The Washington Capitals lacked offensive depth last season. And now they move forward without point-per-game center Mike Ribeiro, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent.
General manager George McPhee shrugged off that loss. He largely ignored the free agent marketplace, too, citing the high cost of No. 2-caliber centers.
Instead he decided to count on Brooks Laich to move in behind top center Nicklas Backstrom on the depth chart.
“We had him there in the playoffs a couple of years ago, liked it a lot,” McPhee told Washington reporters. “He’s a natural center, grew up playing center and we think it’s time to play him there.”
Laich, 30, played only nine games last season due to a groin muscle injury. Back in 2009-10 he scored 25 goals, added 24 assists and earned a plus-16 rating. He followed that up by scoring 16 goals and adding 32 assists with a plus-14 the next season.
He lacks Ribeiro’s playmaking skills, but he can match up defensively against top offensive centers and punch in some power-play goals.
“He gives you the size and speed you’re looking for, the good two-way play you’re looking for, good faceoffs,” McPhee told reporters. “We want to play a better pace game we want more speed and we think he’s capable of it.
“We don’t see any real difference in terms of ability to play between a Brooks and — if you look around the league — a Mike Fisher in Nashville or Mike Richards in L.A. or David Backes in St. Louis. Same kind of players in terms of ability to play.”