It seems like every July National Hockey League teams all have the same thing on their wish list; a number one centre. This year figures to be no different and the Toronto Maple Leafs should be right in the mix.
Tyler Bozak filled that role last year in Toronto, but that was more out of necessity than by choice. Bozak did an admirable job on face-offs, although he doesn’t exactly have all the traits you look for in a number one centre. His offensive and defensive skills are just average, and at 27 years of age it’s hard to imagine he is going to grow by leaps and bounds in his NHL career.
If things keep on developing as planned with Nazem Kadri, he should be ready to fill that top spot sooner rather than later. In the meantime though, it wouldn’t hurt to have a veteran presence in place until Kadri is prepared to assume that role. One such option could be Mike Ribeiro.
Some of Ribeiro’s antics out on the ice rub people the wrong way, but there is no denying his offensive ability. Over the last nine seasons, including what he was on pace for in Washington during 2013, Ribeiro has averaged 67 points in a campaign. He is also a pass first player and would be a good set-up man playing alongside someone like Phil Kessel.
Now the one issue with Ribeiro would be on the draws. Bozak was 52.6% in the circle this season compared to Ribeiro’s mark of 44.6%. That’s actually a fairly significant drop off, but if the Leafs could better utilize Jay McClement in 2013-14, who ranked just below Bozak this year at 51.6%, they should be able to make it work. The upside of Ribeiro’s offense should be well worth a trade-off, and that’s not to say the Leafs couldn’t pursue a bottom six player as well in free agency who is strong on face-offs.
Of course what the Leafs do with Bozak is probably going to come down to money. He was making just $1.5M last season and is going to be looking for a considerable raise. Ribeiro made $5M during his last deal and is going to want at least that come July 5th. If another team is willing to shell out $4-$5M for Bozak, the Leafs would be wise to let him walk. It would make more sense to pay a little more for Ribeiro, but get more proven production along with it.