Ryan Kesler medically cleared to play, because his timing is impeccable

Canucks fans got both good and bad news today, both revolving around the team’s centres. The bad news came first, and it was devastating: Manny Malhotra was placed on Injured Reserve, with the announcement that he’s expected to miss the rest of the season. Malhotra has long been one of my favourite players on the Canucks, taking on the thankless job of enabling the Canucks’ offence by starting predominantly in the defensive zone, winning faceoffs, clearing the puck, and getting off the ice.

His two-way ability was clearly diminished after his devastating eye injury, but he was still effective in the faceoff circle and was among the league leaders, winning 65.3% of his draws. Losing him from the lineup significantly impacts the Canucks’ depth at centre.

Fortunately, there was some good news to soften the blow. After practice, Ryan Kesler was coy with the media about how close he was to returning to action. Alain Vigneault, on the other hand, didn’t beat around the bush, saying, “He’s been medically cleared to play and all indications are he’s ready to go.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that the two have disagreed about Kesler’s timeline for a return to action. Throughout the lockout, Kesler’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, frequently clashed in the media with Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault. The Canucks’ organization would sound optimistic, saying that Kesler was ahead of schedule and also made of rainbows, while Overhardt spouted prophecies of doom and gloom, suggesting that Kesler’s arm was two seconds away from jumping out of its socket and making a break for it. To hear Overhardt tell it, Kesler had bonus eruptus.

It looks like Kesler is actually ready to return, however, and may do so as soon as this Friday’s game against the Dallas Stars. He didn’t just take part in line drills in practice: he was matched with Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian, a line that Vigneault indicated he was planning on using. He also skated on the first powerplay unit in practice.

Vigneault suggested that he would limit Kesler’s minutes, but if he’s on the second line, first powerplay unit, and also gets some time on the penalty kill, that seems unlikely. With Malhotra done for the season, it will be even more difficult, as Vigneault will need to use Kesler in more defensive zone situations and for key faceoffs.

Kesler’s return is perfectly timed, which makes me wonder if Mike Gillis knew he would be returning this weekend when he approached Malhotra about going on Injured Reserve. Gillis said in a press conference today that he “took the decision from [Malhotra]” as he was concerned about his long-term health.

Removing Malhotra from the lineup was apparently discussed during the off-season, but Malhotra, who is about as determined as they come, wanted to return and convinced Gillis that he could improve. I have to wonder if the Canucks’ allowed him to start the season because Kesler was not ready to go and wanted to see if Malhotra would be able to play with risking further injury. If so, it worked. Malhotra was effective in limited minutes and bridged the gap until Kesler came back.

But Malhotra didn’t improve enough to alleviate Gillis’s concerns. “I agreed that he could have the summer to train and I was going to give him a period of time this year and if things didn’t change that I was going to have this conversation with him,” Gillis said, “I observed and watched and I didn’t feel there had been a change and I felt he was at risk.” That isn’t to say that the Canucks forced Malhotra out; it appears that this was a mutual decision, but one that Malhotra wanted to put off as long as possible, which is completely understandable.


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  1. DanD
    February 14, 2013

    Wow what a day! Sometimes the Canucks are a rollercoaster of emotion. So sad to hear about Manny, but it sounds like Gillis wants to keep him around in some other capacity, which is excellent.

    And in other news, KESLER!

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  2. BoiseNuck
    February 14, 2013

    Once Booth is back, do Canucks have a problem with too many “skilled” guys needing minutes? Admittedly not a bad problem to have per se, but based on the posted lines discussed above and presuming Schroeder stays up, which he has seemingly earned and AV appears to agree given his minutes, pre-Booth lines look something like this:

    Daniel – Henrik – Burrows
    Higgins – Kesler – Kassian
    Raymond – Schroeder – Hansen
    Weise – Lapierre – Volpatti

    Where does Booth slot in? I do not like the idea of dropping Kassian down to the fourth line…I think his skill and ceiling dictate more quality minutes. Schroeder seems too small for a fourth line role. Booth is clearly not a fourth-line guy. It seems that one of Higgins, Raymond or Hansen ends up on the fourth line by default, but is that really the right fit for them? They are all more skilled guys, not necessarily fourth-line grinders. Higgins might be the best fit for a fourth line grinder role, but I love Higgins and think he has more skill than a fourth-line role.

    Unforeseen injuries moot any discussion and too many skilled guys is always a nice “problem” to have, but I am curious to see how AV handles it.

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    • akidd
      February 14, 2013

      i was wondering the exact same thing. depth is a very good thing indeed but it is a little dance to keep everyone fed with icetime. a lot will depend on the chemistry between kassian, kesler and higgins of course. we haven’t even seen that line yet but on paper, it sure gets the saliva glands going. a big body checking/scoring line with skill. what’s not to like?

      how’s booth going to slot back in indeed? my guess is that gillis will wait until booth is 110% before risking bringing him back(wink, wink.)

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    • Tengeresz
      February 14, 2013

      I’m not as smart as AV, but here’s what I’d do:

      Booth goes to the second “AMEX” line. He gets a couple of weeks to earn the spot.

      That makes three scoring lines (with AMEX being a true two way line)

      Kassian takes Vopatti’s spot on what is nominally a defensive line but with scoring ability (more score added by Kassian).

      Kassian also goes to the second unit PP, and gets the first shift or two with the Sedins after Burrows plays the PK.

      If a centre goes out for a game, Ebbett comes in.
      A winger gets replaced by Volpatti (and Kassian moves up to a scoring line)

      Don’t forget that Kassian is still a rookie, and has shown that he can play scoring, shut down, energy, grit, whatever. He’s in a very good place to continue to develop all aspects of his game.

      Too much depth: First world, er: make that “place” problems

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      • akidd
        February 15, 2013

        “with AMEX being a true two way line”

        you see, that’s the point of contention for me. there were a few hard-working moments, especially when higgins was in the zone but for the large part i found the booth/kesler combo was a relative bust. for all the ice they saw they didn’t get a lot done.

        what’s going on this year already shows a lot more promise than anything the booth/kesler duo showed last year. schroeder and kassian seem to have way better hockey smarts than booth ever demonstrated and along with a healthy raymond are what have turned around the forward lines this year.

        the p-cup last year was largely a result of superior goaltending. the ’11 dominance of canuck skaters was clearly in decline in ’12. so to create this mythology that there ever was a go-to second line last year may be nostalgically comfortable but it’s pretty inaccurate.

        injuries do happen though and i’m sure that booth will get another chance to prove his worth. depth is extremely important. but with a healthy roster the only guys i see being pushed by booth are weise and volpatti.

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  3. shoes
    February 14, 2013

    This is going to be a tough run right through (june) and we will need all bodies on deck. she-it happens and somebody will get tweeked.

    Sure hope Manny was not being ‘used’ in the meantime and that it is like it looks, which is to say he just didn’t have the same vision to play at this level. Great guy and I hope to see him in a coaching job for a few years.

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  4. Brent
    February 14, 2013

    Really great to see Kesler back. He needs to get into game shape for the game against Chicago. Oh yea, that should be a good one.

    I will withhold comment on the Manny situation until I hear him speak. But I will say I am very sad he won’t be playing the rest of the season.

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  5. Mt
    February 15, 2013

    I’m not sure you’re suggesting it, but to be clear: this is not a coincidence. The decision was made now because Kesler is coming back.

    One thing I don’t understand is that Gillis is talking about two things as if they are one (or I’m missing something). He talks about Malholta’s “failure to adjust” following his injury. He also talks about his “risk” being too high and how, having observed him for these games has determined that his risk is too high. He basically says, at the same time that he has been watching to see if his play improves / his risk decreases as if they are the same thing. Huh?

    Gillis is performing some slick double-speak here. Maybe this is obvious already but here’s my take: this is a roster decision. If risk had anything to do with it, he shouldn’t be playing in the first place as MG says that his risk hasn’t increased. Manny is simply not playing well enough to have a spot on the roster now that Kesler is back. Because this largely due to a past injury, they are in grey area CBA/cap-wise. Thus the roster decision has to be put (sort of) into the language of the IR so that they can work they’re cap-magic.

    What I wan’t to know is what does Manny think? He could be pissed. Or he could be well consulted and thus satisfied that they made the right decision even if he would rather play. What should be clear here is this was the decision of the organization for the best interests of the organization. Manny may very well still want to play and for another team, at a lower salary, could still be an NHL player. I hope it works out for him whatever he wants (he does come across as great coach material).

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    • Daniel Wagner
      February 15, 2013

      My suspicion, and this is only my own speculation, is that Manny has lost so much vision in his one eye that he’s at risk of being blindsided and getting concussed, which would potentially have even more long-lasting effects than his eye injury post-hockey. When Gillis talks about Malhotra adjusting, I think he’s talking about adjusting to the loss of vision, not how well he plays, though they are somewhat connected.

      I do think there could be a connection between Kesler returning and Manny being taken out, but keep in mind that they took Manny out before making an official announcement and had Ebbett play in his place.

      I don’t think this can simply be seen as a roster decision, because for IR to be involved, the doctors have to be involved. It’s possible that they’ve been recommending all along that Manny stop playing, but because he’s a proud guy who wants to contribute, he insisted that he could make the necessary adjustments. Is it in the best interests of the organization that he stop playing? I’m not so sure it is. He’s still one of the best faceoff men in the NHL and was doing some really good work on the fourth line. He’s obviously limited in what he can do, but he’s still the guy that you want out there in the defensive zone to win those key faceoffs and get the puck up ice.

      I don’t know, man, it’s a pretty tough situation. It’s entirely up to Manny if he wants to continue playing in the NHL after this season and what he does after his contract expires will definitely shed some light on this.

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  6. me!
    February 23, 2013

    im loving this post

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