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PHOENIX — Unable to trade Mathieu Schneider, the Vancouver Canucks placed the 40-year-old defenceman on waivers this morning and expect to lose their top free-agent acquisition from last summer to another National Hockey League team.

Schneider left the Canucks on Dec. 18 after learning he would not play that night against the Washington Capitals. The Canucks announced Schneider was away for “personal reasons” and refused for more than a week to explain the player’s absence.

But assistant general manager Lorne Henning confirmed today that Schneider is unhappy about his lack of playing time and the Canucks, having unsuccessfully sought a trading partner, placed him on waivers to give the defenceman the chance to go elsewhere.

“We’re trying to help him out,” Henning explained. “He still has that fire and wants to play. Some teams have shown interest in him but everyone has to fit their salary cap around him.”

The Detroit Red Wings, among the nine teams Schneider has played for, is missing three defencemen due to injuries. Several other teams are without two blueliners.

The Canucks’ defence, by contrast, is healthy enough to make Schneider expendable. He was signed to a one-year free-agent contract in August that included a base salary of $1.55 million US.

A former client of Canuck general manager Mike Gillis, Schneider was expected to upgrade the skill level at the bottom of the defence while providing experience and power-play expertise.

But the American missed the regular season’s first 10 games while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and never solidified a lineup spot. He had plenty of chances, playing 17 games, but struggled in his own zone.

After taking Schneider out of the lineup for the fourth time, Vigneault said last week the veteran understood the Canucks’ landscape when he signed in Vancouver — that he was going to be the “seventh defenceman.”

But Schneider obviously had a different understanding and expectation of his role.

He hasn’t spoken with the media since leaving the Canucks and his agent, Pat Morris, said he will wait until the 24-hour waiver period expires Wednesday before talking about the situation.

The Canucks were 11-6 with Schneider in the lineup, but haven’t missed him. They’ve won three straight heading into tonight’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes. Shane O’Brien, playing the best hockey of his career, has outperformed Schneider as Vancouver’s sixth defenceman.

The problem for the Canucks is losing Schneider makes their seventh defenceman journeyman Aaron Rome.

“That’s not an issue,” Henning said. “Other guys have stepped up and we’ve got players in the minors who can help if we need them.

“It was a tough spot for Mathieu; he came in with the injury and never really got his feet under him. Others guys came in and played well.”

It’s unclear what the Canucks and Schneider will do if he clears waivers. He could be sent to the minors, retire, or remain with the team.

ICE CHIP: The Canucks’ only lineup change tonight will be minor-league call-up Alex Bolduc’s inclusion on the fourth line, as Jannik Hansen sits out. The Canucks have won seven of nine games, while the Coyotes are on a franchise-record nine-game home winning streak in which they have outscored visitors 29-11. Former Canuck Jason LaBarbera is expected to start in net for the Coyotes.

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