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Thrashers sign Dustin Byfuglien to five-year extension worth $26 million

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Dustin Byfuglien’s big season for the Thrashers is being rewarded in an even bigger way today. The impending restricted free agent cashed in today signing a five-year extension with Atlanta worth $26 million. That amount is good for a salary cap hit of $5.2 million per year until the 2015-2016 season.

Byfuglien is in the midst of his best season as a professional and doing so at a position that many doubted he could perform well at on defense. With 17 goals and 26 assists from the blue line, Byfuglien is Atlanta’s leading scorer. Doing all of this while being moved back to his original position on defense is outstanding work.

After being a revelation during the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run last season as a power forward, Byfuglien has become a scoring threat from the blue line in more elaborate ways than he could as a forward. He’s a threat to unleash a big shot from the point or pinch in deep and make things uncomfortable for opposing forwards and defensemen alike. The work head coach Craig Ramsay has done in helping to improve Byfuglien’s game as well as GM Rick Dudley’s faith in him to pull it off speaks volumes in this deal being signed now.

Of course, with this deal life is made more interesting for other defensemen whose contracts are up after this season. One in particular is Chicago’s Brent Seabrook. Chicago is still strapped by the salary cap and Seabrook is going to demand a raise from his $3.5 million cap hit this year. Asking for the sort of money Byfuglien got might be tough to do as Seabrook’s offensive numbers aren’t nearly as gaudy. They’re not bad though as he’s got four goals and 27 assists as well as a -3 plus/minus rating.

There’s also Nashville’s Shea Weber who is set to become an restricted free agent after this season and is coming off a contract that paid him $4.5 million. Being the Predators captain certainly means that the pressure is on Nashville to take care of him long term and they certainly need him to stay.

For now, Atlanta has staked their future on Byfuglien continuing to grow into his role as a leader on defense and as a power play quarterback. Having him teamed up with Tobias Enstrom gives the Thrashers one solid pair along the blue line that can defend a bit and score a ton. The financial commitment may be high, but considering where Atlanta is salary-wise in the league, they can more than afford to make such a big splash.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”