In a different universe, this doesn’t happen.
The puck never hits him in the eye; he doesn’t need major surgery to save his eye; there doesn’t have to be a major comeback. No decision is ever forced about his elite-level usefulness by the pressures of a salary cap.
But of course it doesn’t work this way.
March 16th, 2011. That’s when it all changed, when control was lost.
We all like to believe that we control our lives, that ultimately we have influence in what happens next. Oftentimes, this is the case. But in many instances, it’s not.
"Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen next. Not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside our own bodies and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs."
– Days of Thunder
Ridiculous movie I know, but the speech Nicole Kidman gives to Tom Cruise has always stuck with me. We all go through life, seeking to control everything around us, to manage the things we work with and the people we have relationships with. Those moments where we learn about that illusion are often not all that painful, but sometimes they really are.
Getting a puck to the eye – that’s literally and figuratively painful.
Of course, we can always say, "should have worn a visor." This is absolutely true, of course, but nothing is really a guarantee. Things can stil go awry.
Eye surgery is terrifying. There are few things in our body that are truly delicate; there are even fewer that really do have a massive impact on quality of life. The potential of losing even one eye is horrifying.
That’s why we want to come back. Our eye is still in our head. We know we can still see. We want to have control of our situation.
That’s what makes Manny Malhotra’s situation so awful. As explained by Mike Gillis, Malhotra asked for the chance to prove that he still had control of his destiny.
As Gillis has explained over the past three days, most of that control was conditional. There had to be a roster space for Malhotra to have the chance to prove himself. Yes, that was ‘convenient.’ But that’s also the reality of a salary cap universe.
Two years ago, I wrote about how much trouble Malhotra would have with decisions to his left. Plenty have pointed out that he’s winning faceoffs at the same old clip, but there’s more to the game than winning faceoffs.
It’s also about allocation of resources. There’s only so much leeway that can be given in assessing an injured player. Is it safe? Can it be proven otherwise? Is there time to prove it? If you start with ‘I’m concerned about your safety, but I’ll let you prove otherwise,’ how long do you have? A season? Two?
If the decision was nearly made last year – and I believe Gillis on this – then clearly the Canucks had data suggesting that Malhotra was having serious problems with play to his left. That’s why this is being framed as a safety issue. Malhotra couldn’t prove that he could play safely, Gillis said.
And he ran out of time to prove otherwise.
It seems very clear that if Ryan Kesler hadn’t been hurt, we don’t get to this point. Malhotra wouldn’t have started the season. That’s the salary cap. But Kesler didn’t start the season, so Malhotra had one last chance to prove that he *could* do it safely. That’s his agony — he couldn’t control his opportunity and he also couldn’t change the apparent truth of his injury.
He’s been told he’s not allowed to do it anymore. The judgment is that Malhotra’s body has ultimately failed him.
Ever tried to pretend that you weren’t hurt, that you could still the job? We all hate acknowledging our limitations. Sometimes being told about our limitations is the worst thing you can hear. It’s the end of your dream. You know 9/10ths of your body is willing, so why can’t you just carry on?
It’s an awful feeling being told you can’t do something anymore. But someone has to.
There are always going to be questions about the timing, but it must be recognized that this is a conversation that would have happened in the off-season, had Ryan Kesler not been hurt. That’s why the timing really sucks. It turns out we were watching a player trying to rescue his career.
In hindsight, that was agonizing for us too; we were watching someone fail at something that they were really good at, who still believed they had the physical capability but were now crucially flawed.
He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t control his destiny.