Gillis, Vigneault still worried about Malhotra

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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 NorthJersey.com. “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.”