Manny Malhotra’s hiring once again highlights the benefits of Abbotsford’s proximity

Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
26 days ago
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There were many reasons to be happy when the Vancouver Canucks announced on Friday that Manny Malhotra was returning to the organization.
Despite his playing time in Vancouver only amounting to 170 games spread over parts of three seasons, Malhotra remains a fan favourite. That continued into his post-playing career, as he became first a developmental coach and then an assistant coach for the Canucks. Sure, then he bailed to Toronto, but he’s back now, so that’s water under the bridge.
Malhotra isn’t a local product, though he kind of feels like one. Perhaps he’s best described as an adopted son of the West Coast. He did marry Joann Nash, the sister of local legend Steve Nash and a former captain of the UVic soccer team in her own right.
So, maybe he’s actually best described as a local product-in-law.
Either way, Malhotra has always felt like one of ours. But that’s not the only reason to be glad he’s back in the fold.
There is, after all, a reason that Sheldon Keefe and the Maple Leafs sought to steal Malhotra away with an expanded role back in 2020. And that reason is, of course, that Malhotra has proven to be an effective coach.
Look, sometimes it’s pretty easy to tell what difference a coach has made. See Rick Tocchet’s recent and relatively uncontested Jack Adams Award win. But usually it’s pretty difficult to measure the impact of a coach, especially in any sort of tangible way.
But we all know Malhotra’s reputation, and we’re all very aware of his long-purported speciality. And that gives us at least a little something to measure: faceoffs.
Malhotra officially joined the Canucks’ bench for the 2018/19 season after a year as developmental coach.
The season before his arrival, 2017/18, the Canucks languished near the bottom of the faceoff column, with a 49.5% win-rate, good for 18th place in the league.
Top faceoff-takers that year included Bo Horvat (53.8%), Brandon Sutter (51.7%), and Nic Dowd (50.9%), but also some questionable performances from the likes of Sam Gagner (47.7%) and Henrik Sedin (46.5%), and especially Markus Granlund (40.8%).
Of course, just having Malhotra on the bench the next season didn’t automatically turn the Canucks into experts on the dot. There would have to be a time of teaching and learning first. Otherwise known as coaching, ya know?
Thus, for the 2018/19 season, with Malhotra on the bench, the Canucks didn’t actually improve at faceoffs at all. They achieved the exact same percentage as the previous year at 49.5%, and slipped down the leaguewide rankings to a tie for 20th overall.
This, despite the arrival of Jay Beagle and his 56.2% rate. He joined Horvat (53.7%) as the team’s chief faceoff people, with most of the rest struggling, including Sutter (48.5%), Gagner (44.4%), and the rookie Elias Pettersson (41.0%).
But by the start of the 2019/20 season, Malhotra had had a full year to work with his charges, and the results were quite obvious. The Canucks rose all the way to the second-best faceoff percentage in the league at 54.0%, just barely behind the league-leading Philadelphia Flyers (54.6%). It was a climb of 18 places and a full 4.5%. And it was done with largely the same personnel.
JT Miller was the big new addition, and he did lead the Canucks with a 59.2% rate in faceoffs. But that was a massive improvement on the 49.4% rate he had achieved the previous year with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s hard to know how much credit to give Malhotra for that, as Miller really did seem to just start winning more draws the second he arrived in Vancouver. But the impact is clearer on the returning players, who each had a personal increase. Beagle rose to 59.1%, Horvat to 57.3%. Sutter only rose a little, to 48.9%, but injuries played a major role there. Pettersson stayed low at 41.8%, but the dreaded sophomore slump was as much to blame as anything there.
And then…it was over. The summer of 2020 saw Malhotra offered a more expansive assistant coaching role under Keefe in Toronto, and he took it.
It’s a little tougher to measure Malhotra’s impact in Toronto, because they were already quite good at faceoffs when he arrived, having just barely trailed the Canucks with 52.5% in 2019/20. They dipped down to 51.1% in Malhotra’s first year, then led the league in his second year with a 55.1% rate in 2021/22. The 2022/23 campaign saw them slide to fourth place and a 53.1% rate, and then last year they stayed in fourth but increased slightly to a 53.5% rate.
If we cut off Malhotra’s first year with the Leafs and use just his last three, Toronto averages out to a 53.9% win-rate, second only to the Dallas Stars over that same period.
The Malhotra Effect is real, and it is measurable.
But the enterprising reader may be wondering at this point why we’ve spent so much digital ink talking about Malhotra’s effect at the NHL level. After all, didn’t the Canucks just hire Malhotra to coach their AHL team?
Well, if you read the headline, you know where we’re going with this. Sure, Malhotra is set to be the head coach of the farm team. Fortunately, that farm team makes their home about an hour’s drive from Rogers Arena, depending on the traffic.
Really, there’s nothing stopping Malhotra from making regular appearances at Vancouver practices in order to work with the team on faceoffs. In fact, we expect it to happen, just as developmental figures like the Sedins have worked with both rosters, as have organizational coaches like Sergei Gonchar and Ian Clark.
Faceoffs are not necessarily a weakness of the Canucks at the present moment. They did finish eighth-overall in the regular season with a 52.1% rate, and actually improved that to a 53.1% rate for the playoffs.
But it sounds as though the Canucks are likely to lose Elias Lindholm (51.2% in the playoffs) to free agency, and quite possibly Teddy Blueger (54.2%) as well.
It might be reasonable to expect a dip for the 2024/25 season.
But, with Malhotra back in the Lower Mainland, perhaps not.
In any case, the same general truth holds, which is that the more talented coaches in the organization, the better. And if all of those coaches are plying their trade within a 75-kilometre radius? That’s just convenient.
If there’s one thing that GM Patrik Allvin and especially POHO Jim Rutherford haven’t gotten enough credit for, it’s for transforming the entire Vancouver Canucks franchise – including its farm teams – into a much more cohesive, all-encompassing enterprise. All the parts of the organization seem to be working much more in concert these days, and the results already speak for themselves.
That makes the whole better than the sum of the parts. And now one of those parts, once again, is Manny Malhotra.
That’s awesome.
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