Report: Predators put Brett Lebda on unconditional waivers; Buyout coming… Or not?

When the Predators swung a deal with the Maple Leafs that sent Cody Franson and Matt Lombardi to Toronto in exchange for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney, the deal was already being hailed as a big winner for Toronto. For Leafs fans, getting rid of Lebda was a big enough win but getting the young Franson in return to play defense and to get Lombardi, who is recovering from a wicked concussion suffered last season and progressing well in doing so, it’s made the deal all the better for them.

For Nashville, Lebda was set to be a depth defenseman for them but now, it appears he’s about to be out of a job. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported that Lebda will be put on unconditional waivers by the Predators and will likely turn into a buyout candidate for the team. The question here for the Predators is whether they can buy out Lebda at all. Dirk Hoag at On The Forecheck digs into the NHL legalese to see if GM David Poile can help rid themselves of Lebda without breaking the rules of the NHL.

But what confuses me is how the Predators can actually buy him out, given Section 11.18 of the CBA (emphasis mine):

11.18 Ordinary Course Buy-Outs Outside the Regular Period. Clubs shall have the right to exercise Ordinary Course Buy-Outs outside the regular period for Ordinary Course Buy-Outs in accordance with Paragraph 13(c)(ii) of the SPC. Each Club shall be limited to no more than three (3) such buyouts over the term of this Agreement pursuant to Paragraph 13(c)(ii) of the SPC. However, in the event that a Club has only one salary arbitration hearing pursuant to Section 12.3(a) in a given League Year, such Club shall not be entitled to exercise such a buyout outside the regular period for Ordinary Course Buy-Outs. No Club shall exercise an Ordinary Course Buy-out outside the regular period for any Player earning less than $1 million.

The “regular period” referred to is the window from June 15 through June 30 when players (such as J.P. Dumont this year) can be bought out of their contract. Since the Preds only had one salary arbitration hearing that falls under Section 12.3(a) this summer (you may have heard of it recently), it would appear that they’re not allowed a buyout at this point in time.

Well this is a bit of a sticky issue if this is indeed in the plans of the Predators to ensure that Lebda is not on the team next season. With Lebda due $1.45 million next season, his buy out wouldn’t be an expensive one and would only hang on the Predators cap for this year and next at a cheap rate. if the Predators aren’t allowed to buy out Lebda, this is just a really awkward way of telling him that he’s not going to be playing in Nashville anyhow. That said, Buying out Lebda would also ensure that the Predators blue line corps is really, really young.

With Lebda out of the mix and Francis Bouillon still dealing with concussion problems of his own, the Predators will have to go with young star and 2009 first round pick Ryan Ellis as well as a mix of guys like Roman Josi, Teemu Laakso, Mattias Ekholm, and recently signed Tyler Sloan from Washington. Mixing those guys in with veterans like Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Kevin Klein, and Jonathon Blum that would leave two starting spots to fight for with Lebda gone. The Predators are big on home grown players, but even going with a defensive unit like this would seem like a big risk.

Then again, if this is their plan, the best abilities of coach Barry Trotz will be pushed to the limit.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.

The Buzzer: Cirelli, Lightning cruise past Jets; Crosby tallies OT winner

Anthony Cirelli #71 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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Three Stars

1) Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning

Cirelli recorded his first NHL hat trick as the Lightning steamrolled the Winnipeg Jets Friday evening. The 22-year-old scored twice in the opening period as the Bolts jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back. Cirelli hammered a feed from Ondrej Palat 9:27 into the game and then converted a nifty forehand-backhand maneuver to close out the first 20 minutes. Cirelli would complete the hat trick midway through the third period.

2) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin recorded two power-play assists to set up Pittsburgh’s two goals in its 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. Sidney Crosby has received a lot of attention since returning from a 28-game absence earlier this week and added the game-winning goal Friday. However, it was Malkin who looked off the defender and delivered a perfect pass to set up the Penguins captain. Malkin has recorded 10 points in the previous six games.

3) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 26-year-old winger scored twice in Tampa Bay’s 7-1 win. Cirelli and Kucherov alternated goals as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 4-0 lead, including three in the opening period. Kucherov buried two tap-in opportunities to record goals 21 and 22 on the season. The Russian winger has five goals in his previous three games and the Lightning improved to 12-2-0 in the previous 14 games.

Highlights of the Night

Crosby extended his goal-scoring streak to three games when he buried a pretty feed from Malkin to propel the Penguins in overtime.

Sam Steel fired the OT winner after Andrei Svechnikov‘s costly turnover.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Detroit Red Wings 1 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 2, Carolina Hurricanes 1 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Winnipeg Jets 1

NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
• All-Star Game rosters
• Rosters for Elite Women’s 3-on-3 Revealed
• Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
• Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
• NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Predators’ Arvidsson fined $2,000 under NHL diving policy

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NEW YORK (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson has been fined $2,000 by the NHL under the league’s rules regarding diving and embellishment.

NHL Rule 64 was designed to penalize players who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. A player gets a warning for a first citation and a $2,000 fine for the second citation.

League officials said Arvidsson received a warning following an incident Dec. 27 against Pittsburgh. His second citation occurred during an incident in the first period of a Jan. 7 game with Boston that resulted in coincidental minor penalties on Arvidsson and Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Fine proceeds go to the players’ emergency assistance fund.