Byng sounds good to Eberle
Oilers forward Jordan Eberle credits strengthening his defensive game and focusing on being on the right side of the puck for his nomination for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. (MATT SULLIVAN/Reuters file photo)
Whoever came up with the old adage, 'If you're not cheating, you're not trying,' probably never watched a lot of Oilers and Islanders games in the '80s.
Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri didn't haul 13 Stanley Cup rings into the Hockey Hall of Fame by coasting.
They orchestrated record-breaking seasons and were lead dogs in multiple championship runs, all while staying clean enough to win eight Lady Byng Memorial Trophies between them - proving once and for all that nice guys don't always finish last.
"It's a great award," said Edmonton winger Jordan Eberle, who hopes to add his name to the list of Lady Byng winners when the NHL hands out its post-season hardware Wednesday in Las Vegas. "You look at some of the guys in the past who have won it and it's very prestigious. It's just great to be mentioned."
Everybody says that, but in Eberle's case it's true. To have been in the league such a short time and be up for a major award says a lot about a guy who was somehow ranked 33rd among North American skaters by Central Scouting at the 2008 NHL entry draft.
"I think that's one of my favourite things about it, this is only my second year in the NHL and I'm already up for an award.
"I'm very excited. I went to Vegas at the end of the year and it's a fun place. I get to go with Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who's up for the Calder). I'll have my family there, as well. And I'll just hope for the best."
So how does one manage to be an effective player on both sides of the puck, posting career highs offensively and being a team leader in plus-minus, without having to hook, hold or slash, or beak off to the referees when he's being hooked, held and slashed?
Vision, anticipation, quick feet and a high hockey IQ help.
"If you watch guys like Pavel Datsyuk or Martin St. Louis, who've won the award for the past six years, you just have to be in the right position," said the 22-year-old.
"If you're in front of a guy and you're not chasing him, that means you're not hooking or taking penalties.
"That's something I've really tried to progress in my game this year, being a good defensive player and that includes being on the right side of the puck."
Eberle, who's up against Florida Panthers defenceman Brian Campbell and New York Islanders left wing Matt Moulson, has numbers that make a strong case to win.
He posted personal bests in goals (34), assists (42), points (76) and power-play goals (10) and was one of only two Oilers forwards who finished the season with a plus total (plus 4).
This, while picking up just 10 penalty minutes in the entire season. He went 31 games between minors, from Jan. 31 until the last game of the regular season.
That's pretty much the dictionary definition of the Lady Byng criteria: sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct with a high standard of playing ability.
But Eberle says he's probably a longshot to win.
"It's tough," he said. "But if I had to pick I think I think I'd be the runner up. Brian Campbell had a great year statistically."
Given the nature of their job, it's rare that defencemen are able to play at a high level without taking penalties, which is why none have won since Red Kelly back in 1954.
But Campbell could be the favourite this year.
He played all 82 games, finishing second in scoring among defencemen (49 assists and 53 points) and picked just six PIMs.
He didn't take a single penalty in the last 25 games of Florida's stretch drive.
Moulson, meanwhile, is the only player in the NHL to finish with over 30 goals (36) and under 10 penalty minutes (six), making him the first player since Paul Kariya in 1996-97 to score 30 and post single-digit penalty minutes.
It's tough competition, but given his style (just 22 PIMs as a rookie), it might not be Eberle's last shot at the Lady Byng. Although he admits that's not the first award on his wish list.
"Watching the Stanley Cup being raised the other day, you just get excited, you want to be a part of that some day," he said. "Obviously that's my first goal."
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