There are reports that Vancouver Canucks' center Manny Malhotra, one of the league's premier faceoff and penalty kill specialists, has been cleared for full contract practice for the first time since his near-career ending eye injury three months ago.
Initially, there had been the very real possibility that the injury would not only end his career, but also end his vision in that eye completely.
Let the Game 1 speculation begin. Forget locker-room voice of support: He might be taking the opening faceoff in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The boost his return would make cannot be understated. When he was signed in the offseason there was much talk of his gross overpayment (2.5 million dollars for a 3rd line center?), but his impact and purpose was quickly felt.
He arrived in the weeks before official training camp and began running impromptu practice drills at the drop-in Canucks' summer sessions, a move which prompted Henrik Sedin to make him an Assistant Captain when head coach Alain Vigneault asked him for four names (two home alternates, two away alternates).
Before he'd ever played a game in a Vancouver Canucks sweater, Manny Malhotra had assumed a leadership role on this team, and he carried it forward throughout the regular season unabated. When an eye injury cut his season short six months later the coaching staff stressed that he remain with the team in a quasi-coaching capacity, breaking down video and working on faceoffs with rookie Cody Hodgson and new third line center Max Lapierre.
Sometimes it's difficult to tell what a player will do with himself after he retires from his playing career. With Manny Malhotra, there is little doubt.
On the ice, Malhotra's return would have a domino effect.
It's unlikely that he would step into the lineup in the Cup Finals after two months of no game action and assume his usual ice time and duties. But his prowess in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill would have dramatic effects, allowing players like Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin to take a few more breathers per game and generally ease pressure of close to 70 percent of all penalty kills with a Canucks' faceoff win.
The emotional lift his return would provide cannot be measured.
Time will tell, but with five more days still left to go before Game 1, the possibility that he will see game action at some point in the series appears very, very real.