Mike Ribeiro (John Russell/NHL via Getty Images)
Mike Ribeiro is finding a measure of redemption playing with James Neal and Filip Forsberg in Nashville, after a disastrous season in Arizona last year that ended with him getting bought out.
Nashville Predators centerman Mike Ribeiro is hardly the center of attention on his team, and that seems to suit him just fine. The 34-year-old is quietly but consistently contributing on a line with prized Preds off-season pickup James Neal, and young team scoring leader Filip Forsberg.
For Ribeiro, the key word in that sentence is “quietly.”
He certainly wasn’t getting all the attention in the Predators’ 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, but he was instrumental in helping Neal score Nashville’s first goal, and nearly had one of his own.
Ribeiro had a goal called back off a goalmouth scramble, after referees ruled James Neal had high-sticked the puck to get it to Ribeiro for the tap-in. But Ribeiro helped the Preds score mere seconds after the non-goal, winning the faceoff at the blueline and getting the puck to Neal for a slapshot to beat Ondrej Pavelec.
It was a bit of redemption for Ribeiro, who was on the ice for a shorthanded Jets goal earlier in the frame.
In fact, this is a redemption year for Mike Ribeiro, who is on his fourth team in four seasons. He’s earning $1.05 million on a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators, but he's got three years of buyout money in his back pocket from the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes were upset with Ribeiro's attitude after his first season in the desert, and they bought out his four-year, $22-million contract this summer.
Ribeiro was brought into Phoenix to be a No. 1 center two summers ago, but he clashed with coach Dave Tippett, who accused him of having “behavioural issues” after the buyout. Tippett occasionally made Ribeiro a healthy scratch, and the Montreal native put up one of his worst statistical seasons in a decade before he was bought out.
Ribeiro scored just 16 goals and 47 points in 80 games for the Coyotes – a sharp drop from the 13 goals and 49 points he scored in 48 games with the Washington Capitals the season previous.
But Ribeiro seems to be behaving himself just fine in Nashville these days, especially on the ice. He’s the third-leading scoring on the team, playing on the top line with Neal and Forsberg and averaging more icetime than any other forward on the squad. He still loses more faceoffs than he wins, but the career-minus center is inching his way into career-plus territory with his success in Nashville.
And he’s found a home between Neal and Forsberg. Ribeiro has four goals and 14 points in 17 games this season. He’s assisted on five of Neal’s nine goals, and three of Forsberg’s eight.
Ribeiro may not be on pace for another point-per-game season like he had with Washington two years ago, but he looks poised to return to the 60- to 70-point range he averaged in his six seasons with the Dallas Stars.
And at a $1.05-million price tag, it's hard to complain about the results so far.
One also can't discount the change in coaches. Ribeiro chaffed under the tight defensive system of Tippett's Coyotes last year, but new Nashville coach Peter Laviolette is much more willing to embrace the offence Ribeiro can provide.
Ribeiro's still not a first-line pivot or a strong defensive player, but his second-line skills are getting the job done between his more talented wingers.
Ribeiro turns 35 in February, and his days of earning $5 million a season on multi-year deals are probably over. But the fit looks right in Nashville right now, and he may just earn himself an invitation back for next season.