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Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra (R) celebrates his goal against the Anaheim Ducks with teammate Raffi Torres (L) during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Anaheim, California March 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

MIKE BLAKE

The loss of Manny Malhotra to the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup hopes is significant, but the potential loss for Malhotra is far more solemn.



The Canucks centre is sidelined for the remainder of the NHL regular season and playoffs, and concerns remain he has suffered permanent damage to the vision in his left eye.



Malhotra was struck by a puck during a March 16 game against the Colorado Avalanche, and underwent emergency surgery that evening in an attempt to reduce swelling and drain blood from the eye.

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As a player, Malhotra had fit in seamlessly with the Canucks and filled some important roles, but on the personal side of the ledger, the former first-round draft pick established a home in Vancouver after playing for five teams in 11 seasons. He is married to Victoria's Joann Nash, whose brothers Steve and Martin are well-known athletes in B.C., and signed a three-year contract with the Canucks in free agency last summer.



Steve Nash is the two-time NBA most valuable player and minority owner of the Whitecaps FC of Major League Soccer. Martin Nash is a former captain of the Whitecaps. Last Saturday, Steve sounded an ominous note when asked about his brother-in-law at halftime of the Caps' first MLS game.



"Everyone is really concerned," he said. "The sad part is he's really found a happy home here. Everything is going so well - best team in the NHL - [and] he's become a big part of the team.



"That hurts to start with, but when you talk about possibly permanent damage to somebody's vision, that's scary," Nash continued. "We're all just thinking about him, and worried about him, and hoping he can come back. Not only play hockey, but get his vision back and be comfortable and confident, and live the life that he deserves to live."



Players such as former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan Berard, and former Canucks blueliner Mattias Ohlund, have returned from serious eye injuries in the past, but if Malhotra does likewise, it will come no sooner than the 2011-12 campaign. On Monday, the Canucks declared his season over.



For fans, losing an important piece to the team's playoff puzzle late in a season is nothing new. The circumstances are different, but the similarities are eerie.



On March 16, 2001 - 10 years to the day of Malhotra's injury - star Markus Naslund broke his leg and was lost for the year. The Canucks tumbled from fifth place to eighth in the final 10 games, and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

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On March 8, 2004, Todd Bertuzzi attacked Colorado's Steve Moore drawing an indefinite suspension. Vancouver was upset in the first round by the Calgary Flames.



Malhotra's departure from the lineup will be felt in three areas.



He anchors the third line with a defensive presence that allows wingers Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres to fore-check and play deep in the opposition's zone. In the postseason, Malhotra could have served as a shutdown centre to play against the opposition's best offensive players, and the Canucks have few players with that skill set.



As a penalty-killing forward, Malhotra is among the team's best. He is a major reason why Vancouver's short-handed unit ranks second in the NHL heading into Monday games, up from 18th last year.



Third, Malhotra has served as a faceoff specialist for head coach Alain Vigneault, who uses him for left-circle draws in the defensive zone, on the power play, and in end-of-game situations. Malhotra wins nearly 62 per cent of his faceoffs, second in the league.

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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