Apparently, Mike Gillis hates Manny Malhotra

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.

Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images

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.

From NHL.com:

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.

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

“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.

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11 comments

  1. Brosef Stalin
    March 13, 2012

    I found the article of this title hilarious after watching the Heart of a Canuck – Manny Malhotra video yesterday and hearing Gillis rave about how awesome Manny is. Before I realized it was just the hand pass thing I was ready to come in and totally refute you guys! Guess I’ll have to wait till you write a less sarcastic article… :S

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  2. swizzler16
    March 13, 2012

    they could just make an exception for faceoffs

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  3. John Andress
    March 13, 2012

    I find it rather amusing that posters find it necessary to advertize the fact that they are being facetious or satirical in order to prevent a firestorm of abuse from the myriad Canuck fans who seem to have lost their senses of proportion, reality and humour. What if Jonathan Swift had felt the need to make the last line of his “Modest Proposal” “This was just a joke folks. Really.”? It wouldn’t have had quite the same impact, would it? Sadly, however, it apparently had the same impact on the British public at the time as your piece would have had on Canucks Nation if you had let it out without the disclaimer. Plus ca change…

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    • Harrison Mooney
      March 13, 2012

      We don’t always provide a disclaimer. It depends on what the post’s about. In this case, without the disclaimer, it could be read as unfairly disparaging a guy’s reputation and that’s not us.

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    • superreggie
      March 13, 2012

      We’re dealing with sports fans here. It’s not just the Canucks. Remember that mashup of the Daily Show made to look like Jon Stewart was calling out the Bruins on their “Oh those Canucks are so evil” BS? Go look at the comments, it’s amazing how many people don’t get that it didn’t actually air on the daily show…

      It’s better to be clear about it, and so allow for an actual conversation in the comments, rather than a long chain of “he’s joking you idiot” back and forth…

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  4. Tom Benjamin
    March 13, 2012

    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?

    Ironically, it was allowed in the defensive zone because it was too easy for a forward or d-man to get a stoppage in the defensive end when under pressure. Making a hand pass became a smart play for any player who broke a stick, for example. They stopped whistling the puck down in the defensive end to try and help the offense!

    Like most changes the league has tried, it turned out to be a two-edged sword. Stop calling it and players will use it to help the defense. Call it again and players will adjust and use it differently to, again, help the defense.

    Personally, I think they should allow hand passes everywhere. I think it would turn out to be a neutral change, but it would eliminate unnecessary whistles. Also allow players to do anything with their skates to get the puck into the net as long as the skate stays on the ice.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 13, 2012

      I thought that might be the case. I couldn’t find any reference for it, unfortunately.

      I’m fine with hand passes, as long as the puck isn’t thrown, which is covered under the rules for closing the hand around the puck. And I completely agree about directing the puck in with the skate. If the rule is in place for safety, then keeping the skate on the ice is the only thing that really matters. Voila: more scoring.

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  5. Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
    March 13, 2012

    As long as we don’t lose Manny’s patented “silverback stance.” I love watching him take faceoffs.

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  6. Chris the Curmudgeon
    March 13, 2012

    God is Mike Gillis ever barking up the wrong tree on this one. The league’s recent mantra to generate more scoring seems to consistently be aimed at keeping a team hemmed in their zone (though perhaps this is Gillis’ game, because he’s got the kings of the cycle under contract). But I think most would agree that hockey’s best years were marked by offence in the form of end to end rushes, blistering shots off the wing or Bobby Orr/Paul Coffey screaming up the middle of the ice or oddman rushes in both directions. If there’s anything that needs fixing, it’s to reduce how much they’re fiddling with defensive zone rules (no changes on icing, delay of game, trapezoids, handpasses, etc), and instead try to open up the ice for fast breaks. I always thought they should be more lax with calling off icing, for example if the officials can determine that the other team is sitting back in the neutral zone instead of forechecking, they could wave it off. I also think if they’re going to do away with the trapezoid, then goalies should be fair game outside the crease. How tedious was it to see guys like Marty Turco stand wherever they wanted and be invincible despite effectively being another defenceman with bigger pads?

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  7. Nick
    March 13, 2012

    Hand passes are a defensive play that can help to reduce the effectiveness of the team in the offensive zone. Eliminating these passes might help to increase, not decrease, scoring. Gillis is correct about that.

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  8. shoes
    March 13, 2012

    I think hand passes in the defensive zone is such a non-issue that it really does not matter what the rule is. does it matter overall, when the NHL is clearly changing the clutch and grab rule, but leaving the rule in place but not calling it against anybody, unless they wide up with an in game grudge against a player. It is getting to be a very bizarre league for rules and how they are called.

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