Manny Malhotra helped lead the San Jose Sharks to a 113-point season and a spot in the Western Conference Finals in his lone season in teal.
As a member of the OHL’s Guelph Storm, he was one of the most touted prospects of the 1998 Draft, and the New York Rangers agreed, as they drafted him with the seventh-overall pick. However, Manny Malhotra did not adjust to the NHL as quickly as many had hoped he would. Still, the 6-foot-2 defensive specialist went on to play 991 games in the NHL.
After collecting 151 points over five seasons in Columbus, Malhotra signed with the Sharks in 2009. But, while he would only spend one season with the club, Malhotra would prove to be a positive factor for the Sharks, helping them reach the Western Conference Final.
In this installment of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, I speak with Manny Malhotra about his time with the Sharks, including how he felt leaving Columbus, what factored into the Sharks’ success in 2010, as well as his memories and what he took from his tenure with the club.
From a Blue Jacket to a Shark
After five successful seasons with the Blue Jackets, Manny Malhotra would head west to San Jose. However, he was a free agent for most of the summer in 2009 and didn’t sign with the San Jose Sharks until mid-September when he and the team agreed on a one-year, $700,000 deal. Still, it was a new start for Malhotra, leaving the former centerman with mixed feelings.
“It was a little bittersweet leaving Columbus,” Malhotra reflected. “I felt that I had grown with the team from some unsuccessful seasons to my last in which we made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.”
As disappointed as he was to leave Columbus, though, Malhotra was just as excited for the next chapter in his career.
“Going to the Sharks was incredibly exciting for me,” added the former Guelph Storm standout. “I knew they had a really good team and the Shark Tank was always one of the loudest rinks to play in from fan noise and an energy standpoint.”
While he was signed more to be a physical presence, Malhotra nonetheless provided solid offensive contributions, scoring 15 goals and 20 assists in 71 games for San Jose.
“As far as my role with the group, I enjoyed the checking line role that I played alongside Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer,” the Mississauga native noted. “The thing that stood out to me on arrival was how the team was built and had players slotted in the right spots to maximize their talents and focus primarily on what you did well to help the team.”
Malhotra was also an asset in the faceoff circle, winning 62.5% of his faceoffs during the regular season and 60.7% in the playoffs.
A Recipe for Success in 2009-10
Entering the 2009-10 season, the San Jose Sharks dealt with a good deal of pressure as they looked to follow up on their 117-point season from the previous year. They also had to contend with the disappointment of losing to eighth-seed Anaheim in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.
The Sharks came back strong, however, finishing the 2009-10 campaign with 113 points, edging out the Chicago Blackhawks for No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
I asked Malhotra what factors came into play that helped the Sharks garner such success.
“I think it was a combination of a number of things,” the former center began. “As I said before, having the right pieces in the right spots in the line-up was a start. Next was the work ethic of the group. When the best players are the hardest workers, that’s always a strong foundation for good teams. Seeing [Patrick] Marleau, [Joe] Pavelski, [Joe] Thornton working on certain parts of their game before and after practice pushed everyone else in the group to work on their game, too.”
“When you see a veteran like Rob Blake training and taking care of himself off the ice and in the gym every day, you follow that lead as well.
“Last but certainly not least, Todd [McLellan]’s coaching was great. He allowed the players to take ownership of the room. There were never any gray areas in his explanation of the game plan or his expectations of each player and his game plan was very detailed.”
Memories and Experiences
After a stellar regular season, Malhotra and the San Jose Sharks made a solid playoff run, wiping the bitter taste of their 2009 first-round upset from their mouths. The aforementioned Blackhawks, however, ended the club’s run, sweeping the Sharks in four games in the West Final.
Overall, though, Malhotra’s tenure with the Sharks was a positive one.
“Not one specific memory sticks out to me, but it was more the sense of unity that we had as a group,” the former first-rounder said. “On the road, we would always be in large numbers for dinner or hanging out in the hotel together. Even as a new guy, I felt a part of the group and that is, in large part, thanks to guys like [Joe Thornton] who created that vibe on a daily basis.”
As for his experience in San Jose, it was a matter of quality over quantity for Malhotra. It was just one season but one worth remembering for a long time.
“The experience of playing for the Sharks opened my eyes to a lot of things both on and off the ice,” Malhotra observed. “There are certain ways that things are done on winning teams and a certain mindset that goes along with those actions. In my one year in San Jose, I learned a great deal from my teammates, Todd, and the organization as a whole. I have very fond memories of playing there and am thankful to have had the opportunity to do so.”
A testament to his impact on the San Jose Sharks and a credit to GM Doug Wilson, Malhotra converted his almost veteran’s minimum contract — the veteran’s minimum was $500,000 in 2009-10 — into a three-year, $7.5 million dollar pact with the Vancouver Canucks in the summer of 2010. The next year, Malhotra helped the Canucks reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994, falling just one game short of winning hockey’s Holiest prize.
Prior to that run, though, Malhotra dealt with one of the scariest moments in his life.
On March 16, 2011 against the Colorado Avalanche, Malhotra was struck in the eye with a puck, forcing him to leave the ice immediately before undergoing multiple surgeries.
With his season — and his career — in jeopardy, Malhotra made a miraculous return to the Canucks lineup for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. While he didn’t register any points, Malhotra was nonetheless an inspiration to the Canucks and the entire National Hockey League for his courage and his resilience in returning to the lineup.
As a result of the incident, Malhotra lost a significant amount of vision in his left eye. Still, he played four more seasons before joining the Canucks coaching staff in 2017.
This season, Malhotra, now 40, is in his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs coaching staff, serving as an assistant, hoping for another long playoff run.
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