Ribeiro eager to lead the new era of Coyotes' hockey

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New Coyote Mike Ribeiro is introduced to the media by General Manager Don Maloney on July 12, 2013. By Brad Denny New Coyote Mike Ribeiro is introduced to the media by General Manager Don Maloney on July 12, 2013. By Brad Denny

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Dave Tippett’s teams have always won with defense.

Even with the long-awaited ownership situation settled and the spending ability that it provides, the team’s formula for success that is not going to change.

However, it sure is going to make things a lot more dynamic for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Just days after the Glendale City Council approved the leasing agreement with the IceArizona group to keep the team in Arizona, the Coyotes made a major splash in free agency by signing center Mike Ribeiro away from the Washington Capitals to a four-year, $22-million contract. 

In the lockout-shortened season, Ribeiro tallied 36 assists, the fifth-highest total in the league, and he finished tied for 10th in scoring with 49 points. Given that caliber of production, it came as a moderate surprise to Ribeiro that he was allowed to leave the Capitals.

“With the season that I had, I was expecting to be signed earlier than that,” said Ribeiro. “With (salary) caps, everyone is squeezed in this year, and they weren’t able to sign me.”

Yet when he found himself free to sign with any team, the Coyotes and Tippett—his former head coach when both were in Dallas—immediately jumped onto Ribeiro’s radar.

“Our first pick as a family, and really for me, was to be comfortable in where I was going and to not have to restart,” Ribeiro said. “We’ve (Tippett) been friends. My wife’s been friends with Tip’s wife. It was a comfortable place for us to be. I loved to be coached by Tip. I believe in what he’s trying to do, and I think that he believes in me.”

But it wasn’t until it was clear that the team would remain in Arizona that it became a lock.

“Phoenix or Seattle ... it would have maybe changed my plans if it was Seattle,” said Ribeiro. “Right away, when they decided to stay here for a few years, it was a no brainer to come here for four years.”

Once the interest was found to be mutual, a deal was done quickly between the team and Ribeiro.

“We were able to do it pretty quick,” said Ribeiro. “Last time I was a free agent, I had a chance to sign during the season, and you don’t have the stress of not knowing where you are going. It was important not to drag this along too far into free agency and wait two or three more weeks. It was important to me to get ready for the next season. The Coyotes were my first pick.”

With the ownership group finally in place, along with a well-respected general manager in Don Maloney and a contract extension for Tippett completed, Phoenix is enjoying a newfound sense of stability. With a marquee free agent in Ribeiro having chosen to sing a long-term deal, the newest Coyote thinks he could be the first in a trend of players opting to play in the desert. 

“I think a lot of guys will think about it for the next few years,” said Ribeiro. “Similar to Dallas, when you don’t have an owner, you’re kind of stuck. To know that you have that behind you, it’s easier for guys to come here. Now that you’re here, it may change guys’ thoughts on coming here. If you have a good team, guys will be interested in coming here.”

On the ice, Ribeiro will be looked at to be a true No. 1 center, a valuable commodity that the team has lacked since the days of Jeremy Roenick in the late 1990s. 

“I always want to be the top player,” said Ribeiro of leading the top line. “He (Tippett) gave me that chance to be No. 1 for two years there, and I had a great time. I like challenge, and I’m not afraid of pressure or how to handle it. For me, it’s to come in, play every game hard, and not stress about the other stuff. It’s about winning.”
By centering the Coyotes’ top line, Ribeiro should see himself playing with captain Shane Doan and Mikkel Boedker. Ribeiro’s addition should immediately help the talented 23-year old Boedker take the long-awaited next step in his game, but as long as he is one the ice, Ribeiro is not picky about his linemates.
“Doan has been around and knows how to play the game,” said Ribeiro. “For me, I didn’t mind who I was playing with. I’ll play with anyone. My job is to make those guys better, and to try and create a chance for them offensively. I’ve played with all kinds of players. It’s a matter of trying to create for those guys and making my teammates better. That’s one of my qualities—to move the puck to those guys. I’m sure Tip will match me with good guys.”
One area that should see a huge lift is on the power play, where Ribeiro’s 21 assists with the man advantage led the NHL last year. Phoenix has not ranked higher than 23rd on the power play over the last five years.
At age 33, Ribeiro remains one of the top playmakers in the NHL. His puck skills and passing ability have helped him top 50 assists three times over the past six seasons. He’s no slouch as a scorer either, having averaged 20 goals over the last eight full seasons.
“I create offensively. I create for my wingers and teammates,” said Ribeiro. “I think I can create on the power play. My game is to get better every year, whether that is on faceoffs or defensively. I’ve played PK with Tip, but most of it is to dish the puck and make my teammates better.”
Having spent six years in Dallas before playing last year in Washington, Ribeiro is quite familiar with the core group of Coyotes, and he thinks that the 2011-2012 Pacific Division champions are not far off from making another deep playoff run.
“They’ve been great the last few years,” said Ribeiro of the Coyotes. “Just missing a piece here and there. You start with your goaltending. I played with Smitty (goaltender Mike Smith) in Dallas. To have him between the pipes is huge. You have a young defense. It’s a great group. The core is older, they’ve been around and are more experienced. It’s just a matter of being together and going from there.”
For years, the Coyotes have competed with one hand ied behind their back due to the ownership drama. With the circus behind them, a foundation put in place, and an impressive new weapon at their disposal, things are looking up for the Desert Dogs.
For Ribeiro, the only thing that matters now is getting things done.
"I just have to focus on my game and help this team win."