Oliver Ekman-Larsson will miss the Arizona Coyotes' final (and very meaningless) games as he will travel back to Sweden to attend his mother's funeral then take time to grieve.
He'll turn 26 this summer, and the Coyotes are about to waste his prime years by remaining bottom-dwellers for at least two or three more seasons. And with the NHL now saying they won't be sending their players at next year's Olympics, the league may also be robbing him of a chance at another medal, after helping Team Sweden to silver at the 2014 Sochi Games.
He's yet to capture gold at any level, having also won silver at the 2011 World Championship, as well as bronze at the 2010 World Juniors and 2010 Worlds and 2016 World Cup.
He's literally All-World and holds the NHL record for most game-winning goals by a defenseman in a single season, with 8 - again, on the Coyotes, who barely win more than 8 games per season as a team. He's also the franchise's all-time leader in powerplay goals by a defenseman, having tied the Winnipeg Jets' 1980s reliable Fredrik Olausson last month, with two years remaining on his current contract and possibly a decade left playing the sport.
This year, there's pretty much no way the Norris Trophy doesn't go to Brent Burns. Erik Karlsson is probably still the best defenseman in the world, skill-wise, while Duncan Keith is probably the "best package".
The rest of the "current elite" class has to include Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban, Aaron Ekblad, Roman Josi, Mark Giordano, Kris Letang, Ryan McDonagh, Marc-Édouard Vlasic, John Carlson, Alex Pietrangelo and Ekman-Larsson, while the "still pretty great but on their way down" crowd includes the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Ryan Suter, and Andrei Markov. The likes of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are on the rise.
That is a mighty clogged list of defensemen deserving of end-of-the-year accolades, a rich crop reminiscent of the 1980s (Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, Éric Desjardins, Larry Robinson, Al MacInnis, Denis Potvin, Mark Howe, Paul Coffey, Phil Housley, Gary Suter, Scott Stevens, Steve Duchesne, Doug Wilson, and so forth), so he may never get his hands on a Norris.
Our thoughts are with Ekman-Larsson in these hard times.
Here he is sporting the Phoenix Coyotes' former alternate uniform, on card #639 from Panini's 2010-11 Score Rookies And Traded set and Hot Rookies sub-set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
Shane Doan, Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and a slew of other kids whose dreams are about to get shattered by the incompetence of those tasked with developing them.