Manny Malhotra has been much-maligned for his play this season. The defensively-minded centre is on pace for his lowest point total since 2002-03 and has been relegated to a fourth line role, drawing criticism over what some feel is a deserved demotion. Personally, I feel that the criticism ignores the unique role that Malhotra plays in the Canucks lineup. As Thomas Drance suggested, Manny Malhotra is the Penny to the Sedins’ Inspector Gadget: he plays the tough minutes so other Canucks don’t have to.
What everyone can agree on, however, is that Malhotra remains a faceoff wizard. Now, it seems, Mike Gillis wants to take even that away from him.
On a team chock-full of great faceoff men, Malhotra leads the pack, winning 58.3% of his draws. That’s more than 4 percentage points better than Ryan Kesler, who is second-best on the team. It’s also good enough to tie him for 3rd in the NHL in faceoff win percentage with Jeff Halpern and David Steckel.
The vast majority of those faceoffs take place in the defensive zone for Malhotra. We’ve talked about his insane zone start ratio many, many times, but here’s the gist of it: Malhotra’s main job for the Canucks is taking faceoffs in the defensive zone (or being a backup in case the centre gets kicked out), clear the puck out of the defensive zone, and get off the ice. He does the same job at even strength that he does shorthanded and he leads all Canucks forwards in shorthanded time on ice.
While taking faceoffs isn’t the only thing Malhotra can do, it’s the only thing at which he can be considered elite. Watching Malhotra take a faceoff is a unique experience, because he has an extremely unique style. He shifts his grip on his stick a good foot-and-a-half down the shaft, takes a very wide stance, and bends extremely low. At times he’ll dive forward into the faceoff dot, using his entire body to tie up his opponent’s stick. It seems like he’ll do whatever it takes to win a faceoff; when it comes to drawing, he can improvise like Mr. Dressup.
When he’s in the defensive zone, Malhotra has an extra option available to him. You see, in every other area of the ice, passing the puck to a teammate with your hand isn’t allowed. When it occurs, the play is blown dead and there is a faceoff. In the defensive zone, however, the defending team can use the hand pass with impunity. As a result, quick-witted centres will take advantage of their advantage, drawing the puck back with their glove when their stick is tied up during a faceoff.
Malhotra is particularly adept at this tactic as he already takes such a low stance, so it must be particularly crushing for Malhotra to find out that his own General Manager, Mike Gillis, wants to remove that weapon from his arsenal.
The same breakout group that discussed hybrid icing is also planning to bring another potential rule change to the general meeting Tuesday. This one involves teammate-to-teammate hand passes by a team in its defensive zone.
These kinds of hand passes are allowed in the defensive zone under current rules, but Gillis brought up a proposal to make them illegal with a minor penalty element. Bowman said Gillis’ idea makes sense and has the support of all seven members in the breakout group.
“Mike Gillis’ point is that we’re trying to get offense, and that’s a play that almost exclusively nullifies offensive opportunities,” Bowman said. “Usually you’re at a deficit. You’ve lost your stick or you’re on your stomach, so you’re making a desperate play and if you’re not allowed to do that (the hand pass) it’s probably going to lead to more offensive opportunities for the attacking team.”
This proposal came straight out of left field: there was no discussion about hand passes in the defensive zone leading up to the GM meeting, but the lack of offence around the league has been a concern. In discussions around promoting scoring, faceoffs came up.
“There are a lot of tactics, too,” Bowman said. “For instance, on faceoffs, a lot of guys would tie the other guy up, drop down and swipe the puck back. We’re thinking, ‘Why are we promoting this?’ All that does is help the team that is trying to get the puck out of the zone.
There it is.
Over at Backhand Shelf, I’ve pointed out the problems of calling a minor penalty for something as mundane as a hand pass, but it must be disconcerting for Malhotra to learn that Gillis hates him so, so much. Why else would Gillis introduce a proposal that makes it harder for Malhotra to do his job? Defensive zone faceoffs are Malhotra’s calling card and what he has built his career upon over the last several seasons. Why does Gillis want to ruin Malhotra’s career?
In case anyone gets any ideas, I’m being facetious. In fact, it’s possible that Gillis came up with this proposal because he has so many defensively-adept centres on his team. In a league that’s starved for offence, any possibility of reducing the effectiveness of a team’s defence is going to be considered. Outlawing the hand pass in the defensive zone is a common sense suggestion. It’s already banned everywhere else on the ice: why not the defensive zone?
Still, it’s interesting that Gillis would make a suggestion that would actually work to the detriment of one of his own players, even if it is only a small detriment.Tags: Manny Malhotra, Mike Gillis, Mike Gillis should listen to me because I am smart