Mike Gillis has been playing it cool. Alain Vigneault has been playing it cool. They're saying all the logical things about Malhotra's injury, one that required two surgeries and has had him sidelined since mid-March.
It is bordering on a medical miracle.
Vancouver Canuck centre Manny Malhotra, who suffered what was thought to be a season-ending eye injury on March 16 that at one point was perhaps considered to be career-threatening, has been cleared by doctors to fully participate in practice, including taking contact.
While no decisions have been made on playing a game as Malhotra still needs to prove to himself and the coaching staff he's capable of playing without being a liability to himself or the team, there is now a legitimate chance he could see action in the Stanley Cup final if all continues to go well.
It sure sounds like he has a long way to go. That picture above is from a practice two weeks ago and he still looks pretty rough. Then again hockey players are cut from a different bolt of cloth than us mere mortals.
There's no question Malhotra's return to the active lineup would be a huge inspirational lift to a team that when it is firing on all cylinders is the best in the NHL.
We got time to kill, so let's play the speculation game: IF he returns, it's safe to assume he'd be given some sheltered shifts to at least start the game, perhaps centering the fourth line with any combination of wingers: Tambellini, Glass or Oreskovich. Lapierre has filled in admirably on the third line, so there's no reason to disrupt that out of the gate.
IF he returns and shows he's game-ready, it would stand to reason he reclaims his third line pivot duties, Lapierre shifts to the fourth and Hodgson to the press box.
These huge IF's also mean we'll get his faceoff and PK specialties back. He lead the regular season skaters with an average of 2.57 PK TOI on a team ranked third best overall. San Jose exploited a shorthanded Vancouver more than a few times, so getting him back for those situations can't be overstated.
Same too with faceoffs where Malhotra was second best during the regular season (61.7%). Henrik Sedin has struggled from the dot (46.8%) and Lapierre has been a pleasant surprise, but getting the Kesler/Malhotra one-two punch back to take draws against perhaps a Patrice Bergeron (62.1%) or Vincent Lecavalier (50.8%) is an obvious advantage.
Lastly there are the zone starts where no skater in the regular season lived in his own end more than Malhotra. Up to this point Lapierre has assumed those zone starts (28.6%) but feeding Manny to the wolves is where he's most effective anyway, plus it allows Vigneault to keep the Sedins pinned almost purely in the offensive zone on the other end as he did in the regular season.
All of this, of course, assumes the best. The worst case scenario is he gets re-injured, putting his career again in jeopardy. A more reasonable scenario is his conditioning isn't ready and the eye damage is noticeable in his otherwise stingy defensive role, so he's not the Malhotra we've seen this season. All of these have to be considered; is a Malhotra at 50% better than none at all?
But if Malhotra is able to knock down the final few obstacles and contribute to the Canucks' cause on the ice in this Cup final, well, it's nothing short of an extraordinary playoff story that is likely to inspire the Canucks and their fans.
It's still an "if". But when the Sedins are rolling, Kesler is locked in beastmode, the backend is solid, the goalie is proving his doubters wrong and the team only needs four more wins...oh what an "if" it is.