So the official word today is that Manny Malhotra is going to miss the remainder of the NHL regular season and playoffs, due to the horrific injury he sustained March 16 against the Avalanche, when a puck flew up the length of his stick and struck him in the eye.
The Canucks front office has been largely keeping mum on the severity of his injury, although rumours that Malhotra ‘lost an eye’ have been debunked. Current word going around now is that Malhotra’s injury has caused such severe swelling around the eye that determining just how serious the damage is indeterminable for now.
The injury is horrific and I believe most hockey fans wish nothing but a full recovery for Malhotra.
That said, there has been a lot of hand wringing going on amongst Canucks fans once news broke on Malhotra’s season being done.
Irreplaceable and indispensable are two words that have been thrown around describing the Canucks third line centre, with, if Twitter Monday afternoon was any indication, his absence from the team being a serious crimp on the Canucks Stanley Cup chances.
Honestly, it’s hard not to see why so many fans are upset about Malhotra’s absence from the team. Manny is first in road faceoff percentage, second in the entire league in overall faceoff percentage, third in shorthanded faceoffs won and logs the most PK time for the Canucks number one ranked penalty kill. He is a huge part of why the Canucks have the absolute best penalty kill in the league. Obviously losing Malhotra is going to hurt.
I’m also of the mindset that having strong centre depth is important for any team that has aspirations of going deep into the playoffs. The Blackhawks last year had Toews, Sharp and Madden. The Penguins the year before had Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Detroit had Datsyuk, Flippula and Hudler. Anaheim had Getzlaf, Pahlsson and Andy McDonald. Carolina had Brind’Amour, Staal, Weight, Stillman and Cullen.
In the past two years, the Canucks have had Kyle Wellwood, Ryan Johnson, Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra as the guys behind/alongside Kesler and Henrik Sedin. All of them have had varying problems (Wellwood was considered too small/soft for a bottom six role, Johnson was hot garbage despite being touted as an amazing PK/FO guy and was injury plagued on top of that, Demitra was also injury ridden and was showing signs of aging. Sundin was also slowing down and also missed half the season so wasn’t in top form) and weren’t seen as ideal pieces.
Manny Malhotra was seen as being an almost ideal fit for the Canucks. I recall, at the time of his signing way back last summer, that there were a lot of shrill cries of Manny being overpaid and not worth his contract. I think, over the course of the season, he’s demonstrated why that particular line of thinking is complete bunk, and now he’s universally mourned.
That said, are things as horrible for the Canucks as the doomsday prophets would lead you to believe? I’d say no, for several reasons.
First off, the Canucks bottom six is a lot more robust than it has been in previous years. I sort of alluded to this before, but the makeup of the Canucks bottom six last year consisted of guys like Darcy Hordichuk, Rick Rypien, Ryan Johnson, Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier. Arguably the best player of the bunch would be Bernier, and he’s been regulated to a healthy scratch/fourth liner in Florida, of all places. Hordichuk barely passes for a hockey player and didn’t see much playoff action at all when he was a Canuck, while Rypien’s style of game isn’t well suited for his 5′11 frame.
Now? The Canucks have a bottom six consisting of guys like Tanner Glass, Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, Raffi Torres, Jannik Hansen and Jeff Tambellini, with guys like Victor Oreskovich, Cody Hodgson and Alex Bolduc waiting in the wings. It’s a lot better looking crop of forwards who can all contribute in varying degrees. And, for the record, I will admit to being surprised at just how far Hansen has come this year. All of these guys, with the possible exception of Bolduc, could slot in on the third or fourth lines and contribute in a meaningful way. The overall skillset of the Canucks bottom six has improved year over year and makes losing a guy like Malhotra far easier.
Not to mention that the Canucks overall forward depth is incredibly strong, what with having eight 25+ goal scorers on the team and two of the best centres in the NHL in Kesler and Henrik Sedin. Kesler, who is being seen as Selke favourite this year, can help take on some of the defensive burden Malhotra’s absence will provide, while Lapierre finds himself in an almost ideal position to succeed: head coach Alain Vigneault has coached him before and is amicable towards him. Between the two of them, it should be hoped for that they can make up for no more Manny.
The path to hoist Lord Stanley isn’t an easy one and the loss of Malhotra isn’t an easy loss for the Canucks to take.