Vancouver Canuck Manny Malhotra’s sense of justice may be costly, but rewarding
Veteran forward fighting for fellow players in labour negotiations despite a clock ticking over his career
VANCOUVER — The son of a Pakistani father and francophone mother, Manny Malhotra grew up barely aware of racism.
“Yeah, there was the odd comment on the ice,” the Vancouver Canuck explained recently. “But growing up in Toronto, which was so multicultural, I think I was blind to it. Jamaicans lived across the street, Asians were over there. It was a melting pot.”
So Malhotra’s fierce beliefs in justice and fairness were created not by skin colour or language, but by birth order. He was the youngest, by three years, of four children — two big brothers and a sister. Life was not fair.
“When your brothers and sister pick on you, that’s always unfair,” the 32-year-old said with a smile before travelling to New York for meetings Tuesday that could salvage the National Hockey League season.
“I remember being so angry that they could do stuff better than me, or wouldn’t let me play or wouldn’t share. That kind of built my desire to stand up for myself and do what’s right.
“It’s kind of a family mindset: if you’re going to do something, then do it. There’s no starting something, then giving up. There’s no room for sitting on the fence.”
Malhotra hasn’t been there since the lockout began Sept. 15 when owners shut their rinks to players in an attempt to force another round of massive contract concessions.
After feeling like a bystander during commissioner Gary Bettman’s last lockout, Malhotra wanted to be involved this time. He is part of a pool of 31 players who have rotated in and out of negotiations overseen by Bettman and NHLPA boss Donald Fehr.
But at Bettman’s suggestion, the Cold War generals are sitting out Tuesday’s session because — if you take the commissioner at his word — fresh voices at the negotiating table might generate progress toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement as the NHL teeters at the financial cliff of another lost season.
Malhotra has learned to be cynical when it comes to owners and their agent, but he travelled to New York in good faith, anyway.
He has much to lose.
After a horrific eye injury two years ago permanently impaired his vision, Malhotra had to earn his roster spot last season in Vancouver. He played on the fourth line instead of the third, seeing his role and minutes reduced by coach Alain Vigneault.
And that fight for playing time and a paycheque wasn’t going to be any easier this fall, with Malhotra a year older and potential fourth-liners Aaron Volpatti and Steve Pinizzotto returning from injuries that cost them nearly all of last season.
Then the owners locked out players.
The last time that occurred, eight years ago, 120 professionals who played at least 40 games in the NHL in 2003-04 never played in the league again.
Malhotra’s career is very much at risk here. The eye injury didn’t get him, but the lockout might.
Yet, he is adamant about not yielding further to a league that has already pocketed what amounts to a $250-million-a-year concession from players, who have agreed in principle to have their share of NHL revenue cut to 50 per cent from 57.
Malhotra won’t make a deal to save his career, which seems both noble and naive. Even if the lockout ends in time to stage another truncated season, he will never make up the portion of his $2.5-million salary lost in the labour war. Every player understands this reality.
The owners, given their ever-increasing share of the wealth, will get their money back. Players won’t.
“We full well understand that,” Malhotra, whose contract with the Canucks expires next summer, said. “What’s frustrating for us is this (lockout) is completely calculated on their part. They know how much they’ll lose after so many weeks and so many games, and have taken that calculation into account. It’s a brilliant strategy by them to keep locking us out if we keep giving and giving because a couple of CBAs down the line, players will be getting 35 per cent (of revenues), if that. If we continue to back down and give, give, give, they will just keep locking us out every time. We do have to dig our heels in.”
It seems if the players were as greedy as accused, they’d have rolled over in September and taken what was offered because — in Malhotra’s case — $2.3 million isn’t as good as $2.5 million, but it sure beats making nothing.
“But if we’d had that mentality in 2004, we’d be playing under a $31-million hard cap right now,” Malhotra said. “I was as pissed off as anyone missing a season (in 2004-05), but the benefits as far as players rights and the dollars we’re playing for is much greater because of what we went through.
“I guess you could say we’re being selfish because we’re standing up for our rights and what we believe in.”
As of late Monday, the NHLPA hadn’t announced its six-man negotiating roster for today although Chicago Blackhawk Jonathan Toews and Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby reportedly will provide star power.
If this is another ruse like last week’s mediation, Bettman is at least fully committed to the deception. Boston Bruin hardliner Jeremy Jacobs leads the ownership contingent, but the six-billionaire negotiating team contains at least a couple of moderate owners and representatives from three Canadian franchises — the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames.
“Since my first year, I’ve been fighting for everything,” Malhotra said of a career spanning 13 seasons and five teams. “Fighting for that extra bit of ice time, fighting for that confidence from the coach to play me in certain situations. My whole career has kind of be clawing at it and wanting it, fighting for that next contract and my position on the team. It’s kind of the story of my career.”
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