Manny Malhotra

Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra cleared for contact after eye surgery; Could he play in the finals?


With the Stanley Cup finals set to start on Wednesday, we’ve had a host of storylines pop up with the Vancouver Canucks. From the Sedins, to Ryan Kesler, to Roberto Luongo there’s a lot of things to zero in. One player who has been absent from the playoffs and from the Canucks lineup since mid-March is Manny Malhotra.

As you might recall, Malhotra was struck in the eye by a puck on March 16th, an injury that left Malhotra in danger of losing his eyesight in that eye and potentially ending his career. After two successful surgeries on the eye, Malhotra was fortunate to get the use out of his eye back even with reduced vision in the eye. While he’s been working out of late it wasn’t believed that Malhotra would be able to come back to hockey this season or what the timetable would be on when or if he’d be able to play hockey again.

Today, Malhotra was cleared for full contact in practices with the Canucks and opening up the possibility we could see him suit up for the Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals. TSN’s Bob McKenzie breaks down the possibilities ahead for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault when it comes to perhaps playing Malhotra and creating one of the most amazing stories of the year.

Malhotra has been steadily ramping up the intensity of his on-ice workouts. Now, though, assured by doctors that the only way he could damage the eye is by taking direct contact by a puck or stick on the eye, he will be able to take the next step in practice and engage in contact and battle drills that will give him a better idea if he’s fully ready for the rigors of an NHL Stanley Cup final playoff game.

Anyone watching Malhotra practice recently has seen that he appears comfortable taking draws. He’s been working hard on his conditioning.

Malhotra will wear a full face shield like the one in the photo attached to this story so taking direct damage to the eye would be unlikely. Still, he’ll have reduced vision in his left eye and if the Canucks are thinking of putting him, doing so in the Stanley Cup finals after not having played since mid-March does come with risks. Even if Malhotra plays on the fourth line at limited minutes mistakes and risks are still there. You’d think it would be unlikely that Alain Vigneault would take a chance there, but if Malhotra is ready and he can play the way he did in the regular season… Astounding.

Should Malhotra play and do the same thing he was doing during the year, he’s a tremendous defensive center with the ability to dominate at faceoffs while shutting down opponents top forwards. Suffice to say, if Malhotra can come back and do that again life will be made awfully difficult for the likes of David Krejci, Vincent Lecavalier, or Steve Stamkos. The Canucks have done well in spite of Malhotra’s absence but if they can get him back that makes either Boston or Tampa Bay’s task even harder to win the Stanley Cup against the favored Canucks.

For now, we’ll hope for the best for Malhotra and hope that we will indeed see him suit up again. If that happens during the Stanley Cup finals though… What a story.

Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

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The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.

Bergevin agrees to multi-year contract extension with Habs

Marc Bergevin
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Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has agreed to a multi-year contract extension that runs through 2021-22, the club announced today.

“This new agreement brings added stability for our organization and particularly for our hockey operations. It enables us to continue our efforts in giving our fans a winning team,” said Habs owner Geoff Molson in a release. “Marc is an excellent general manager who quickly made an impact in the league with his leadership skills and his ability to identify the needs and find the personnel to assemble a championship team.”

Bergevin was named GM in May of 2012. The Canadiens have made the playoffs in all three seasons of his tenure, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2014.

Still, it’s going to take time before we can truly judge his work, as is the case with any GM that’s only been on the job a few years. The lone player that Bergevin’s drafted that’s made it full-time to the NHL is Alex Galchenyuk. How the likes of Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, and Noah Juulsen develop remains to be seen.

For Bergevin, the lengthy contract extension is a nice reward, and a strong vote of confidence that he’s on the right track.

“I am very pleased with his work and the results he has achieved since his appointment as general manager,” said Molson.

We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

David Poile

“I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

“We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

“You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

“When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

“In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

“There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

“In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

OK, fine, fair enough.

P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

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Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

Now we’re starting to see why.

On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.