I’ll be the first to admit that when the Canucks signed Manny Malhotra to his contract, I was not a fan of the terms. 3 years, $2.5 million per year, and a no-trade clause (albeit limited) seemed a little excessive for a guy that I saw simply as Kyle Wellwood’s upgrade. I knew what we could expect from Malhotra after having watched him down in San Jose all season, but then again, I also expected the Canucks juggernaut to be rolling by the time we’d hit the six game mark of the season. So what makes Manny worth his millions? Consistency.
In two games this week, we’ve seen the Canucks go from walking all over the road-weary Carolina Hurricanes at home to getting walked all over by the flu bug-ridden Minnesota Wild on the road. We’ve seen both sides of the spectrum, but only one side from Malhotra. The Canucks needed an upgrade from a dinky, streaky and sometimes under-conditioned Wellwood.
In his first six games with the Canucks, he’s given us a taste of just why Mike Gillis went after him and offered him as much as he did. In part, it was because his market value was $2.5 million – rumor at the time was that the Sharks offered him $2.1 million – but there’s also a lot more to Malhotra that we’re starting to see.
In the Canucks’ 5-1 romp over the Hurricanes, Malhotra finished 15-1 in the faceoff dot – a beastly faceoff winning percentage of 93.4%. In their dismal road loss against the Wild, he finished 12-4 in the faceoff dot – a very respectable FOW% of 75%. In fact, Malhotra has a FOW% over 70% in four of his first six games with the Canucks. Contrast that to Wellwood, who took 20 games last season before recording four games with 70% or more in the FOW column. Win or lose, he’s been dominant in the dot, helping to win crucial faceoffs at both ends of the ice, on special teams, and at even-strength.
The Canucks’ penalty-kill last year sat in the bottom half of the league. For a team that’s considered a contender, an 18th-ranked PK isn’t good enough. One of the reasons Malhotra was brought on was to be a PK expert. In the Canucks’ first game of the season, they gave up a full two-minute PP to the Kings in OT. Malhotra was on the ice for a full two minutes because the Canucks couldn’t clear the zone; however, the Kings didn’t score. Against the Hurricanes, the Canucks were two men down as the third period was winding down and Malhotra created not one, but two short-handed breakaways. Thus far, Malhotra’s averaging just over 15 minutes of ice-time per game, which is nearly three minutes more than fellow third liners Schaefer and Torres and almost double the ice-time the rest of the bottom-six is getting.
The 30-year old Malhotra has certainly brought his end of the bargain to the ice. He’s got two assists in six games with the Canucks. (Contrast again, Wellwood took 18 games to reach two points last year.) So is Manny worth his millions? He’s showing up night in and night out and doing his part within the Canucks system. Win big or lose big, Malhotra’s game seems to be at it’s peak and he’s one person that can’t be faulted for the Canucks’ slow start to the season.
The Canucks needed that big, multi-faceted bottom-six player who could make an impact and the journeyman center who’s also played with the Blue Jackets, Stars, Rangers and Sharks fits that mould.