Manny Malhotra

Gillis, Vigneault still worried about Malhotra


Back in February, when the Vancouver Canucks announced that center Manny Malhotra had been placed on injured reserve and would miss the remainder of the season, some wondered if the club really did have the player’s best interests at heart.

Malhotra, of course, suffered a serious eye injury in March of 2011 when he was struck with a puck. He managed to return and play around 100 games, but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was pre-injury.

The Canucks explained they were shutting him down for his own good, with general manager Mike Gillis saying, “The long term health of Manny Malhotra is of utmost importance to our organization.”

Skeptics, however, wondered if they’d done it for an additional $2.5 million in cap space. (The NHL, it should be noted, had no issue with the move, and Malhotra said he didn’t question Gillis’ sincerity.)

Fast forward to the present and Malhotra is six days removed from making his return to the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes, for whom he scored the overtime winner Tuesday.

What did Gillis think of that?

“I think it’s great for Manny, but I’m still, and have been, concerned about him playing,” was Gillis’ answer today on TEAM 1040 radio in Vancouver, adding he wished Malhotra all the best.

Former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, now behind the Rangers’ bench, had a similar response when asked last weekend about his former player’s comeback.

“I’ve got mixed emotions and mixed feelings about that,” said Vigneault, per “On one hand I know that’s what he really wants to do and he’s really worked extremely hard to get another opportunity so if I think of that, I’m happy he’s getting this opportunity. But like he had a real serious injury where we felt as an organization with our medical staff he was putting himself in a tough situation on the ice. I showed him a couple of times, ‘Manny did you see this guy here?’ Most of the time he’d answer that he could feel him. In my opinion, there was a gray area there. That’s a tough one. He’s a real quality person, real quality guy. I know he wants to play. I just hope everything works out for him.”

As for Malhotra?

“I’ve always been grateful (for) every moment I’ve played in the NHL,” he told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector yesterday. “But (the injury) puts it into perspective, just how close it was to having it all be done for me.

“After everything I’ve been through, it’s special to know that there is still a (team) who believes in me.”

Then again, Malhotra admits: “My left eye is not what it was, nor will it ever be.”

Avs keep prized rookie Rantanen, sign Skille after PTO

Mikko Rantanen
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Some fairly noteworthy developments out of Denver on Tuesday, the biggest being that Mikko Rantanen — the 10th overall pick at this year’s draft — has made the Avs’ opening-night roster.

Rantanen, 18, was considered one of the more NHL-ready prospects at the draft but “fell” to the Avs, which proved a good thing — Colorado has a long history of fast-tracking high picks to the NHL, as Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon all made the leap in their draft years.

At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Rantanen already has big league size. It’s possible he opens the season on a line with center Carl Soderberg, one of the club’s big summer acquisitions.

Elsewhere in Colorado…

For the second straight day, a veteran forward has successfully converted his training camp tryout into an NHL contract.

On Tuesday, the Avs announced that Jack Skille had signed a one-year pact with the club. Skille, 28, is a former first-round pick (seventh overall in ’05) that’s appeared in nearly 250 career NHL contests with Chicago, Florida and, most recently, Columbus.

With Colorado, Skille is expected to fill a bottom-six checking role. As mentioned above, he joins Scottie Upshall as the other forward to successfully turn his PTO into a new deal — yesterday, Upshall signed a one-year, two-way pact with the Blues.

Habs knew Kassian’s history prior to trade with Canucks

Scott Darling, Zack Kassian
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The Montreal Canadiens knew what they were getting when they acquired Zack Kassian from Vancouver.

Specifically, they were getting a player who had already been through the first stage of the NHL/NHLPA’s substance-abuse treatment program. Kassian was suspended without pay and placed in Stage Two yesterday, the day after suffering minor injuries in an early-morning car accident.

Montreal coach Michel Therrien confirmed to reporters today that the club knew of Kassian’s history prior to the trade that sent the 24-year-old winger to Montreal, along with a fifth-round draft pick, in return for veteran forward Brandon Prust, a pending unrestricted free agent.

That the Canucks had to include a draft pick in the deal perhaps makes more sense now than it did at the time.