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The Vancouver Canucks can still win the Stanley Cup, but they're going to have to do it without their top penalty-killing forward and best faceoff man.
Make no mistake, the loss of Manny Malhotra (serious eye injury) for the regular season and playoffs, which the club announced Monday, is a serious blow.
Last July, the Canucks made Malhotra one of their top free-agent targets and privately believed his signing was just as significant as top defenseman Dan Hamhuis.
GM Mike Gillis desperately wanted to upgrade his third line after seeing his team lose to Chicago for a second straight postseason, most notably by acquiring a checking center who could add more grit, win more faceoffs and improve the team's penalty killing.
|Manny Malhotra was hit in the left eye by an errant puck during last Wednesday's game against Colorado and underwent surgery to repair the injury.|
Done, done and done after Malhotra arrived.
Malhotra is second in the NHL behind only Jonathan Toews with 778 faceoff wins and leads his team among forwards in shorthanded ice time. He might have won the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward and may still get some votes despite missing the last month of the regular season. So while Malhotra's name may not resonate around the rest of the league outside of Vancouver, the Canucks know what they've lost.
So, what now?
Give Gillis credit for picking up forward depth at the trade deadline in Maxim Lapierre and Christopher Higgins. Some people wondered why the GM bothered. Well, now you know why: injuries can happen. Lapierre played most of his career in Montreal as a third- or fourth-line center and is a solid penalty killer, so he'll be the obvious replacement, at least for now. Cody Hodgson could be another option (he's got more offensive touch), but Lapierre should get the first crack at it.
Still, there's no replacing Malhotra. I think his absence will mean even more minutes for star centers Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler come playoff time.
On a final note, Malhotra's injury also reignites the decades-old debate on visors. There should no longer be any debate. The NHL Players' Association must allow the league to go to mandatory visors. No more arguing.
We all agree the game is faster than ever; players don't have as much time to react to pucks and sticks. Players already in the NHL can choose whether to wear a visor, but any new player starting next season and beyond should be required to wear one. Case closed.