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Alain Vigneault on Manny Malhotra return talk: ‘Don’t go there’

May 18, 2011, 1:16 PM EDT

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Mike Gillis, Manny Malhotra AP

As we’ve noted before, the mere fact that Manny Malhotra is already skating again with the Vancouver Canucks is pretty amazing. Of course, when a player starts popping up at practices more often, it’s only natural for media members to ask if that person might return to his team’s lineup. Malhotra sparked some comeback chatter when he practiced in full gear on Tuesday, although he didn’t participate in full contact drills.

In case you’re not up to speed about Malhotra (seen speaking to GM Mike Gillis in this post’s main photo), a late season eye injury threatened not only his career but also his long-term vision. He underwent at least two surgeries on that eye, making the prospect of a quick return very unlikely. Such a grim scenario might lead some to wonder why people are asking about his odds of a comeback, but then again there’s also that underlying factor that hockey players are ridiculously tough.

Vancouver media members are asking those obvious questions about Malhotra, but Canucks coach Alain Vigneault isn’t too pleased with the speculation. He was quick to shoot down rumors that Malhotra might play for Vancouver at some point in this postseason.

“It’s just about having him around the team,” Vigneault explained. “He’s been a very important part of our leadership group. I want him around the team and it’s that simple. We’re not going to discuss his physical situation, his eye. All I can tell you is I want him around the team, and that’s it.”

Last week, Canucks GM Mike Gillis declared it was “extremely unlikely” Malhotra would suit up again this season.

Then associate coach Rick Bowness said it would take “a complete miracle” for Malhotra to play in a game. Is this miracle happening?

“Don’t, don’t, don’t go there,” Vigneault snapped. “I just told you we’re not discussing that. Anything else?”

(Am I the only person who imagines a valley girl’s inflection upon reading Vigneault’s “Don’t, don’t, don’t go there” statement? Let’s just move on.)

Malhotra might not be a top goal scorer, but his two-way play (most apparently shown in his elite faceoff skills) will be missed even as the Canucks continue to march toward June. He’s most likely sticking around for moral support, yet it’s understandable that some might wonder if could inspire his teammates even further by improbably playing during the 2011 playoffs.

It’s far fetched, but we’ll keep you updated about his status either way.

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