May 27 2011 07:10PM
Manny Malhotra was skating with his Canuck teammates at practice today after being cleared for light contact by team doctors. Malhotra will still need to undergo another surgery on the eye in the off season, however that procedure is not required for him to return to action in the Stanley Cup Final. Though Canucks fans can't help but be excited about this latest development, the debate about whether or not Manny Malhotra will suit up for the Canucks in the postseason continues.
You will recall it began a couple weeks ago when Manny was out on the ice alone in a track suit, gloves and a full face visor. This was spectacular news, especially when you consider that nobody in the Canucks’ camp was even sure whether the centreman would ever return to the game of hockey.
A few days passed before Manny joined the team out on the ice - still wearing that track suit. No big deal. But then he poked a shot of adrenaline into the #Canucks twitterverse by wearing full gear at practice. Some were saying “there’s no way he plays” others were convinced he was prepping for a possible return (or why would he be joining practice – surely, not “just for fun”, as the team claimed).
Despite today's promising news, he is not yet allowed to join the squad for full contact. However, an injury which was initially diagnosed as a ‘season-ender’ now looks like anything but. The way I see it, we’re gonna see Manny again in these playoffs and here’s why:
1. Injured players don’t practice with their teams unless they have a chance to return. Even if the assistant captain’s return to practice gave a major boost to his teammates (as Mike Gillis stated), hurt players are often in a different mindset and it can disrupt the team’s vibe.
2. Since the initial announcement, nobody other than Rick Bowness (...yes Rick Bowness) has explicitly denied that he may come back. Phrases such as “highly unlikely” and “miracle” have been tossed around regarding a return. So have “it’s incredible” and “amazing” regarding his recovery. Unless I hear something similar to: “He will not play again this year”, I believe he comes back.
3. In rare exceptions, injured players who are important to the culture of a team (like Manny or Sidney Crosby) sometimes stick around a team during a playoff run. But injured skaters – no matter how respected their leadership – don’t centre line rushes at practice if they can’t come back. If he’s in there, it’s because he’s getting his legs back so that he’ll be capable of playing should he be cleared to play, and decide to.
4. When was the last time AV refused to talk to the media about a player that was around the team? Not to mention his conviction in denying anyone even the tiniest tidbit. It just seems like Vigneault and Gillis are holding this card as close to their vests as they can. My read: the Canucks aren't bluffing, they're under-playing pocket aces.
5. Why isn’t the media allowed to speak with Manny? Apparently Matt Sekeres asked this question of Gillis today, and was snapped at. This is weird because, from what I recall, if a player is practising, they’re usually available to media. Excluding Luongo on game days, of course.
So what happens if he doesn’t come back? I’ll be humiliated as someone who is 0-fer in his blog predictions.
But what if he does come back? Well, that’s the exciting part. If he returns you can bet your house that he’s not gonna jump onto an already effective 3rd line. Which means Manny will be centering a 4th line which could be trusted to share “tough minutes” more evenly with the current 3rd line. Lapierre and Malhotra are both strong defensively, on special teams, and in the face-off circle. Throw Oreskovich on that line, and you've combined a solid defensive centre with a less experienced and less talented Raffi Torres. The other wing would be reserved for either Jeff Tambellini or Cody Hodgson. Tambellini fits into Hansen’s mould as a speedster and fore-checker. Tambellini's play isn't quite as physical as Hansen's, but he possesses a more accurate shot, and arguably has stronger natural offensive abilities. If you’re not feelin’ Tambellini on that line, why throw not Hodgson out there? He’s smart, he understands his role, and he would greatly benefit from playing with Manny in a Stanley Cup Final. He might even break the five minute mark in ice-time!
The possible line combinations can, and will be debated until Game 1 begins next Wednesday, but the fact that Manny makes this group better can not.