GLENDALE, Ariz. — In six months time, veteran center Mike Ribeiro went from big splash to big flop.
Thought to be the perfect offensive addition for a Phoenix Coyotes’ team that had floundered in that department over the last few seasons, it was Ribeiro who floundered through much of 2013-14.
Ribeiro, who signed a four-year, $22 million deal with Phoenix last July, began his tenure on a rather high note.
In fact, over the first three months of the campaign, he led the Coyotes in scoring with 29 points (10 goals and 19 assists).
And then things went south in a hurry.
“I don’t want to stand up here and point the finger at Mike Ribeiro,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “If he’s standing up here, he’s saying the same thing. He’s disappointed in himself and in his performance. You’d think that a guy of his age or Shane Doan’s age or Derek Morris’ age would be confident. But, their confidence goes in ebbs and flows.
“I think Mike got down on himself and in his play. He got in a rut and couldn’t get out of it.”
A rut is somewhat of an understatement when quantifying just how unproductive Ribeiro was when it mattered most.
After the first of the year, the 13-year veteran recorded only 18 total points. And as Phoenix made one final push for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, his decline became even more noticeable — scoring two goals over the final 25 games.
“I think if I played a little bit better, we make the playoffs,” a matter-of-fact Ribeiro said.
But he didn’t, and that lack of productivity took Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett a little bit by surprise, as he previously coached Ribeiro during some of his finest years in Dallas from 2006-09.
“I thought the first couple of months were positive and for whatever reason the last half of the season was far below what I expected,” said Tippett.
“He brings another element that we don’t have. You look at [Antoine] Vermette, [Martin] Hanzal, even [Kyle] Chipchura and [Jeff] Halpern, they’re all good, working centers. But this guy can make a play that can have an impact on the game. I think he helped our power play a little bit. When he was at his best in November or whenever it was, he had 12 points in eight or nine games. They were key points. Those were the things I expected, not for a part of the season but for the full season.”
Statistically speaking, the campaign was Ribeiro’s worst since he was a part-time player with the Montreal Canadiens in 2002-03.
And to add insult to injury, his former coach did everything within his power to ease the 34-year-old through the transition — from pairing him with different line mates throughout the season or giving him a mental break during two road games against the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins in late March.
Quite simply, nothing seemed to work.
“There were a lot of mixed lines this year,” said Ribeiro. “But at the end of the day, your center can make your wingers better. I wasn’t able to do that. It doesn’t really matter who you play with, but rather what you do for your teammates. I wasn’t able to create much for them.”
He wasn’t, and as time marched on his confidence dwindled because of it.
Point-blank shots were passed up, power play chances were squandered and a season that started with so much promise ended without so much as a whimper from Ribeiro.
“I think it was a lot of things,” Ribeiro said of his underwhelming 47-point performance in 2013-14. “It wasn’t just about hockey. It was a lot of things. I never had my groove and never found it. It was a hard season for me, one of my worst.
“I don’t believe it can get worse. That’s a positive that I can come here next year and really have a better season.”
What it will take for Ribeiro to rebound is anyone’s guess, because the 2007-08 All-Star looked like a shadow of his former self whether he was grouped with top-line forwards or grinders along the boards.
According to Ribeiro, the weight of heightened expectations might have been a little too heavy to overcome, especially in his first season with a new club.
“You come here and are expected to do something, and then you don’t,” said Ribeiro. “It was hard to grab it and get to that point. I never got there. Once again, it’s about me and how I can get better this summer.
“I mean I can be physically in better shape. My main goal is to get in good shape and get ready for next season. If I workout once in my career, maybe I can have a good season.”