I’ve got to admit that when I heard the news this morning that Manny Malhotra would be lost for the regular season and playoffs due to his eye injury, I began a mini-panic. Weird that a season ending injury to a 30-35 point scorer could cause such angst, but anybody that has followed this team closely knows why.
Malhotra brought a lot of intangibles to this Canucks team, the type of intangibles that help a team win a Stanley Cup. Aside from his mild offensive output, he was one of their top penalty killers, one of the best in the league at faceoffs, and brought leadership to the dressing room. Now Canucks fans have to hope that he will be able to regain his vision for the sake of his life, nevermind his career.
With Malhotra officially done for the season, what next? There’s now an opening in the middle on the third line and it appears Maxim Lapierre will get the first crack at it. Lapierre is a natural centre, but might not be the answer. Other options would be to play the more talented Chris Higgins or Mason Raymond in the middle, although their experience at centre is limited.
Alex Bolduc has been called up from Manitoba, so perhaps he gets another chance on the 4th line but it’s another centreman from the Moose that has me intrigued. What about Cody Hodgson? I have been fairly critical of the Canucks forcing Hodgson into a 4th line role earlier this season, but this could be the perfect opportunity. Hodgson is a two-way centre with lots of offensive upside. He’s not exactly putting up eye popping numbers with Manitoba this year (27 points in 45 games), but they are respectable.
In my mind, Hodgson has the most potential to adequately replace Malhotra, albeit in different way. The Canucks should give Hodgson another chance and see what he can do. It’s by no means a slam dunk, and the more realistic option will probably be to hope that Maxim Lapierre can prove he belongs on the 3rd line.
Can it be done?
Can the Canucks win without Manny Malhotra? Of course they can, but it won’t be easy. With that said, there are a few examples of teams losing key members for long periods of time in the playoffs and still going on to win the Stanley Cup:
- The Chicago Blackhawks lost one of their top 5 defensemen, Kim Johnsson, for the entire playoffs last year but still went on to win the Stanley Cup.
- In 2006, Erik Cole had 30 goals in 60 games while playing on the Carolina Hurricanes’ top line. He suffered a serious injury at the hands of Brooks Orpik which kept him out for all but the final two playoff games. Despite this, the Hurricanes still managed to win the Stanley Cup.
- Perhaps the best example of a team winning despite an injury, was in 2001 when Peter Forsberg missed the conference finals and Stanley Cup finals, yet the Colorado Avalanche still managed to win it all.
So what’s the moral of the story? If you’re a good enough team, you can overcome an injury to a player like Manny Malhotra. The Canucks will need someone to step up in the 3rd line centre position, combined with excellence in other areas. Of course, on top of that they’ll need to get the bounces and try to limit further injuries, but that’s what makes the Stanley Cup the hardest trophy in all of professional sports to win.