Amazingly, Manny Malhotra skated with the Canucks today

While I highly doubt* that he has any chance to return for the playoffs, Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra skated with the team and on his own today. (This link contains brief video footage of Malhotra skating.)

In case you’re wondering, the Canucks lost Malhotra for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs when he was struck in the eye by a puck. The fact that he was skating today doesn’t change that, but it could be a heartening (yet small) step forward in his recovery process.

The Canucks found a way to get to the Western Conference finals without their excellent penalty-killing depth center, but his presence might be missed the most in Round 3. Whether Vancouver’s opponent is the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks, the team’s penalty kill will be pushed to the limit in either situation. The Red Wings and Sharks are also strong squads in the faceoff circle, another area of dominance for Malhotra. (That being said, Ryan Kesler isn’t far behind Malhotra in faceoff winning skills, so they probably won’t get killed in that category either.)

Here are Canucks GM Mike Gillis’ comments on Malhotra’s comeback prospects and the team’s expectations, via Ben Kuzuma of the Vancouver Province.

“I have no answer for that question,” said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. “Today was about taking the next step in his recovery and he wanted to do some light skating,” said Gillis. “This is just a small step in his recovery. There is no timetable and there’s no schedule with an injury like this. He’s at this point because everything seems to be stable and it’s just another step. We’ve never asked and we’ve never been given a timeline.

“It’s about how he’s recovering. It’s basically day-by-day, week-by-week and month-by-month. We’re optimistic and just holding our breath about his ability to continue to recover. His recovery is the paramount thing and we’ll make decisions along the way and it never entered into our minds about playing, this is about his health. We’re just going to let the process take whatever time it requires.”

No doubt about it, Malhotra is far from ready to return and might not ever have the necessary range of vision to return to NHL competition.

The two most prominent examples of somewhat similar eye injuries happened to Detroit Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman and journeyman offensive defenseman Bryan Berard. Yzerman retired after suffering an eye injury while Berard’s promising young career was greatly altered when Marian Hossa’s stick accidentally caught him in the eye. Berard improbably played parts of six seasons after that injury, but he never regained the form that made him the first overall pick of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft and the 1996-97 Calder Trophy winner.

It’s possible Malhotra’s career hasn’t turned out the way some expected when he was the No. 7 overall pick of the ’98 draft, but he found a way to make himself an extremely useful NHL player. It would be a real shame to see his career cut short at age 31, but we’ll have to wait and see if he can make a comeback.

Today’s practice was the heartening first step.

* Make that “highly, highly, highly” doubt it.

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.

Rangers lock up Zibanejad for next five years

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The New York Rangers have locked up a key piece of their future, signing center Mika Zibanejad to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.35 million.

Zibanejad had an arbitration hearing scheduled for today, but that won’t be required anymore.

The 24-year-old had 14 goals and 23 assists in 56 games last season. It was his first year in New York after getting traded from Ottawa for Derick Brassard.

With Derek Stepan in Arizona now, Zibanejad is arguably the Rangers’ No. 1 center. Kevin Hayes is in that conversation as well, and perhaps Lias Andersson will be soon.

But getting Zibanejad signed long term was a top priority for GM Jeff Gorton this offseason. Hayes can become a restricted free agent next summer, but that’s a bridge to cross at a later date.

Related: Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers next season

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.