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Predators organization stuck with Brett Lebda after he clears waivers

When you’re trying to run a playoff team on a limited budget, there probably aren’t many off-seasons that should be categorized as “easy.” Even so, this has been an especially tough one for Nashville Predators GM David Poile.

Three big headaches come to mind. While it didn’t really have disastrous consequences, the Predators failed to file their qualifying offers for seven players in a satisfactory way, creating a situation that was far more difficult than it had to be. The team’s biggest problem of the off-season was “solved” in a rather stomach-churning way, as Shea Weber received a hefty salary of $7.5 million while only guaranteeing one year of his services after the team failed to avoid arbitration.

The third headache was another self-inflicted wound, as the Predators made a salary-dumping trade that sent concussed center Matthew Lombardi and solid young offensive defenseman Cody Franson to Toronto for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. To call that trade one-sided in favor of the Maple Leafs is an understatement.

That disparity was made much clearer when the Predators put Lebda on unconditional waivers, with plenty of speculation regarding whether or not they could buyout the oft-criticized defenseman. It’s not totally clear if the Predators can do that (I’m leaning toward “No” but we shall see), but one thing is clear: no other NHL teams are interested in taking that problem off Nashville’s hands. Lebda reportedly cleared waivers today.

Assuming that a buyout isn’t an option, Lebda will cost the Predators $1.45 million next season whether he plays in the NHL or AHL because of his one-way contract. The only difference is that his $1.45 million cap hit won’t register if he’s “buried” in the minors, but that really isn’t much of a benefit for a team that probably won’t exceed the $48.3 million cap floor by much next season.

It’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for Lebda, who was kicked around for his struggles in Toronto and clearly isn’t wanted by Nashville. With Lebda out of the picture, the Predators will be forced to turn to a very green group of young defenseman in depth roles, as Joe discussed on Saturday.

The Predators might be wise to bring in a veteran unrestricted free agent to at least give the team a bit of a safety net if their young defenseman wobble. Looking at CapGeek’s list, the pickings are pretty slim but perhaps they could convince someone like Paul Mara, Karlis Skrastins or even Scott Hannan to eat up minutes if the price is right.

If any coach can make it work though, it’s Barry Trotz. Still, the Predators are making a pretty big gamble during a season in which they need to convince their “Big 3” of Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne to stick around. The last couple months probably haven’t helped matters a whole lot.

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.”