The news trickled out mid-day on Thursday that Canucks centreman Manny Malhotra – who nearly lost his left eye as a result of a freak accident during the 2010-11 NHL season – has been placed on injured reserve, and will miss the rest of the season. Here’s the press release from Canucks.nhl.com that quotes Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis as saying "The long term health of Manny Malhotra is of utmost importance to our organization" and adding that "Manny will continue to be a valued member of our organization.”
This post is now updated to include analysis so click past the jump.
The immediate impact for the Canucks, in terms of roster mechanics and the 23-man limit, is that the team won’t have to send a player (presumably one of Jordan Schroeder or more likely Andrew Ebbett) back to Chicago upon Ryan Kesler’s return to action. Ryan Kesler was at practice today wearing a blue "contact" jersey, and it’s beginning to look like he’ll return to the lineup this weekend.
Also, Malhotra – who is on the injured reserve (IR) for now – will almost surely be placed on the Longterm Injured Reserve (LTIR) eventually, which will give Laurence Gilman a bit of cap-space to play with between now and the April 3rd NHL trade deadline.
In terms of the club’s performance on the ice, Malhotra’s absence will be felt immediately in the face-off circle. Among centreman who have taken more than 50 draws this season, Malhotra was second in winning percentage in the entire NHL. The Canucks as a club have fallen below 50% in the faceoff circle so far this year, and even with Ryan Kesler returning to action in short order they look likely to finish outside of the top-5 for the first time since, well, since they first signed Manny Malhotra in the summer of 2010.
While Manny Malhotra’s two-way effectiveness had diminished since his eye-injury, he was still very steady on the penalty-kill and borderline dominant on defensive-zone faceoffs. At worst he was the ostentatiously wealthy man’s version of Ryan Johnson. So far this season, he’d started three shifts in the defensive zone for every shift he started in the opponent’s end of the rink; which is more or less consistent with his deployment over the past three years. Basically since his arrival in Vancouver, Manny Malhotra has taken on one of the most thankless jobs in hockey, he never complained and he excelled (yes, even a season ago) in a limited specialist role.
Without Malhotra to soak up defensive zone draws, I’d imagine that Maxim Lapierre will be leaned on heavily to do the yeoman’s work in the defensive zone and Ryan Kesler – upon his return to the lineup, of course – will likely help pick up the slack as well.
There’s no word yet on the precise nature of Malhotra’s injury, but we hope it’s not seriously threatening to his quality of life going forward. Obviously we wish him the best and respect his privacy. That was a frightening injury that he suffered and the persistence and spirit he showed in battling back from it – even returning to play in the Stanley Cup Final that very season – is nothing short of inspiring.
During his time in Vancouver, Malhotra has proven himself a warrior, an upstanding citizen in the community, and he’s clearly respected by his teammates and the organization. If he’s played his last game in the NHL – and we don’t know whether or not that’s the case yet – he’ll be remembered fondly as a player (at least he will be around this nerdy hovel of the internet), and we sincerely hope he ends up on the coaching staff or in a hockey ops role with the Canucks going forward.
Update: From Elliotte Friedman, perhaps we should be careful about jumping the retirement gun:
Re Malhotra: Think everyone involved is more than ready to give him time to see if sight improves, but want to be careful and not rush.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 14, 2013