Mike Ribeiro's Coyotes career ends after an unfortunate twist of fate

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A promising beginning ended with a thud.

Mike Ribeiro signing with the Arizona Coyotes meant more than just bringing in a star forward to help bolster the team's lackluster offense, it symbolized the end of the bankruptcy years and the beginning of a new era under IceArizona.

The Coyotes signed the top scoring free agent on the market, something that seemed like a pipe dream just one year prior. Things were different under new ownership. Better. But less than one year later, Ribeiro's buyout symbolized all that was wrong with the 2013-14 season.

In many ways, the arc of Arizona's season matched the arc of Ribeiro's season.

Through 21 games, the made-for-TV movie script was coming together swimmingly. The Coyotes held a record of 14-4-3, the second best record in the NHL. Ribeiro had six goals and 16 points. He was on pace for 23 goals (which would have been the second most in his career) and 62 points, a nice season given the fact that Arizona's offense was not as strong as those late 2000s Dallas teams or the Washington team he played for the year before arriving in the desert. Everything was going so well, until it wasn't.

The Coyotes limped to a 23-26-12 record the rest of the way that kept them out of the playoffs. Ribeiro added just 10 goals and 31 points to his final total (16-31-47), finishing with the worst statistical season since he became a full time player. He was even benched for a pair of games late in the season.

In his brief time in the Valley, Ribeiro drew the ire of fans who, rightfully or wrongfully, expected the centerman to be the offensive savior of a defensively-minded team. His $5.5 million salary helped justify those expectations.

Despite playing very favorable minutes, Ribeiro never clicked with any of his linemates, partly due to the lack of offensive talent placed around him, and it showed.

It was clear to see Ribeiro was struggling on the ice, but he was struggling off of it as well.

The Quebec native's past marital problems are well documented, but those issues seemed behind him after re-marrying his wife Tamara two summers ago. However, those issues cropped back up again last season, making an already bad season worse.

His personal issues were one thing, but his team-related issues marked the beginning of the end.

A source told FOX Sports Arizona's Craig Morgan 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."

While any one of these alleged offenses can derail a career, the latter is the most concerning. After signing his four-year deal last July, Ribeiro raved about reuniting with Dave Tippett and named the coach as one of the biggest reasons he chose to sign with the Coyotes. The souring of that relationship contributed to his exodus from Arizona and does not bode well for his attempts to find a new NHL home.

So just days before the one-year anniversary of his signing, the Coyotes bought out the final three years of the troubled forward's contract.

What does the future hold for the 34-year-old? It is hard to know. It is unlikely teams will be banging down his door to sign him on July 1, but there is little doubt Ribeiro has the talent to be an effective top-nine forward and power play specialist if he can get past his off the ice issues.

As for the Coyotes, they will move on. Somewhat. A cash-strapped team like Arizona cannot be happy paying a player $11.66 million to not play for them, but the team frees up a little money over the next three years to help fill the void. Trades and free agent signings for players like Sam Gagner will have to suffice as the team continues to search for a legitimate No. 1 center to top their lineup.

The 358-day union between the Coyotes and Ribeiro began with excitement and anticipation, but ended with a thud.

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