So long, Ribs
Contractually, Niinimaa will be either the highest paid or 2nd highest paid defender on the team at around $2.5M. He will be a UFA at seasons' end. Ribeiro was signed for the year at $1.9. He may have one more year of RFA status - I'm not sure.
Those are the facts. Now for the editorial.
Dallas had an overabundance of defensemen (Mirtle called it). Perhaps Gainey took notice and recognized the opportunity to exchange one problematic player for another.
The lack of blueline depth hurt Montreal last season, so from that perspective the move makes sense. On the other hand, Saku Koivu suffered a highly publicized injury and a little insurance at centre would be nice to have too. The centremen are shaping up to be Koivu, Plekanec, Bonk and Begin. Any contingency plan would likely involve Mike Johnson and/or Chris Higgins. Either Gainey knows Koivu is A-OK, or he's willing to roll the dice with this group of replacement pivots.
I have not been a fan of Mike Ribeiro. He's a skill player whose production dropped substantially in the '05-06 New NHL, presumably because the guy just can't skate. He's small and easily knocked off the puck. Then there's the on- and off-ice drama, and the whole local French media thing. His ink has outweighed his performance throughout his career.
The Koivu situation makes me nervous. How would Montreal fans react to minimum-wage earner Tomas Plekanec centering the #1 line? Don't get me wrong - I like the idea of Plex moving up the depth chart. Something tells me the local paying customers might not be as forgiving.
As for Niinimaa, how the holy hell do you rack up a -5 in 22 games with the Stars?? He was benched for some playoff games last season, too. I hope Gainey wasn't remembering the 1999 vintage of Niinimaa when he made the deal. $2.5M seems like an awful lot to pay for a #5-6 defenseman.
Always the straight shooter, Gainey commented on the unique playing environment in Montreal and it's effect on francophone players. He also said that the team's younger forwards were stepping up in training camp, and that additional defensive depth was needed.
Yes, the Habs have a lot of promising young wingers. Centres? Not so much. Is the "upgrade" from Komisarek to Niinimaa worth losing last season's #2 centre?