This is the near-miss that ended Manny Malhotra’s season [VIDEO]

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.

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15 comments

  1. Brent
    February 28, 2013

    Agree is is not at all conclusive. Your argument about putting him as a healthy scratch is a strong one. Actually hearing him talk about it makes me feel better about it. Manny obviously wants to play and disagrees with the decision but feels that Gillis does have his best interest at heart.

    Very sad all around.

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  2. betty
    February 28, 2013

    I think you said it best, Manny should have made the decision, unless he was a danger to other players,or the welfare of the Team. All we know of Manny is that he is a very Mature, skilled, realistic, well respected Leader, who still wants to play ,where he feels part of the Family, in Vancouver. I think he should.

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  3. Nee
    February 28, 2013

    Thanks for posting Daniel. Very interesting. I tend to be of the mind that Manny should be able to make this decision on his own rather be forced into sitting out (though most players wouldn’t willingly remove themselves). At some point you have to let the player, who is respected and an intelligent guy, make his own decisions about his safety. If that means trading Manny to let him play elsewhere, I think that would be fair (if Manny request it, which it seems he hasn’t yet).

    If I’m Gillis, and I feel realy uncomfortable about his safety playing, I would still trade him if he asked. I don’t want him at risk if he’s in my org, but if Manny wants to take that risk somewhere else, I think you let him take that risk.

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    • madwag
      February 28, 2013

      which, of course, can automatically happen at season’s end.

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  4. Mel
    February 28, 2013

    GM MG always exudes a sense of knowing better than anyone else in the room/building/planet. But the Big Brother attitude must grate on players with intelligence and determination of their own. I think that retiring is Manny’s decision, if you think he’s at risk, show him the “risk” video and then let him consider the possible consequences, and make up his own mind. If he wants to continue playing, then trade him.

    If you wanted to encourage him to join your organization, like Baumgartner, wouldn’t pissing off the player hurt your chances? Manny was already grateful to the Canucks for the patience they showed during the injury and recovery, and might join them later on. Now will he?

    In addition, the exit of Manny has coincided with the Canucks losing streak. Whether this is due to lost face-offs, his absence in the room or just the added nervousness of knowing how the situation went down, is not clear. And naturally, the losing streak is not completely linked to Manny, but it’s a factor.

    Maybe GM MG should stick to his own tasks, like finding right-side defencemen or trading goalies and leave the micromanaging of players alone.

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    • Timmy Wong (@timmywong11)
      February 28, 2013

      I disagree. As much as anyone wants GMMG to leave the players be, they are still assets that are under his authority and management. GMMG is simply protecting his assets the only way possible given the circumstances – by locking the player down to IR and preventing the player from participating in a game. This isn’t Gillis saying he wants to see Kassian or Burrows or Higgins with the Sedins – that’s a coaching decision that only AV and his staff should have the authority to make. This is Gillis making sure that one of his players is out of the game.

      When you think about it, this is part of GMMG’s job – to make sure that all his assets are in order. It’s no different than negotiating for other team’s assets like a defenseman, centerman, or winger.

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      • Mel
        February 28, 2013

        I guess where we differ is in the idea of assets. Assets are partly the players on a team, but players themselves are not slaves or chess pieces. I don’t believe I implied anywhere that Gillis was coaching, only that he was going beyond what a GM should do. Manny has his own opinion, as well as his agent, family, and medical advisors, to tell him when his career is over. What Gillis wants is to harness Manny’s coaching skills and leadership for the good of the Canucks, right now. Which is exactly what he did with Baumgartner, another player who wasn’t quite ready to retire, but was persuaded that working with the Wolves was an opportunity that might not arise when he was ready. But if Manny wants to play, believes he is capable and has been medically cleared to play, then he should get to play. If not here, then wherever he can get the opportunity.

        What bothers me most is that Gillis makes decisions on what he thinks would be good for players, and then manipulates the circumstances to make this happen. I understand that he completely believes that this is what is best for Manny’s long range health, but obviously he has not been able to convince Manny of this (thus the carefully worded press conference where Manny respectfully disagrees with Gillis.) One of the points raised in this post was that it was difficult to see exactly where Manny was at risk. I think where we really disagree is on whether Manny’s health is in danger or not. If you fully believe that to be true, then you would agree with Gillis’s actions.

        While Dane (below) quotes one of my least favourite GMs (because of the times he openly lied in the media here when questioned about Canucks issues) in saying that we all know less than any GM and should shut up, I respectfully disagree. I certainly know less about hockey than GMMG, but I do know about the management of people, and I think it’s very demotivating to manipulate good, intelligent people to meet your ends. I waited to hear Manny’s side before I took an opinion. What I see now is that he was forced into retirement, and I think that players are not just assets, they are people with their own dreams and opinions. They can be forced onto the IR, but in the long term that will not serve the reputation of the Canucks as a player-friendly place where you are treated with respect.

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  5. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    February 28, 2013

    As expected, he’s not overly pleased about being put on ice.

    I’m not sure that metaphor really works in a hockey context — it kinds of seems like that’s exactly what he wants.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      February 28, 2013

      Damn, I knew I should have been more clear that was a joke.

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  6. Dane
    February 28, 2013

    Something similiar happened to a footy player over this side of the world recently. The player was suspended indefinately. The bloke was going through a few personal issues and while it wasn’t directly affecting his game, it was having an effect on his attitude. The CEO of the club felt it was in the players and the clubs best interest to get him away from football so he could directly deal with those issues before returning to football. In the words of the CEO, he could be out “for 6 weeks, or 6 months”. This has widely been applauded as a great move by the club to protect an asset to the game, and a top, up and coming young player.

    No it’s not the same as the Manny issue, but it has similarities. I think it is a great decision by GM MG, if in fact it is done for the reasons he says it is. The only thing I don’t like about the decision is that it doesn’t allow Manny to continue to work at the issue in an effort to get back into the line-up. He did get that opportuity to prove himself and he apparently failed, but I still think he should be afforded the opportunity to continue his work to improve himself in whatever area it is that is currently letting him down.

    Anyway, whenever I read things about GM decisions and people saying what they think about the decision, I generally do the same but I always get back to one quote I heard a while back from George McPhee (Washington Caps GM). “All the experts, all the pundits come out with their opinions. The truth of the matter is, if they knew anything about the game, they’d be in it.” We can all pontificate on how we think it should be handled and what he did right or wrong, but in the end, the GM probably does know a hell of a lot more about the situation than anyone else.

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  7. Canucksgold
    February 28, 2013

    Is it a coincidence that the Canucks have lost 5 out of 7 games since Malhotra’s been gone?

    They haven’t been as good in faceoffs either, and isn’t that why Manny was acquired a few years ago in the first place?

    While he was in the line up they were on a 6 game wining streak. Ultimately, his own safety and health come first, but just wondering about the correllation.

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  8. Smokey
    February 28, 2013

    The Canucks plainly miss Malhotra on the ice, it would make no sense for Gillis to be anything other than sincere in his concern because this team is obviously better when Manny is playing.

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  9. Stealthwise
    February 28, 2013

    Given what happened today, it seems obvious getting g rid of Manny was done to free up room for the reported (failed) offer sheet the Canucks threw at Ryan O’Reilly

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 28, 2013

      They didn’t offer-sheet him. That was a false report.

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  10. Carlo
    February 28, 2013

    Yeah the Kesler return definitely puts a question mark on the Malhotra decision. Hopefully the Canucks don’t miss him too much. We’ve been hurting without him on the defensive end.

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