Andrew Ebbett didn’t mind holding up the team post-game yoga class Tuesday. That’s right, yoga.
After all, somebody actually wanted a take on his play after the Vancouver Canucks centre surfaced for the first time in seven games because of the curious absence of Manny Malhotra, who has been excused from the NHL club for a “personal matter”.
So all that stretching, contorting and bending in the yoga session was tolerable for Ebbett because he may need to remain limber. How long? Who knows?
“I thought I had some good shifts and penalty kills and kind of got the confidence back up,” Ebbett said of his 9:16 of ice time during a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in which he had one shot, two hits and won five of 10 draws.
“You can’t compare anything to being back in a game situation with the intensity up. I got a couple of hits in early and I’m pretty happy how I played. Hopefully, I’ll get back in there Friday.”
That depends on how the Malhotra mystery plays out. He participated in the Super Skills competition Sunday and didn’t practise Monday but was spotted in gym clothes at Rogers Arena.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis didn’t return a call Wednesday and likely wouldn’t have revealed the exact nature of the fourth-line centre’s unavailability. It’s not believed to be a family matter or a problem with his injured eye, and if it’s performance-based, then there’s an issue of who approached whom and what Malhotra’s role will be when there’s the trickle-down effect of Ryan Kesler’s return. If Malhotra has one. Although dominant in draws at a gaudy 70.6 per cent efficiency — mostly in the defensive zone — Malhotra’s stride and battle level have fallen off, and that penalty-killing presence isn’t as strong with the club only ranked 22nd. The Canucks were sixth last season.
At age 32 and in the last year of his contract at a pro-rated $2.5 million US, Malhotra is pointless in nine games with two shots and a minus-3 rating. But he is also proud. Good at mentoring young talent and being a voice of reason among his veteran peers, whatever is at play with Malhotra may go beyond playing. He would be an ideal fit for the organization in player development, but coming out of the lockout he was buoyed by a long offseason to train and was intent on extending his career.
“Everybody has their own reason for wanting to get back to playing,” Malhotra said when the new collective bargaining agreement was struck. “I’m focusing on playing as long as I can.”
Last season, Malhotra became more of a fourth-line fixture and was reduced to taking defensive zone draws, killing penalties while collecting 18 points (7-11) in 78 games. He doesn’t talk about the serious eye injury he sustained March 16, 2011 that threatened his career and way of life. Now, all the talk is what’s next for Malhotra and until the Canucks clarify the situation, there will be widespread speculation from a reduced role to retirement. And if the Canucks believe they’ll need a stronger playoff scoring presence down the middle than rookie Jordan Schroeder, who can also play wing, then a third-line centre may come there way via a trade before the deadline.
As for Ebbett, he hoped 21 points (7-14) in 29 games with the Chicago Wolves during the lockout would give him a leg up on a shortened NHL season. Especially after what occurred last season. Despite playing just 18 games because of a broken foot and collarbone, two of his five goals were game-winners. Ebbett even played wing with Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows while Daniel Sedin was concussed and anchored the second power-play unit. And when the crafty 5-foot-9, 175 pounder was sidelined for five weeks after absorbing a heavy check from Dennis Seidenberg on Jan. 7 in Boston — and then returned March 31 to score the game-winner against Calgary — it wasn’t lost on the organization. Ebbett was rewarded with a one-year, two-way deal that’s paying a pro-rated $600,000 at the NHL level and $300,000 in the AHL. More importantly, at age 30, Ebbett wants to be with a winner.
“That’s the reason I signed here two years ago and why I re-signed in the summer,” he said. “I want to play on a team that has a legitimate chance to win, and it’s tough sometimes on those practice days and going home and knowing you’re not playing the next game. And when the team is winning and on a good streak, you just want to be a part of that.
“You don’t want to be the downer in the room. You want to come in and have a smile on your face — or maybe hide it a bit — and that’s part of being an experienced and older guy. You’ve come to see it all, and be frustrated for six or seven games in a row and then you’re in for the next 10. You keep that outside perspective and the biggest thing is to stay positive.”
That’s easier when you have a sense that you belong on some level — even if it’s as the extra forward — because bouncing from team to team takes a mental and physical toll.
“I’ve been traded and gone back and forth with teams (Phoenix, Minnesota, Chicago, Anaheim) and wanted to stay where I felt comfortable and the coaches were comfortable with me,” stressed Ebbett. “You don’t have to make that first impression and they know what they’re getting from me.”
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