VANCOUVER - Manny Malhotra is a man without a hockey contract but at least he has a soccer team.
The former Vancouver Canuck centre, now an unrestricted free agent, is determined to resume his NHL playing career and prove that Canuck GM Mike Gillis was wrong to shut him down nine games into the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.
So he is training, and training hard, while his agent Paul Krepelka seeks out opportunities. Malhotra understands he may have to settle for a tryout to show that his damaged left eye is not a hindrance to his play.
On Tuesday, he joined the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps at practice and discovered covering Russell Teibert is far more difficult than taking a defensive zone faceoff.
“It's one thing to watch those guys on TV and see how good they are with the ball but when you experience it first hand, it's another level,” Malhotra said, smiling under the midday sun at UBC. “These guys are incredible athletes in terms of their stamina and cardiovascular conditioning. I'm just trying to keep up with them and not embarrass myself.”
While Malhotra had a few laughs on the pitch Tuesday, he admitted it's no laughing matter being without a contract. His three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Canucks has expired and he may have to uproot his family again if he does catch on elsewhere. He went through a similar experience four years ago, finally signing with the San Jose Sharks after attending their camp on a tryout.
“It's not fun, not fun to say the least,” said Malhotra, 33. “But it's part of the territory of being a pro athlete. Not everything is black and white and wrapped up perfectly in a bow for you. So a lot of patience is needed. We've gone through this before and we'll get through this one.
“Obviously it's very frustrating,” he continued. “We'd love to get the family settled and the kids enrolled in school and all that stuff. It's very similar to the San Jose situation. We're willing to do that again because I definitely still feel there is an opportunity out there and I'm excited for the new challenge. I realize I'm going to have to prove myself, answer a lot of questions verbally but, most importantly, answer them on the ice.”
Malhotra's career turned dramatically for the worse March 16, 2011, when he was struck in the left eye by a deflected puck. He returned to the Canuck lineup during the 2011 Stanley Cup final and played the entire 2011-12 season, collecting 18 points. Then Gillis decided in 2013 that he was in danger due to his limited vision. Malhotra didn't agree with the decision at the time and still didn't Tuesday.
“It was extremely disappointing obviously, especially considering the way I felt out there,” Malhotra said. “It was based on Mike's perception, not my feeling. Again, I understand where he's coming from and appreciate his genuine care for my well being but, as far as my career goes, I definitely want to continue. I was disappointed that it had to end the way it did here.”
According to Malhotra, his vision has improved despite the fact he was told it had likely reached a plateau.
“The tests that I have taken recently showed that it is improving,” he said. “Things keep getting better and, more importantly, I'm more used to it and more adapted to it.”
Meanwhile, Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie liked what he saw of his one-day recruit. It was a chance meeting Monday in a parking lot at UBC that led to Tuesday's appearance by Malhotra. The two had met before. In fact, Malhotra trained with the 'Caps once last summer. Malhotra is also married to the sister of minority owner Steve Nash and former Whitecap Martin Nash.
“I bumped into Manny yesterday and I said 'oh, you need to come out and train again with us sometime' and I didn't realize he was that eager to do it,” chuckled Rennie. “So he came out today and we were really pleased to have him. He knows what it means to be a good teammate and we like people like that around our group. Hopefully, he enjoyed it.”
The Whitecaps, with five wins and a draw in their last six, are back in action Saturday when they travel to L.A. to meet the Galaxy.
ICE CHIPS: Canuck winger Dale Weise's salary arbitration hearing is scheduled for July 31... Alain Vigneault and the New York Rangers will meet the Canucks in a pre-season game Sept. 26 at Rogers Arena... Malhotra had four words on the Cory Schneider trade to New Jersey: “Very surprising, very surprising.”
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