Manny Malhotra was shut down yesterday for the remainder of the Vancouver Canucks' season. Unable to fully recover from an eye injury sustained in the spring of 2011, his career is potentially over.
Malhotra came to the Canucks signing a three-year deal for $2.5-million per season. At the time, it was a hefty price for a player slated to be a third- or a fourth-line centreman, but the Canucks had some salary cap space to work with and shored up the depth positions on their roster.
Instantly, Malhotra started doing something that no player in the NHL was doing: taking a lot of face-offs in the defensive zone. More than that, taking face-offs almost exclusively in the defensive zone.
That's it. That's how the Canucks deployed their third line, defensive centreman. They set their matchups to reflect the location of the puck on the ice for a face-off and not who the other team had sent out or was going to sent out. By keeping Malhotra at one end, the Canucks were able to prolong the scoring peak of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who had just turned 30. Daniel Sedin won the scoring title that season and Henrik led the league in assists for the third straight year.
The acceptance of that role from Malhotra showcases a calibre of intangible not often discussed among hockey commentators: the willingness to accept a role designed to suppress individual scoring statistics. Malhotra's raison d'être was simple: play defensive minutes on the ice so the Sedin twins don't have to. The tangible benefit of your play will be noticeable in their point production, not yours. Their plus/minus, not yours.
Everything did work out quite nicely for Malhtora. At 30, he scored 11 goals and took 111 shots and managed to be a plus-9 despite starting 466 even-strength shifts in the defensive zone and just 155 in the offensive zone. While some teams had dallied in the concept of "zone matching" before the start of that season, the disparity of starts between offensive and defensive centremen was never that noticeable until Alain Vigneault, likely under directive from noted progressive thinker and Canucks' general manager Mike Gillis, began using Malhotra in a role that's now being emulated by teams across the National Hockey League.Read More »from The influence of the Canucks and Manny Malhotra on the NHL’s defensive strategies