Usually you wouldn’t think losing a third line center for the season would significantly affect playoff expectations of an all-world team. But this is different: this is Manny Malhotra.
I must admit, prior to this season I hadn’t seen a lot of Malhotra and mostly considered him as a first round bust. Drafted seventh overall by the New York Rangers in 1998, Malhotra came straight to the NHL and the Rangers gave up on him four years later. His career high is 12 goals and 35 points, which at first glance isn’t what you should be getting from a player who was picked that high.
But upon his landing in Vancouver I was able to watch Malhotra some more and this changed my opinion of him. In your average draft year most first-rounders won’t be superstars and if an NHL team ends up getting a reliable NHL player out of the pick, they’ve come out on top. With all the uncertainty surrounding the draft, as long as you’re adding players, you’re building a team.
Malhotra is a faceoff whiz, penalty-kill master and one of, if not the outright best, third line center in the NHL. GM Mike Gillis specifically targeted improvements to his third line because the lack of effectiveness at that point in the depth chart is what cost the Canucks dearly in their second round loss to Chicago last year - heck, even the year before that.
While all of the depth positions were tweaked, no addition was bigger than Malhotra. There’s little doubt Vancouver would have been a force without him, but Malhotra gave the Canucks a whole new gear, one that has propelled them to a significant standings lead.
Now, you can’t expect the team to implode because of the loss of one player, but make no mistake: this is a disastrous loss. Everything was going a little too smoothly for the Canucks this year, so perhaps this was the hockey gods’ way of levelling the playing field.
Are the Canucks still favourites to win the Stanley Cup without Malhotra? The Hockey News thinks so, because while Malhotra was a difference-maker, this team is also about the Sedins, Keslers, Ehrhoffs and Luongos of the lineup.
But one thing is for sure: the loss of Malhotra has allowed the seeds of doubt to be planted. The Canucks hadn’t shown a chink in the armour to this point, but their 30-year-old veteran brought more to this team than your average third-line center.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.