This weekend the Coyotes played a back-to-back with the Sharks and all but eliminated them from the Playoffs. The Coyotes lost the first game 3-1 but took the second game 5-3 on the back of Mike Smith, who stopped 42 shots.
Now, as far as back-to-back games with division rivals, this was about as bad as you can get: one team has 54 losses on the season and the other has less than a 1% chance of making the Playoffs.
Only one thing saved the series from being completely boring: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who's 23rd goal of the season tied Phil Housley's franchise record, which he did twice. OEL will not be approaching Housley's points record though (a miraculous 97 points in 1992-93)
In fact, you could say watching the Coyotes is always a treat because of him. He's one of the few players in the NHL who you can tune into his team's game - regardless of who's playing or the importance of it - and enjoy yourself.
And it's not always the goals and pretty plays: few players in the NHL are as adept at playing the angles and providing good defense in such an effortless fashion. Instead of crushing opposition players with body-checks (and he is more psychical than you might think, based on just his reputation) OEL - like a certain other Swedish defenseman who shall not be named - is deceptive in his approach to playing without the puck. He's always in the right position and he usually breaks up the play, but he's not running around crushing guys and throwing himself in front of slapshots.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that there is a certain picture we have of good "defensive" defensemen who hit and block shots and play with "heart." OEL doesn't look like that when he plays, but - and this is really just a guess because I couldn't back it up with any data - he seems to just float effortlessly out there, suddenly appearing at the right time to break up a play or to send the puck back the other way.
Anyways, 23 goals. Leads the league. Just over 40 points, but this would be higher if Yandle wasn't the QB for 62 games, and if someone on the team had more than 40 points.
He has a 51% CF rating on one of the NHL's worst teams; his PDO is only 98, suggesting that despite the good year, he was unlucky; he leads the NHL in dCorsi impact (a measurement meant to find out who has the biggest impact on their teams fortunes vs. expectations).
He is the best player on the league's worst team. (I still say that 5-0 record vs. the Oilers means the Sabres are technically better).
He deserves the Norris Trophy, if it's a measure of the league's best defenseman. If it's most points, or best reputation , or biggest star, he doesn't deserve to win.
But I watch nearly every Coyotes game and a lot of Kings games. He's a better player, in my judgement, than Drew Doughty. Certainly he has no Muzzin to play with.
He averages 25 minutes per night, he plays the PP, he plays PK. He plays vs. the top players in the NHL every night and has very little help, especially since the team traded away his partner - the underrated Michalek and replaced him with the still developing (but pretty good) Stone.
I think if you look at any numbers, OEL is among the best in the NHL. Certainly he leads in goals and he drives possession - keeping the puck out his end. If you make attempts to level the playing field, so that you can compare players more fairly, even though they are all in different circumstances, what becomes clear is that Ekaman-Larsson plays the best on the worst team with the worst players.
I don't think he'll even get a Norris Trophy nomination, but he deserves to win it. Shea Weber might once have been the best defenseman in the NHL, but he isn't anymore. There seems to be some kind of movement to give him the Trophy because he's never won it. That makes it more of a joke than it already is.
What about Doughty? What about Keith? Karlsson? There's not much to pick between any of them, but Ekman-Larsson happens to have done the most with the least, so I think he should win it.
Biased? Maybe, but who isn't.
The fact is, he's the best defensemen in the NHL. He's one of the best players.
Yes, he's -19, yes his team is second last in the NHL. Yes he's 20 something points off the D scoring lead.