New Capitals center Mike Ribeiro, right, has eight 50-point seasons in… (Bruce Bennett/GETTY IMAGES )
PITTSBURGH —The Washington Capitals entered the 2012 draft with a league-high 11 picks and a handful of important holes to fill before any of their selections would be ready for the NHL. So with his first move of the draft’s opening night, Capitals General Manager George McPhee moved to resolve his roster’s most immediate roster need. And later, he discussed the team’s coaching vacancy.
Washington acquired center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars on Friday night in exchange for prospect Cody Eakin and the 54th overall pick. The deal adds a veteran playmaker the organization has lacked for the past three years and kicks off what will be an offseason of change for the Capitals.
Naming a new head coach is chief among those changes, and McPhee also said the Capitals have finished interviewing candidates for the position.
“We’re done with all the interviews and everything else,” he said. “We’ll have to make a decision here in the next little while. The issue is not trying to find a competent guy because there are lots of them — it’s which one is the best.”
McPhee said the team’s front office will “switch gears” after Saturday, when the draft concludes at Consol Energy Center, and return its focus to deciding on a head coach.
The trade for Ribeiro was McPhee’s biggest acquisition of the night, but in the following hours he also added highly touted Swedish center Filip Forsberg with the 11th overall pick and gritty winger Thomas Wilson at No. 16.
Ribeiro, 32, has one year left on his contract at a salary cap hit of $5 million, which gives the Capitals time to determine whether he is a long-term fit and see how the next collective bargaining agreement plays out before making a multi-season commitment. The Montreal native recorded 18 goals and 45 assists for the Stars in 2011-12 — his eighth 50-point season — and is expected to be the Capitals’ second-line center.
“We wanted to add a little bit of skill to our lineup; I just didn’t like the way we played in the playoffs,” McPhee said of the trade. “We’ve got some big gritty forwards and we just wanted to put another skilled guy in the middle of it to see if it helps. I think it makes our team immediately better.”
For the past three seasons Washington lacked an experienced, solid presence anchoring the second line and it auditioned numerous candidates for the role — including Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, Tomas Fleischmann, Brendan Morrison and Jason Arnott — without finding a match. The absence of a true offensive center was glaring when star Nicklas Backstrom missed 40 games last season with a concussion.
Ribeiro will create options for the rest of Washington’s forward configurations as well, particularly with players such as Laich, a versatile, two-way forward who can play center or wing but fits well in a shut-down role, and Johansson, who has shown to be comfortable on the wing.
“I like being able to have a coach craft different lineups for different teams,” McPhee said. “I loved the way Brooks played in the playoffs in that position [second-line center]. It’s nice to know he can do it again — but to find that kind of skill, I’m looking forward to watching [Ribeiro].”
Ribeiro has been a center on first or second lines throughout his career and was sought by McPhee for several months. McPhee said he inquired about Ribeiro multiple times last season, including at the trade deadline, but because the Stars were in the postseason hunt they didn’t want to part with a valuable part of their roster.
“They wanted to make a change this summer. I had been after this player for a while, so we got it done,” said McPhee, who added that he prefers to bring in new players via trade rather than free agency. “We gave up a real good kid in Cody. He’s going to play a real long time in this league, but Ribeiro will come in and play much higher in the lineup right away.”
Forsberg, who is not related to 2002-03 NHL MVP Peter Forsberg, was the highest-ranked European skater by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau but surprisingly slipped to Washington as other teams focused on defensemen — 13 blue-liners were taken in the first round, seven straight prior to the Capitals’ choice. Forsberg, 17, is believed to be one of the most developed forwards in this year’s crop of prospects.
“I have one year left on my contract back in Sweden. That’s my plan for next year, but then I’m not sure,” Forsberg said. “We’ll see. Hopefully I can have a good season, then everything can happen.”