VANCOUVER -- Manny Malhotra doesn't question the sincerity of Mike Gillis, but the Vancouver Canucks center clearly doesn't agree with his general manager's assessment that he is no longer safe playing in the NHL.
Gillis cited fears that Malhotra's vision, limited since an errant puck struck his left eye on March 16, 2011, and almost cost him his sight, left him vulnerable to further injury when he announced on Feb. 14 that the team was placing him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Malhotra, speaking to the media Wednesday for the first time since then, disagrees.
"It's a very high-speed, high-impact game and on a nightly basis you see big hits on the highlight reel, so like everybody out there I have to keep my head up," Malhotra said after practicing with the team Wednesday. "But at no time did I feel more susceptible to a big hit or injury."
Being told that he can't play anymore hasn't been easy.
"It's incredibly tough to have someone else say you are not allowed to go out on the ice anymore," Malhotra said. "[Mike] didn't feel I was safe out on the ice. I don't agree with that, and again it's a tough call to make just because I am the only one that can say how I feel out there and how vulnerable I might be to a big hit."
Despite that, Malhotra said not to read anything into him being on the ice with his teammates Wednesday – the same day it was revealed center Ryan Kesler would be sidelined with a broken right foot. Gillis made it clear Malhotra was done for the season, and the 32-year-old defensive specialist didn't sound like he was going to challenge that.
But Malhotra isn't ready to talk retirement yet, saying anything beyond this year requires "a long conversation" with his wife. A veteran of 14 seasons with the New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks and Canucks, Malhotra made it clear he still wants to -- and feels he still can -- play in the NHL.
"I'd be lying if I said no," he said. "It's tough to go from playing two or three weeks ago to saying I no longer have that itch or no longer want to play. It's fun to get on the ice on a day like today and practice with the guys, and just being back in this environment felt good."
Malhotra made it clear he doesn't question his general manager's intentions, even while disagreeing with him.
"I don't question his sincerity one bit in the decision he's made," Malhotra said of Gillis. "I said from Day One being here in Vancouver this is more of a family atmosphere than a team and we are not treated ‘just like another slab of beef' as that quote goes, and I truly feel he genuinely cares for my well-being and my future, not only in the game of hockey but just my future as a young man, a young father, and he wants us to have a successful life post-hockey."
Malhotra, who is in the final season of a three-year, $7.5-million contract, underwent several operations to save his vision after getting hit under the left eye two years ago. He made a surprising return in the Stanley Cup Final that year, but was never quite the same.
He had more eye surgery before last season, leaving him unable to train properly, and finished with seven goals and 18 points -- roughly half his totals from the previous three seasons. He was also minus-11, an uncharacteristic total for a player brought in to be a shutdown defensive, penalty-killing and faceoff specialist.
Gillis said he came to the conclusion Malhotra wasn't safe after last season, but was talked into giving him another chance after a full summer to train. Nine games into the season, though, Gillis made the decision to place Malhotra on injured reserve the rest of the season, citing instances when he left himself vulnerable to potentially devastating hits.
Malhotra, who won 65.3 percent of his faceoffs but was pointless and minus-3, didn't see it the same way.
"I knew just having a quote-unquote normal summer of training and doing the things that I had done my whole career that I would be able to get back to a place where I felt confident on the ice and I felt I got there," Malhotra said. "This was Mike's decision based on his feeling and what he saw on the ice, but as far as the way I feel out there, I feel fit, I feel good, I feel comfortable with my abilities."
Whether that means trying to play next season remains to be seen, but for now Malhotra said he will continue to skate from time to time with the team, insisting it was not awkward, while also taking a closer look at other career options off the ice, perhaps including coaching.
Gillis made it clear a trade was not something he'd consider.
"No, we discussed a lot of scenarios and at this time just being a part of this organization and helping out any way I can is the best possible option in Mike's eyes, so we'll stick to that for now," Malhotra said.
It didn't sound like it would be easy to stay away from the ice.
"As a player you miss being in that team environment, you miss being a part of it," Malhotra said. "It's one thing to hang around the room and talk with the guys and watch games up in the press box, but there is no other feeling and no other substitute for being on the ice with the guys and competing on the ice and talking and battling and just playing the game. You can't substitute for that."
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