Counterpoint: Yesterday, Cam Davie over at Canucks Army made the argument that Manny Malhotra would be a better fourth line center as opposed to his current spot on the third line. If you’ve been following our coverage at The Hockey Writers this season, you’d know that we highly respect Manny Malhotra as a defensive forward, and even though he has not been getting the offensive numbers he was getting earlier in the season, he’s still a valuable defensive forward.
There’s certainly no room to disagree with the idea that the team should be maximizing offensive output, and even if Manny Malhotra and his line aren’t scoring, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their minutes should be restricted. A statistic I commonly reference is that Malhotra wins more defensive zone faceoffs than anybody else in the National Hockey League. He starts an inordinate number of shifts in his end, and has just a -1 rating.
Defensive forwards are incorrectly judged on effectiveness by plus-minus all too frequently, but by comparison Malhorta ranks higher than other centers who start in the defensive zone such as Steve Ott (-7), Jerred Smithson (-5) and Zenon Konopka (-11). Only Blair Betts is a +4. The talent here is taking the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone, and while he starts just 26.8 percent of his shifts in the offensive one, a league low among centers, he finishes 45.7 percent of his shifts there, which is the biggest difference in the league.
Another point made on the post is to allow Malhotra to take defensive zone faceoffs and then jump off in favor of a winger to play with Cody Hodgson. Though Hodgson has certainly looked well in place in his first couple of NHL games, it’s best to saddle your tougher shifts with a veterans like Raffi Torres, whose confidence won’t drop when a goal is scored against them. Hodgson still needs to ease into the league and I’ve been very happy with the way Alain Vigneault has been controlling his minutes so far.
I understand that there’s frustration in Vancouver in part from Malhotra’s line being unable to score, but the reality of hockey is that scoring is a random event, and it just so happens that everybody dried up at the same time. The third line continues to move the puck up ice and not allow many goals against. Malhotra is one of 16 centers who have played 50 or more games this year, yet who have been on the ice for fewer than 2 goals against per 60 minutes at even strength. As long as Malhotra, Torres and Hansen are bringing the puck up ice, they’re helping the team score.
Malhotra is not scoring, but that will change in time. At the moment, the current ‘third line’ is one of the more effective defensive lines in hockey and their minutes do not deserve to drop simply because they aren’t scoring. The Canucks are the second best scoring team in hockey and it’s not enough of a concern to change the system or start giving rookies harder minutes.