The last time the Phoenix Coyotes had a legitimate No. 1 center, Apple had just released the iPod.
Since the departure of Jeremy Roenick after the 2000-01 season, the Coyotes have struggled to find a true No. 1 center. Players like Daymond Langkow and Mike Comrie did a decent job filling the hole in the middle of the top line but for any team to be a true contender they need to have a top-end center that can carry an offense. The Blackhawks had Jonathan Toews, the Kings had Anze Kopitar, the Bruins had Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci) the Penguins had Sidney Crosby (and Evgeni Malkin) and so on.
On July 5, 2013, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney signed a player who might just be the legitimate No. 1 center this team has been seeking for all these years in Mike Ribeiro.
Ribeiro is a 0.78 points per game player over his whole career and a 0.93 points per game player in the last six years. In those six years he finished below 20th overall in scoring just once, in 2009-2010 when he had 53 points in 66 games. He finished 37th in points. There’s something else that might be even more promising than all these numbers. Ribeiro had his best season under Dave Tippett in Dallas during the 2007-08 season.
The Phoenix Coyotes powerplay was dreadful last season. They finished 25th in the league in powerplay percentage, converting on just 14.8% of their opportunities with the man advantage. Ribeiro finished tied for first in the NHL in powerplay points last season.
The signing of Ribeiro is more than it seems. It represents a culture change in Phoenix. Many would argue that Ribeiro was at or near the top of this year’s free agent class. The fact that he wanted to come to Arizona to play for Dave Tippett shows that the days of the Coyotes needing to dumpster dive for players willing to come here are gone.
“He just knows what I can do and lets me be more free to offensively try stuff but at the same time be a good defensive player, too,” Ribeiro said of Tippett. “I think I learned a lot from him. He’s not a coach that’s going to scream at you for making a mistake, more talk to you, more down to earth, and I think that’s why guys like him so much.
“He’s normal with you. He respects you, and I think that was a big part — being comfortable when I’m on the ice.”
With new ownership on the horizon and a winning atmosphere finally surrounding the team after years of mismanagement and a terrible on-ice product, Arizona might finally be starting to emerge as a hockey state. It might finally be time for naysayers to eat their words.
Hockey can survive and thrive in the south, and the Phoenix Coyotes have gotten on the right path.
“The new ownership is the changing of the era, and the fallout from that is kind of a new chapter in the franchise’s history,” Coach Tippett said. “There’s some very good years with Jeremy Roenick and (Keith) Tkachuk and a few tough years and the instability years. Now hopefully we get to draw a new map of where the franchise is going and try and take it to higher level.”
“When you don’t have an owner of the team, you’re kind of stuck,” said Ribeiro. “You don’t do what you want to do. You can’t get players that you want or re-sign them. To know that you have that behind you, I think it’s easier for guys to come here and know that you’re going to stay here.”
At first look, the reuniting of Tippett and Ribeiro seems like a dream come true for Coyotes fans. Ribeiro has elite play-making ability and will help the Coyotes offense immensely. It’s tough to blame the fans for getting excited.
After all, 13 years is a long time to wait for a No. 1 center.
Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports