Chris Gordon/Russian Machine Never Breaks
Brooks Laich remembers the first time he encountered Mike Ribeiro.
He and the rest of the Washington Capitals were preparing to leave Dallas after a 2-1 loss to Ribeiro's Stars on Dec. 2, 2010, when he caught a glimpse of his future teammate.
"He's leaving the rink, and I was like, 'Holy cow, somebody put a mirror in front of that guy,'" Laich said last week.
"Flashy" may be the best way to describe Ribeiro, who joined Washington this past summer in a draft-day trade with Dallas that sent prospect Cody Eakin and a second-round pick the other way. To his introductory press conference in July, Ribeiro wore a large diamond earring in his left ear and a gold chain around his neck, which prompted head coach Adam Oates to say that he "looks like a rapper." In the locker room, Ribeiro trades his helmet for a backwards fitted red-and-grey pinwheel Capitals cap, the brim completely flat.
That flamboyance translates onto the ice. Ribeiro has earned a reputation as a slippery and talented playmaker during his 10-year NHL career, capable of creating offensive opportunities for himself and his linemates. He enters his first season in Washington with an eight-season streak of at least 50 points and he will be tasked with finally stopping the revolving door that is the Caps' second-line center position, one that has not found any sort of consistency since Sergei Fedorov departed in 2009.
"Just skating with him before I went over to Switzerland, he's like a spineless jellyfish," Laich said. "He's like a slinky. You can't hit him. You go to hit him, he just wiggles through."
Another word that has constantly been used to describe Ribeiro by his teammates, Oates and General Manager George McPhee is "intelligent." Having another savvy playmaker on the roster will relieve some of the pressure that has surrounded Nicklas Backstrom in recent years, both at even strength and on the power play, where Ribeiro will be responsible for helping to revitalize a unit that has plummeted from a league-leading 25.2 percent in 2009-10 to a mediocre 16.7 last season.
"I know what I want to do and I know what they want me to do," Ribeiro said Monday. "Obviously, it's to create offense and chances for my teammates and space for them."
The 32-year-old's colorful personality will also bring a different brand of veteran leadership to a locker room that lost outspoken veterans Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern during the offseason. Ribeiro admitted Monday that he "won't be getting up and giving a speech to the boys," but will do his best to relax his teammates by making them laugh.
"If we were all the same, it would be all boring," Laich said. "The short time that I've known him I really like him. I think he's going to bring some flair for sure."
There is no shortage of flashiness when it comes to Ribeiro, but for as much jewelry as he sports, the Caps are hoping that his addition will lead them to the one piece of bling that has eluded both of them.
"At the end of the day, every year this team is among the top five [favorites] for winning the Cup, but there's always a missing piece or two," Ribeiro said upon his arrival in Washington. "So hopefully I can be that piece that helps this team go farther in the playoffs and hopefully win a Cup."
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