Coyotes buy out contract of Ribeiro, citing behavioral problems

Mike Ribeiro had just 16 goals and 47 points in the first season of a four-year, $22 million deal with the Coyotes.

Greg M. Cooper/Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

While trades, free agency and the NHL Draft were dominating hockey news on Friday, the Coyotes veered in a stunning direction when they initiated the process to buy out the remaining three years of center Mike Ribeiro’s four-year, $22 million deal.

"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," general manager Don Maloney said Friday by phone from the NHL Draft in Philadelphia. "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."

Because Ribeiro’s contract was signed under the new collective bargaining agreement, this is a regular buyout and not a compliance buyout – which would have alleviated his cap hit.

Per terms of the buyout, the Coyotes will have to pay Ribeiro $1.94 million each of the next six seasons, and that number will represent his cap hit in each of those seasons. But the move will also give the team a little more than $3.5 million extra to spend in each of the next three seasons that would have been committed to Ribeiro’s contract. Overall, the team will save about $5.833 million.

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"It’s an expense that wasn’t budgeted, but I think it should show people that we are going to do what we need to do from an economic standpoint to build the kind of team we want," said co-owner Anthony LeBlanc, who noted that Maloney had the full support of ownership in the decision to cut loose last season’s biggest offseason acquisition after just one season.

"Everyone is accountable for mistakes, but you’re even more accountable if you don’t react when something needs to happen," LeBlanc said.

Ribeiro was supposed to fill the Coyotes’ longstanding and gaping need for a playmaking center. He signed with great fanfare on July 5, 2013 — three days after the Glendale City Council approved a 15-year, $225 million lease agreement with Renaissance Sports and Entertainment (now IceArizona) to buy the team.

His past track record with coach Dave Tippett in Dallas made the management and coaching staffs believe they could handle whatever issues arose, but a source told FOX Sports Arizona that Ribeiro was late for practices, missed meetings, missed buses and even engaged in a shouting match with Tippett in the locker room after a game in Colorado.

Ribeiro had some marital issues as well and he never seemed to click with any of his linemates, managing just 16 goals and 47 points in 80 games. With his team chasing a playoff spot late in the season, Tippett benched Ribeiro for games at Pittsburgh and New Jersey.

Maloney said the discussion to buy out Ribeiro began "when the final buzzer sounded" on the regular season. 

"It’s been the biggest topic I’ve been dealing with," he added.

When asked about being minus a top-line center again, Maloney said: "Let’s be honest. We were out a top-line center for the last 40 games anyway. We all saw it."

It’s not something that I am proud of whatsoever, but let’s correct the mistake; not perpetuate it.

General manager Don Maloney

Maloney said he is comfortable heading into the season with Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal as his top two centers, but he acknowledged that the team knows it has a couple holes to fill in its forward group. It’s possible the Coyotes could add a third-line center while trying to add a scorer on the wing. The additional money could also mean that free-agent right wing Radim Vrbata returns.

"In the short term, this gives us more financial flexibility," Maloney said. "It’s not something that I am proud of whatsoever, but let’s correct the mistake; not perpetuate it."

Where Ribeiro goes from here is anyone’s guess. He did not return text messages sent Friday, but this clearly won’t help his NHL career and could even spell the end of it. Maloney and LeBlanc both wished Ribeiro well and said, to Ribeiro’s credit, he is seeking help for some of his issues.

But "we’re going to be cautious and build this franchise the right way with character and people we believe in," Maloney said.