There has been much debate about whether the Capitals should sign center Mike Ribeiro to a long-term contract or if he should be traded at the trade deadline. At 33 years old, Mike Ribeiro would be 38 at the end of a 5-year contract, which is his stated desire. There is little debate about how good Ribeiro has been this season for the Capitals, sitting 17th in NHL scoring with 35 points in 35 games. He has been instrumental to the Capitals staying in the playoff chase; he truly has been the productive, veteran #2 center the Capitals have needed since Sergei Fedorov left in 2009, and players like him don’t come around too often, which means the Capitals should try to hold on to him.
Most people don’t seem to be worried about the first 2-3 years of a potential Ribeiro contract and seem fairly confident that George McPhee’s initial contract offer of 3 years and $14 million was a fair deal and safe for the Capitals, even if a no-movement clause was included. Ribeiro has averaged 20 goals and 65 points per year over the last 8 seasons on two different teams and has continued that high production on a third team. People are concerned that by the 4th or 5th year of such a contract that Ribeiro will not be performing at the same level he is now and won’t be worth the $5 million a season he is likely to be making. The reason: most players experience a decline in performance when they reach their late 30s, if they are still playing at all, and such a big contract for a diminished player may hurt the Capitals' salary cap structure. If people are sure that Ribeiro will be good for 3 years, why is it so harmful to give him a fourth and fifth year? How far does his performance have to drop for a $5 million contract to not be worth it? As long as Ribeiro does not have a no-movement clause after year 3, his contract isn’t nearly as risky as it may seem on the surface. It also may be worth paying market value for three years for a couple of overpaid seasons, though McPhee can mitigate the risk and structure the contract to pay him less money after year 3. After all, Sergei Fedorov was pushing 40 when the Capitals acquired him, much like Igor Larionov and Ron Francis were elder statesmen when they met in the 2002 Stanley Cup Final. It may be useful to see some recent examples of what players like Ribeiro have accomplished in their late 30s.