The Stars and Mike Ribeiro have some work to do this year.
While the two sides have had their moments of butting heads, it appears pretty clear that they will go forward together, and both sides will have to find some middle ground.
Dallas tried hard to trade Ribeiro in the off-season, but couldn't find the right deal. The need for the potential trade was in part because the Stars felt they needed a top-level defenseman and Ribeiro would provide the best trade bait to acquire that player, and in part because the Stars felt that they could afford to lose Ribeiro because he doesn't seem like the best fit.
Dave Tippett loved Ribeiro's style of play, and Tippett helped foster the best years of his career as the team's No. 1 center. Marc Crawford loves Brad Richards' play and has helped foster Richards' ascension. And that has been difficult for Ribeiro. Crawford pushes 45 second shifts where you get on the ice, get on the attack at high speed and then turn it over to the next line. He loves to get his lines in a flow and wants to use that flow to try to find the best match-up, not only against the other team but between his forwards and defenseman. Ribeiro likes a slower pace where he can sort of meander around the ice and pick spots. He has said before that he believes the end of a long shift is often when he can strike because the defense is tired and loses its focus. He is an extremely patient player in an impatient system.
But while that philosophical difference seems like it should be easily bridged, it has created all sorts of problems. If Ribeiro overstays a shift, it messes everything up. Let's say Loui Eriksson is the first on the ice on a line change. He skates for 5 or 10 seconds and then James Neal joins him. Well, Brad Richards is sitting with one leg over the board waiting for Ribeiro to change. Ribeiro sees an opening and instead of dumping the puck, he decides to make one last run with the puck because that's the most important part of the shift in his mind. By the time the run doesn't work out, Richards has missed half of his shift with his linemates. Richards can then take a short shift and change with his linemates or he can stay out longer with new linemates. If he chooses to stay, then the entire rotation is messed up.
So then Richards is unhappy, Crawford is unhappy, Ribeiro is unhappy, and the bench becomes a tough place.
Ribeiro truly feels all he was doing was trying his hardest to help his team score, and yet he's then told he's being selfish and messing up the entire team, so he becomes frustrated, further adding to the team frustration.
Jason Arnott went through some of the same problems when he was here. He felt that everyone criticized him and nobody ever criticized Mike Modano, and he started to get ``Jan Brady'' syndrome. Ribeiro felt a lot of that last year, and it will take some work for the Stars and Ribeiro to fix that.
As hard as it is for Ribeiro to hear, the majority of this responsibility falls to him. He has to be on his best behavior all season and he has to be dedicated to making himself fit into Crawford's system. He can't be late to any meetings and he can't show any signs that he doesn't want to do things the way the team does them. Even his body language has to be that he is fully on board and ready to put the team first. Crawford and Joe Nieuwendyk are certainly aware of the problems, and they will do their best to find ways to make Ribeiro fit better, but the problem right now is that you are not going to change Crawford on something this major. He runs short shifts, that's all there is to it, and the players will have to adapt.
The funny thing about Crawford is he wants things done his way, but he really doesn't have that old school chip on his shoulder. When Ribeiro hot-dogged that penalty shot in Phoenix a couple of years ago, Tippett was really mad. Tippett understands the unwritten rules of the game, and he believes that you do not intentionally show someone up or grandstand. That's not how his teams play. Ribeiro clearly took Tippett's anger to heart and really stifled a lot of his shootout creativity last season. Ironically, Crawford said he doesn't care if Ribeiro hotdogs or not, just so long as he scores. Crawford really does believe this is an entertainment industry, and he doesn't mind Ribeiro's new-world vision of the game...just so long as he does it within the boundaries of the team rules.
The funny thing about Ribeiro is that he really has worked hard to make himself a better player, and has seen results. He was fourth among forwards in average short-handed time on ice last season (1:32) _ and Jere Lehtinen (2:17) and Tom Wandell (1:41) each missed half of the season. What that means is that Ribeiro is improving his defensive game and is being trusted to play defensively. He had 93 hits, so he brings a bit of an edge to his game. He still needs a ton of work on faceoffs (44.8 percent), but it seemed like he was much better at important faceoffs last year.
Bottom line, he has worked hard in Dallas and does not appear to have an attitude problem with working hard or making adjustments. It seems like he should fit better here than on any other team because of the work he has done to carve a niche.
So can the two sides work this all out?
I guess we'll just have to wait and see. The word is now out there that Ribeiro is available at the right price, so a team needing him who can find space for the remaining three years of his contract (at $5 million a year) can make an inquiry. However, the Stars don't want to take on a bad contract in return or just give Ribeiro away for nothing.
Nieuwendyk still is convinced that Jamie Benn's best position is center, so that is hanging out there and allowing the door to remain open for a possible Ribeiro trade. But what if the Stars trade Ribeiro and then can't get Brad Richards signed to a contract extension? I guess they could go find a solution to the No. 1 center spot with the $12.8 million in available salary that would be gone with the contracts for Richards and Ribeiro, but that is a bit of a scary proposition.
Bottom line, the team appears ready to go into next season with Richards and Ribeiro as the No. 1 and No. 2 centers, so they need to find a way to make it all work.
It will be a very interesting study in team chemistry.