When Mike Gillis was hired as the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, he immediately expressed an agenda to build a organization with integrity and character throughout. He worked to change the culture inside the dressing room, seeking players with positive reputations and a commitment to community-building. Outside the dressing room, he did the same, stressing an organization that valued its players, and recognized and honoured the division between hockey and personal life. There is no greater example of this than the case of Manny Malhotra, whose devastating eye injury and subsequent recovery has been perfectly handled by the Canucks organization.

When it became apparent that Malhotra’s injury was serious — that there was a risk Manny might lose his left eye — the Canucks immediately released a statement saying that he would be done for the rest of the regular season and playoffs:

Following an initial procedure and continued treatment it has been determined through consultation with team doctors and specialists that Manny Malhotra will not return to the Canucks lineup for the remainder of this regular season and playoffs. No further comment will be made at this time.

The Canucks likely knew that there was a remote possibility Malhotra could return, but they also knew that anything but a firm statement to the contrary would mean constant media scrutiny during an already difficult time. Mike Gillis, from Cam Cole:

Well, there was a number of reasons we did that. One is privacy issues. He had a severe injury, and it seemed like, notwithstanding us urging people to please respect his privacy, a number of people chose not to, so we wanted to take that pressure away.

When you read about Malhotra spending a week face down in a chair, you know things were already tough enough. The Canucks smartly and kindly deflected attention away.

As a result, the only piece of news we did receive — that Malhotra would be undergoing surgery in New York to, hopefully, save his eye — didn’t even come from the Canucks organization. Rather, it came from Steve Nash, in the form of a tweet:

“I need my brother in law, Manny Malhotra of the Vancouver Canucks, to have a successful eye surgery tomorrow saving his eye and vision.”

It’s important to understand that this wasn’t a leak from a millionaire athlete — this was a plea from a terrified family member to no one in particular. At this point, it should have been apparent how uncertain things seemed, and how high the stakes were. Fully aware that this had gone beyond a hockey concern — that this was about the long-term health of a father and husband, and not about the Vancouver Canucks’ third-line center — the Canucks did everything in their power to keep this a private matter. On a nerve-wracking day like that, when a shaky hand could lose the eye forever, the last thing the family needed was to hear media updates every hour, on the hour, reminding them a loved one’s well-being hung in the balance.

As we know now, the surgery was successful, and it was followed by several more successful surgeries that went unreported.

Eventually Malhotra improved to the point where this could again be about hockey. Recognizing that the team was on the verge of something special, the Canucks went against the normal protocol surrounding injuries and wasted no time ensuring he could be a part of it. Malhotra was able to accept the Presidents’ Trophy alongside Henrik Sedin. He traveled with the team during the run to the Stanley Cup Finals, acting as an assistant coach, of sorts, speaking to his teammates at intermissions to let them know what he’s observed. He’s in the locker room after every win, celebrating with his team. Heck, in the postgame celebration video after round 3, Malhotra looks like the most excited guy there.

Now we know why. It’s because he knew he’d be dressing for the next round. Yesterday, Bob McKenzie reported that he’d been cleared for full contact. Needless to say, we freaked out. Today comes the news that he has officially been cleared to play. We’re still freaking out.

Will he draw into the lineup as early as game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals? When pressed, Alain Vigneault answered, “We don’t discuss line-ups.” Most are interpreting this as Alain Vigneault’s playoff shorthand for “yes.”

It will be impossible for Manny Malhotra to forget what he’s been through this season. If he plays in the Stanley Cup Finals — if he wins in the Stanley Cup Finals — it will be just one more moment he’ll never forget. But he’ll also never forget the way this organization treated him during a difficult time.

Some have complained that the Canucks have been frustratingly tight-lipped on this story, but it’s hard to complain when an organization goes to great lengths to protect its players and their families when a situation becomes about more than the game.

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18 comments

  1. Dave
    May 28, 2011

    This is why I love cheering for this organization: they care about their people.

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  2. Anonymous
    May 28, 2011

    :’) Couldn’t agree more

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  3. Cindy
    May 28, 2011

    Very insightful post! I didn’t know Manny contributed to the team so much even during his injury. ‘Win it WITH Manny!’

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  4. Noodle
    May 28, 2011

    Amen. Respectfully handled by the organization. The way things have turned out, I’m just so, so happy for Manny.

    Now I’m getting ahead of myself, imagining him lifting the cup. Man…….I’m going to be a weeping mess if/when that happens.

    AWESOME news.

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  5. Chris B
    May 28, 2011

    I think that this is one of the little things that gets noticed by players (Kevin Bieksa?) trying to decide between $4 mil/yr and $4.15 mil per year.

    When you know that you are being given the conditions for success – every single thing the organisation can think of to make you able to succeed, well that has to hit the pride of somebody who has trained all their lives for this.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      May 28, 2011

      Agreed. That said, no way Bieksa signs for less than 4.5. Heck, even that would be a bargain.

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      • Chris B
        May 29, 2011

        You never know – Burrows at TWO million? I think Bieksa has to like the idea of staying with this core.

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        • Harrison Mooney
          May 29, 2011

          I think he does too, and I think he will. But I also think 4.5 million is a discount. Bieksa could get 5+ on the open market.

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  6. Jeff
    May 28, 2011

    Don’t know if you read this stuff, Manny, but the fans are 100% with you. I was stunned when the injury happened, and just hoped that you’d be able to live a normal life, never mind play again. Knowing how much hockey is a part of your life, and what an opportunity lies ahead to win the Cup, I’m overjoyed that you can maybe take an on-the-ice part in it. You were a huge part of why the Canucks are in this position. You’ll be taking the Cup home for a visit this summer. Good luck!

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  7. 2124check
    May 28, 2011

    Lets not forget that they came through in similar fashion for Rick Rypien. So it isn’t a one-off or special treatment. Good on them – this is the kind of leadership that attracts free agents and/or keeps them.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      May 28, 2011

      Very true.

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  8. grumpiest
    May 28, 2011

    Wonderful post. Appreciate your insight and willingness to report on the great character of both Manny Malhotra and the Canucks organization. Win it or lose it, this is a special group.

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  9. Chazz Ranger
    May 28, 2011

    Everything about this post is pure win. Fave.

    Returning from a near life-altering and career-ending injury to help cap off the most amazing season and post-season in Canuck history. This team is gonna run out of capes.

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  10. Canuckles
    May 28, 2011

    Your analysis is spot on and a testament to the integrity of the organization. Sadly, a lot of fans outside of Vancouver lambaste the Canucks as a “Garbage Organization” probably because of a history without much success, or one incident by a player not with the organization any more.

    But they always miss these stories, where the team rallies around and protects one of its own at a time of great need.
    Thank you for writing about this and reminding us how first class Gillis’ Vancouver Canucks are.

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    • peanutflower
      May 29, 2011

      Yah, what is this “garbage organization” that is bandied about anyway? Players don’t sign for less than market value to play for garbage organizations do they? Who said that? From what we hear it seems to be quite the opposite, and that players want to come to Vancouver to play. Bieksa aside, and I’m betting he leaves money on the table, Erhrhoff clearly wants to stay here as well, so he’ll give a hometown discount too. That seems pretty great, that good players want to stay here, doesn’t it. This is all just such a great time to be a Canuck fan, not that I wasn’t when things weren’t so rosy. ;)

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  11. Sach
    May 29, 2011

    Great column, and I agree completely! The organization handled the situation wonderfully (although I did have an inkling Manny might be back because it’s sort of the way they handled Salo’s situation too earlier in the year :D ). So happy that Manny is well enough to play.

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  12. Mondo Bizarro
    May 29, 2011

    Harrison,

    A beautiful post, thoughtful and respectful. It’s not often we see someone in the Vancouver media has such positive things to say about Canuck management. I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

    Keep up the good work!

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  13. 72 Fan
    May 29, 2011

    Bieksa is gone, this is business and the Canucks don’t get it. Good on him, who wouldn’t want him?

    This guy is a winner, Cherry called it years ago.

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