Will anyone take a chance on now-suspect center Mike Ribeiro?

Mike Ribeiro remains in free agent limbo after buyout. (USATSI)
Mike Ribeiro remains in free-agent limbo after buyout. (USATSI)

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Imagine you are an NHL general manager. You’ve got some money to spend and you need a top-six center. You already missed out on Paul Stastny, Brad Richards and Mikhail Grabovski, but there’s still that hole that needs to be filled and it’s a rather important one.

Now imagine that there is a veteran center who has averaged 0.75 points per game and is guaranteed at least 30-plus assists per season. Additionally, over the last seven seasons only nine centers in the entire NHL have more points. Heck, this guy even averaged over a point-per-game just a year ago and was a top UFA target. If that was the only information you had, what do you do?

Well, this exercise is flawed in that something of this nature requires a title and picture that already tell you who this mystery center is. Mike Ribeiro’s surprise buyout from the Arizona Coyotes could have really shuffled the center market. It quite obviously didn’t as others signed big-money deals while Ribeiro still awaits his next contract. There's obviously plenty of time, but the longer Ribeiro remains unsigned the more limited his options will become.

The circumstances of Ribeiro’s ouster were made public without much detail by general manager Don Maloney when he explained the buyout in a news conference immediately following the announcement. Citing behavioral issues as the primary reason for cutting ties with Ribeiro, Maloney said the team had made a mistake in handing Ribeiro the contract they did last summer. The budget-conscious team thought it was bad enough to use an ordinary-course buyout on the 34-year-old center.

"Mike had some behavioral issues last year and after looking at everything that occurred I just felt there were certain levels of behavior that we could not accept," Maloney said (via foxsports.com) "This has nothing to do with finances. Our goal is to become a successful, winning franchise. For us to move forward, we felt we had to make this change."

The Coyotes are on the hook $11.6 million over the next six years and will incur a $1.94 million cap hit for the upcoming season. Considering the Coyotes’ perennial budgetary issues and the fact that Maloney said that discussions on what to do with Ribeiro commenced the day the final buzzer sounded on the 2013-14 season, the issues had to be significant.

According to a report from Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona, missed meetings, missed buses and a shouting match with head coach Dave Tippett were among the infractions that cost Ribeiro his spot on the team.

Ribeiro's career has been marred by a reputation as a partier and has been followed by questions about his attitude. He was also once arrested for public intoxication while playing for the Dallas Stars in 2010, adding fuel to the concerns.

Also, everything about Ribeiro from his off-ice lifestyle and actual style don’t fit him into hockey’s homogenized, understated culture. That hasn't stopped teams from acquiring him because Ribeiro has been a productive player throughout his career, but will that stop now after the rather messy end in the desert?

The latest chapter in Ribeiro's career, which also spanned sometimes rocky stints with the Montreal Canadiens, the aforementioned Stars -- where Tippett was head coach -- and a one-year stay with the Washington Capitals really could negatively impact his employment options going forward.

Ribeiro put up just 47 points in 80 games for the Coyotes. Making matters worse, only 19 of those came after the calendar flipped to 2014.  Maloney termed it as the team being without a top line center for the last 40 games of the season.

Additionally, at Ribeiro's age, there's reason to be considered about the decline in production from over a point-per-game with the Capitals (surely aided by Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin as a linemate) to a 0.58 point-per-game player in just one season. Obviously, you'd expect a dip due to not having one of the league's elite scorers on his wing anymore, but it seemed there was a lot more to it than that. Even Ribeiro admitted it at the end of the season.

"I think it was a lot of things," Ribeiro told AZCentral.com. "It's not just about hockey but a lot of things. Never having my groove, never found it. It was just a hard season for me. I think it was one of my worst seasons. But … I don't believe it can get worse."

Well, it did end up getting worse, obviously.

With all of that in mind, Ribeiro’s value in terms of the kind of contract he can demand is surely plummeting. And with a cheaper contract, aided by the fact that Ribeiro will earn nearly $2 million to not play for the Coyotes, has to at least be enticing.

Ribeiro remains skilled and would make a lot of organization’s power plays better because that is an area he excels in. His work with the Capitals just a season ago, posting 27 of his 49 points on the advantage, shows that if you put Ribeiro with the right players and in the right situations, he can produce.

The money would not appear to be risky, but the question is what kind of team can add a player like Ribeiro knowing that he seemingly was part of a toxic situation in Phoenix? It seems that the "clubhouse cancer" reputation carries more weight in hockey where team unity and everyone playing their role without complaint is less expected than required.

It would seem that if Ribeiro is going to find work, it would have to be at an extreme discount, likely on a one-year deal. There are plenty of offense-starved teams that could use a player like Ribeiro, particularly at that kind of rate.

You look at teams like the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres that could likely use an upgrade down the middle, but again, none seems like a sure bet as a landing spot for Ribeiro. No team does anymore.

Ribeiro may also be limiting his own market.

According to a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Flames were willing to part with a draft pick to acquire Ribeiro from the Coyotes, but the forward wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause. Now he’s out on the market with a tough sell of a situation, and perhaps even the Flames would pass at this point with having to spend nothing but the terms of his contract at a discounted rate.

Considering it was just one year ago that Ribeiro was a top target for a team like the Coyotes as an unrestricted free agent, earning himself a four-year, $20 million, his on-ice quality couldn’t have possibly swung so oppositely that there’s no market for him anymore.

Taking last season out of the equation and it’s plain to see that Ribeiro still has a lot of value on the ice. But there isn’t a general manager in the league who is going to ignore what happened with the Coyotes.

Without really knowing the ins and outs of what happened and the circumstances that surrounded Ribeiro's rocky 2013-14 season, it’s going to take more of a leap of faith if any GMs are willing to take it.

That said, if there’s anyone worth taking a risk on, it’s a player who has been among the 11 most productive centers in the league since 2006-07, when he moved from the Canadiens to Dallas.

If not, Ribeiro’s options may end up being limited to playing overseas and taking a year (or more) away from the NHL to prove he’s ready to come back. By that time, it may already be too late.

CBS Sports Writer

Chris Peters has been a hockey writer for CBS Sports since 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for numerous outlets and edited the United States of Hockey blog, covering the sport at all levels. Peters also... Full Bio

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