Welcome to the Desert, Mike Ribeiro
In the Dave Tippett era, the Phoenix Coyotes have consistently struggled to put the puck in the net; since the 2009-10 season, the highest the Coyotes placed in average goals per game in a single season was 14th in 2010-11. Last season was no exception; the Coyotes finished 21st in the league with 2.52 goals per game, and had to deal with disappointing seasons from the likes of Radim Vrbata and Steve Sullivan.
Enter Mike Ribeiro.
A veteran of Dave Tippett’s system from their mutual time with the Dallas Stars, Ribeiro signed a 4-year, $22 million contract with the Coyotes on the opening day of free agency. Upon his arrival in Phoenix, Ribeiro was named the heir apparent to the #1 center position, and his offensive skill set has a lot of fans excited. But how warranted is this excitement?
The Skill Set
Mike Ribeiro can give other players the puck: last season he had thirty-six assists in forty-eight games with the Washington Capitals. In his last full season with the Dallas Stars in 2011-12, he had forty-five helpers. The playmaking ability that Ribeiro offers is something the Coyotes missed after the departure of Ray Whitney. If preseason is any indication, Ribeiro will likely begin the year paired with Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker on the Coyotes’ first line. Doan has been a 20+ goal scorer for all but one of the past 11 seasons with the Coyotes, and the team’s front office believes Mikkel Boedker has the same kind of potential. Both will benefit from playing with Mike Ribeiro.
But the area the Coyotes need Ribeiro the most is on the power play. Phoenix has struggled mightily with the man advantage, primarily because of a lack of high-skilled offensive players. Ribeiro certainly has a chance to improve the team in this area. Ribeiro was second in the NHL last season in power play points with 27 (though having Alex Ovechkin to pass to certainly helps beef up those numbers). With pieces like Ribeiro, Radim Vrbata, Keith Yandle, and David Rundblad on the roster, the Coyotes might see their power play percentage pick up a little bit, which could make a big difference in what will probably be a very tight race in the Pacific Division.
The Question Marks
As with every free agent signing, there are some areas Coyotes fans should be concerned about. The most notable one is his defensive stats. Washington Capitals blog Japers’ Rink had an excellent breakdown of Mike Ribeiro’s defensive liabilities which is well worth the read, but the summary is this: the Capitals gave up more goals than they scored and allowed more shots on goal than they took when Ribeiro was on the ice versus when he wasn’t. That could be bad for a team which doesn’t score prolifically. Although it is worth noting that both Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker are solid two-way players, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson may be one of the best defensemen in the league. So the defensive problems may be possible to overcome.
Perhaps more troubling is Ribeiro’s less than stellar faceoff percentage. In 13 years of NHL playing time, Ribeiro has had one season where he won more faceoffs than he lost. He’s also only two years removed from a season where he only won the draw 42.2% of the time. The Coyotes offensive attack relies on sustained forechecking pressure and possession time, so if the top line is losing more faceoffs than it wins, it puts extra pressure on the team to either force turnovers or generate more scoring changes. Compounding the problem is that the team’s best faceoff center, Boyd Gordon, signed with Edmonton this offseason. The Coyotes would benefit from Ribeiro having a career year in the faceoff dot.
General Manager Don Maloney has a well-deserved reputation for making good decisions when it comes to player signings. Mike Ribeiro will definitely address the team’s offensive needs. His signing also shows the new ownership group’s willingness to open the checkbook to make the team better. That morale boost to a passionate but beleaguered fanbase should not go unstated. Coyotes fans are right to be excited about Mike Ribeiro, but should probably temper their expectations if they think he is the be-all, end-all to the team’s weaknesses.