Friday, February 15, 2013

Gillis on Malhotra: 'The hardest thing I have done'

When it was announced yesterday that Mike Gillis was shutting Manny Malhotra down for the season, even the most positive-minded among us could put the decision into context.  In the last year of his contract and his performance in sharp decline since his eye injury, it can be fairly assumed that Malhotra played his last game as a Canuck last Saturday against Calgary.  And as ubiquitously respected as the centreman is around the league, when your general manager declares that he cannot with a straight conscience let you play, the chances of another team signing you on is bleak.

Malhotra scored 48 points in 159 games
as an instant fan favourite in Vancouver.
At his best, Malhotra was instrumental in vaulting the Canucks into a Presidents' Trophy-calibre team.  So high was his profile in his first year with Vancouver that had him as their Selke Trophy favourite in January 2011.  Even for a mid-season awards prediction, it takes a lot to out-Selke Pavel Datsyuk.  Ryan Kesler needed no less than 41 goals to knock the Red Wing off, so you can imagine how well-esteemed Malhotra's all-around play was at the time.  Despite missing 10 regular season games to his eye injury, he ultimately finished fifth in Selke voting; his six first-place votes were second only to Kesler.

Even while struggling to return to form in 2011-12, Malhotra led all Canucks forwards in average shorthanded ice time (2:24 minutes per game), while his faceoff percentage (58.5%) ranked fourth in the league.  At the time of Gillis' announcement, those statistical trends were steadfastly continuing into the current campaign (2:47 and 65.3%).  By comparison, Malhotra's numbers from his first year in Vancouver were 2:45 shorthanded minutes per game with a 61.7% faceoff percentage.

That's not to say that his defensive play, as a whole, was unaffected by his injury.  From a statistical standpoint, Malhotra's blocked shot and takeaway totals last season were nearly half that of the 2010-11 campaign (45 blocked shots to 74 and 22 takeaways to 45).  And while his 2011-12 statistics, including 7 goals and 18 points, constituted above-average fourth-line contributions, his play had observably diminished, nonetheless.

Whether Malhotra remains a practical utility to the Canucks, however, has been reduced to a moot argument.  The Mississauga-native with unquestioned character and leadership is destined for a much-deserved role somewhere within the organization.  Be it with the coaching staff or front office, Vancouver can only hope he remains with the Canucks in some capacity for the long term.

'Bout time Vigneault had some healthy competition on the payroll, anyways.


*See Malhotra's Top 5 Moments with the Canucks, as determined by BTD, here.

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