Manny Malhotra caused quite the kerfuffle when he skated with the Canucks at Wednesday’s practice. With Ryan Kesler out with a broken foot and Aaron Volpatti on waivers, Malhotra skated on a regular line for drills, leading some to jump to the erroneous conclusion that he might be returning.
Let’s face it: as much as it would be nice to have Malhotra back in the Canucks’ lineup, it would be a clustercuss of unimaginable proportions. It already looked suspicious to have Mike Gillis announce that Malhotra was done for the season just as Kesler was cleared to play; to have Malhotra return as soon as Kesler is out of the lineup again would be a PR nightmare for Gillis and the team. It would put to lie everything that Gillis said about why he made the decision he did and turn it from concern for a player’s long-term health to a cold-hearted and calculated business decision.
After the practice, Malhotra spoke to the media for the first time since the decision was made. As expected, he’s not overly pleased about being put on ice. When he was asked whether he agreed with the decision, he didn’t mince words.
No, not really. I think, like everybody on the ice, it’s a very high-speed, high-impact game. On a nightly basis you see big hits on the highlight reel, so like everybody out there, I have to keep my head up, but at no time did I feel more susceptible to a big hit or an injury.
According to Dan Murphy, the Canucks have shown Malhotra video of incidents where they felt he was at a higher risk of injury in an effort to convince him of the danger to his long-term health. Murphy specifically indicated one particular incident, where “if Dany Heatley was Cal Clutterbuck, Malhotra could have been in trouble.”
Malhotra played just one more game after facing Minnesota on February 7th. While it’s clear that Gillis thought he had plenty of evidence of the risk he felt Malhotra was taking on the ice, this most recent incident seems significant considering it almost directly preceded the decision to place him on IR.
So, I decided to track down this near-miss to see it for myself. How bad was it, or rather, how bad could it have been?
It’s tough to see exactly what happens in the video, partly because of the ramshackle method by which I recorded it, and partly because the camera operator barely catches the collision, which makes me wonder if the Canucks had access to other angles of the same hit. From what we can see, Malhotra picks off a pass in the neutral zone, then spins to dump the puck back into the Wild end of the ice.
By spinning the way he did, he turned his back on Dany Heatley, who was rushing towards the puck. In so doing, he put himself at risk for a dangerous blindside hit. Fortunately, Heatley is not exactly known for finishing his checks and tries to step around Malhotra instead of dropping his shoulder into him. This likely does have a different result if it’s Cal Clutterbuck instead of Heatley, as Murphy indicated.
At the very least, it doesn’t look like Malhotra sees Heatley coming. It’s hard to say why, however, as Heatley is originally coming from Malhotra’s right side and it’s Malhotra’s left eye that was injured. It could be argued that he needed to focus more on the puck with his right eye, allowing him to lose some of his peripheral vision, but that’s just pure speculation.
Malhotra was involved in a couple other collisions and near-misses throughout the game, none of which seemed particularly out of the ordinary. This was the only one where it truly seemed like Malhotra put himself in a dangerous position because he did not see another player coming.
At the time, however, it was completely unnoticeable. Neither John Shorthouse and John Garrett nor the Minnesota Wild play-by-play crew even mentioned it during the broadcast.
The biggest thing I got out of watching Manny Malhotra shift-by-shift in that game was the confidence that Gillis did not make this decision based on how Malhotra was playing. Gillis didn’t remove him from the lineup because he was playing poorly. Against the Wild, Malhotra did great work on the penalty kill, won 10 of 15 faceoffs, including 9 of 12 in the defensive zone, battled hard along the boards, and even got a scoring chance in front of the net after some great work cycling the puck with his linemates.
Malhotra was a useful hockey player in that game, just as he was in most games. He played limited, but effective, minutes and was as reliable as ever on defensive zone faceoffs. If it was a matter of how well he was playing, the Canucks could have made him a healthy scratch and put Aaron Volpatti on waivers earlier to make room on the roster for Kesler’s return, thereby keeping Malhotra around as injury insurance. Instead, Gillis stated irrevocably that Malhotra was done for the season.
I’m convinced that Gillis made the decision out of concern for Malhotra’s welfare. Was it the right decision? That’s a tougher question to answer.
If this near-miss with Heatley was one of dozens of examples that Gillis has on record and has shown Malhotra, then it’s certainly an understandable decision. On the one hand, it seems like this type of decision should be up to the player, but on the other, players simply want to play and may not always make the best decisions for their long-term health.Tags: Manny Malhotra, Shift-by-shift, videos