world that is anything but black and white. Trades don't happen in a vacuum.
There are numerous secondary issues to consider before tackling the main motivations of the trade. The Stars got a solid return for Ribeiro first and foremost. This draft is generally considered to be about 50 players deep before it becomes an absolute crap-shoot. The Stars were able to pick up the 54th pick in the draft (center Mike Winther, the consensus 44th ranked talent available) as part of the deal which allowed them to add another young forward to the recently bare cupboard.
Cody Eakin is a good piece to pick up also. He isn't an immediate top six option for the Stars in all likelihood, but his skill set is one that has been missing from the Stars for several years. He's a fast skater who is good on the forecheck. He is considered responsible defensively, and has been known to kill penalties. He has offensive upside too. At 21 in the AHL his NHL Equivalent point total suggests that he'd be about a 27 point scorer in the NHL. In 40 faceoff attempts in the NHL last year he won 52.5%. Everything about his skill set is appealing.
When you dig a little bit deeper his first 30 NHL games were actually really impressive. Being a rookie the Capitals did protect him a little. He saw below average competition and 51% of his starting faceoffs were in the offensive zone. He was clearly ready for the challenge though. He was third among Capitals forwards in Corsi (shot differential) ahead of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Joel Ward among others.
He was a solid point producer as a rookie too. At even strength Eakin scored 1.80 points per 60 minutes of even strength ice time which is roughly a 25-30 point pace. Ovechkin came in at 1.77. That total would have put him 5th among Stars forwards last year behind Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder, and Ribeiro. Steve Ott would have been behind him in 6th with 1.53 points per 60 minutes. Eakin averaged nine minutes a night with the Capitals. It's very reasonable to expect his point production to increase, ignoring any development, just from playing more minutes. He's a very good player, and there is a very strong possibility that he is going to break camp as a Dallas Star next year.
Another potential motivation for the deal goes back to a post I wrote a few weeks ago. I wrote this on June 8th:
To make a long story short, the bridges started crumbling during the financial meltdown. The Stars infrastructure got weak due to a lack of experience in the administration of the club. Tom Gaglardi has put people in place to rectify that lack of experience, and if you look you can see the impact they've already had.These changes might not directly impact the on ice product immediately, but you can be sure that the Stars functioning as a cohesive unit will pay off down the road.
This trade is a referendum in favor of the direction Joe Nieuwendyk is steering the club by Tom Gagliardi. It's a risky move, and if Gagliardi didn't trust this hockey operations department 100% it's hard for me to imagine that this trade would be allowed to go through.
Another aspect to consider is how this will be received in the room. The trade of Ribeiro has to be a galvanizing force for the remaining players. The Stars administration has been on the warpath lately attempting to assert their control over all aspects of the organization. They cleaned house in Austin. They moved Willie Desjardins to coach in Austin due to their familiar and comfortable working relationship. With this move the Stars put everyone on the NHL roster on notice. The message they sent was clear. "If you don't want to play Dallas Stars hockey you won't be here". Ribeiro's overly patient, elongated shift, and mediocre defensive style clearly stuck out at times. If he can move anyone can.
The move also generates five million dollars in cap space for the Stars. It's true that cap space is irrelevant to the on ice product if it goes unused, sure. It presents the Stars with options though. They currently have 30 million in cap space. Five of that will go to Benn. The Stars have very few free agency issues, and, if necessary, could ice a respectable 23 man roster right now just of guys under contract.
The added cap flexibility combined with the added roster flexibility make the Stars a potential power player in both the trade and free agency markets. The Stars can take on salary in any deal to help out a team against the cap. This allows the Stars to find more favorable terms in trade. The roster flexibility created by moving Ribeiro allows the Stars to pursue just about anyone that fits the criteria of what they want in a Dallas Star. If they were to acquire two top six centers: no problem. Benn moves back to the wing. One center? Benn stays at center. The scenarios go on from there.
As compelling as the above reasoning may be it pales in comparison to the ultimate reason this trade was consummated: Jamie Benn. The presence of Ribeiro and Benn at center was a problem for the Stars. Neither player is good in the circles, and the Stars can't continue to chase off of 57% of the faceoffs taken by the top two lines.
More important than the faceoff issue is the fact that Ribeiro's game doesn't fit with what the Stars want to do long term. He created more tactical problems for the Stars in 2012 than he did for the opposition. As the season wore on the Stars coaching staff recognized that they needed to keep Ribeiro away from their own net and, generally, away from the top offensive lines of the opposition. They did, and the Eriksson, Ribeiro, and Ryder trio took off production-wise after the All Star Break.
Unfortunately, despite the relatively easy minutes they came into, the line was still in the red in Corsi. Ribero's Corsi Relative of -4.4 puts him above only the overwhelmed "checking" unit. Again, this came in easy minutes. Sure, the Stars generated some goals with Ribeiro on the ice at even strength. 2.72 per 60 even strength minutes to be exact. 2.72 goals per 60 even strength minutes was good for 112th among all forwards (a touch north of 400) who played 30 games last year.That's borderline first line and definite second line offensive production.
When Ribeiro was on the ice the Stars allowed 2.61 goals per 60 even strength minutes. Of all forwards who played in 30 games last year Ribeiro came in 275th. (The Stars allowed more goals with Benn on the ice, but the offense was significantly better). When you consider the cupcake minutes he was getting down the stretch the Stars needed Ribeiro to be a more positive player. For every 60 even strength minutes of ice time Ribeiro was plus .1 goals. Put another way, it took Ribeiro about forty games worth of even strength time to generate one net goal for the Stars in easy minutes. Jamie Benn generated one net goal every five games.
The consequences of this are varied. The two that most significantly hindered the Stars ability to win in 2012 were the fact that the top line was unable to generate enough positive production, and the fact that Ribeiro's presence blocked Jamie Benn. I don't think anyone here would argue with the idea that Benn was the Stars top player in 2012. Yet, he didn't play top power play minutes. With the Stars both favoring and protecting Ribeiro, Benn had his offensive opportunities limited given how much prime offensive time Ribeiro was getting.
Benn was fourth in the entire NHL in even strength points/60 among forwards last year despite the lack of offensive opportunity. Below is a table showing the type of minutes his contemporaries at the top of the world saw last year:
Benn saw significantly less offensive zone time than his contemporaries, and only Ray Whitney saw a higher Quality of Competition. The trade of Ribeiro allows the Stars to best utilize Benn's offensive abilities. The Stars now have the option to put Benn in the offensive zone more because they don't have to worry about what happens when Ribeiro is in his own end. The move will also give the Stars the opportunity to immediately get Benn the four minutes a night of powerplay time that a scorer of his caliber deserves. I would also guess that Benn will not be skating with Steve Ott and Adam Burish for most of 2013 either. These three factors make Benn a prime candidate for an enormous breakout 2013 season.
If you're a Mike Ribeiro fan I understand how this can be a difficult move to process. I think he is a highly skilled player, and I enjoyed most of his time as a Dallas Star. It's time for the Stars and their fanbase to move on though. This is an excellent move for both the future and present. Ribeiro was a very good offensive option overall for the Stars in his tenure. The addition of Eakin in a depth role combined with the coming Benn points explosion suggest that this trade, at worst, doesn't make the 2013 Stars a worse team. At best it allows the Stars many potentials paths to take to improve the roster. When all is said and done we will look back at this trade as a big success for the Stars franchise both in the future and in 2013.