The date was rapidly approaching for Manny Malhotra.
The 35-year old forward had what he described as a “soft date” in mind for when he’d begin to consider retirement. But on Tuesday, Malhotra reached out to an old friend, Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson, whom he had known from their days with the New York Rangers.
Malhotra inquired with Davidson about any opportunities in the Columbus organization, relaying that he was fit and still had a desire to play. On Wednesday, Blue Jackets assistant general manager Bill Zito called and offered him 25-game tryout with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.
"I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. I’m very fortunate for this opportunity to arise and I’m looking to make the most of it,” Malhotra told Puck Daddy on Friday.
There wasn’t much time for Malhotra to rejoice following this new opportunity. He hopped on a red-eye from Vancouver Wednesday night, connected in Toronto, and hours after landing in Cleveland was in the Monsters’ lineup Thursday during their 4-2 loss to the Iowa Wild.
Suddenly, exactly eight months after his last NHL game, Malhotra was playing professional hockey again.
It was a long eight months for Malhotra, a veteran of 991 NHL games.
There were conversations with NHL teams ove the summer, but nothing materialized. In the meantime, Malhotra kept in shape by working out with his skating coach in Vancouver and hitting the ice with the University of British Columbia’s men’s team.
“[W]ith so many free agents this year, there seemed to be very few PTOs given, contracts signed. It was just a very tough year for veteran free agents,” he said. “It wasn’t until recently that we decided to start looking into European options and making calls over there.
“For myself, my heart was set on playing over here.”
Malhota spent the last two seasons with Montreal and the Carolina Hurricanes and despite an eye injury he suffered in 2011, remained a dominant presence in the face-off circle. Out of 906 draws last season, he won 59.3-percent of them, and 59.5-percent of his 952 attempts in 2013-14.
The time Malhotra spends in Lake Erie will be beneficial for both sides. He’ll bring his veteran experience to the dressing room and get an opportunity to showcase his abilities in hopes of impressing the Blue Jackets’ brass or another NHL organization.
Davidson and Zito didn’t promise anything should the next 25 games go well for Malhotra, but the goal of proving himself and showing he can still play is good enough for now.
“When you feel like you can still play and you feel healthy, you feel good and you want to play, then that’s what you pursue,” he said. “I think it’s as simple as that.”
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