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.

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.