The Lake Erie Monsters have found themselves shorthanded in recent days after a string of call-ups, injuries and suspensions. So rather than take the traditional route and sign some replacement bodies from the lower minor leagues, the Monsters have instead decided to bring back the Ghosts of Blue Jackets Past.
On Wednesday, the Monsters signed Manny Malhotra to a 25-game professional tryout contract. Malhotra played the next night in a 4-2 loss to the Iowa Wild, centering a line with grinders Brett Gallant and Trent Vogelhuber on his wings. Now today we're hearing from The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline and other sources that former CBJ defenseman Jan Hejda is close to signing a similar agreement with Lake Erie.
Even better, as Portzline reports, Malhotra and Hejda are living together in a Downtown Cleveland apartment. I just love that.
The 35-year-old Malhotra certainly didn't look out of place Thursday in his first AHL action since 2013-14, when he spent eight games with the Charlotte Checkers. He won some faceoffs, hustled on the backcheck, took four shots on net and even got to kill a couple of penalties. It was the first time he had played any organized hockey since last spring when Montreal decided he was expendable.
The Blue Jackets aren't saying, but it appears that Malhotra was brought on mainly to provide veteran leadership to a young Lake Erie team that can use it. The Monsters are off to a great start, but Wednesday's lackluster effort against last-place Iowa shows the youngsters could benefit from watching how a guy who has played 991 regular-season NHL games goes about his business.
Not to say that Malhotra won't get a shot in Columbus, but he's going to have to be awfully impressive in Cleveland to get that opportunity. As Portzline suggests, Malhotra's skills in the faceoff circle could be his ticket back to the biggest of the big leagues.
Hejda, on the other hand, could actually be in line for a call-up at some point soon despite being older than Malhotra (37). Like Malhotra, he wasn't able to secure a deal last summer after playing 81 games for the Colorado Avalanche, so he has been home watching and waiting. Hejda might benefit from the fact that the Jackets appear to need more help on the backline than they do up front. It has been a few years, but don't forget that the Prague native was plus-20 or better in two consecutive seasons for Columbus.
For now, though, the two old veterans will get themselves back into the shape in the AHL, a league in which Hejda has only played five games in his entire career (during the 2006-07 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs). Lake Erie will benefit from their presence, no doubt, but you have to believe that both Malhotra and Hejda have bigger things in mind.
(By the way, this is a great story on Malhotra that ran in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer. It was written by my friend Tim Warsinskey, a true pro at the sports writing game who provides some interesting insight into Malhotra and how he suddenly fits into the Cleveland sports scene.)