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.Tags: Canucks, character, featured, Malhotra, Mike Gillis