Quarter-mark superlatives: Golden Knights surprise, while Sidney Crosby struggles

ByGreg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The 2017-18 season has reached its quarter mark. Nikita Kucherov is on pace for 70 goals, the New Jersey Devils are leading their division and an expansion team has almost twice as many points as the Arizona Coyotes. You know, just as we all predicted.

Here are some superlatives and awards through the first fourth of the season.

Most pleasant surprise

Team: Vegas Golden Knights

Player: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

The Knights are the story of the season, with a 12-6-1 record for 25 points and second place in the Pacific Division. Sure, we all underestimated how much talent they scraped together in the expansion draft and, yeah, playing seven of their first nine games at home gave them solid footing. But Vegas keeps picking up points despite a calamitous series of goalie injuries (Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk) and has a plus-10 goal differential, which for a first-year team is frankly unheard of.

Schwartz (10 goals, 16 assists in 21 games) has been an offensive revelation for the Blues, as he's finally playing healthy and clicking mightily with offseason acquisition Brayden Schenn and sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. He might not be 1.24-points-per-game good when the dust settles, but for now he has helped the Blues subvert expectations that they'd be an injury-plagued offensive flop this season.

Biggest disappointment

Team: Edmonton Oilers

Player: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi: "You were the Chosen One!" This was the season the Oilers were primed to make the leap to championship contender, and instead they're one Arizona Coyotes team away from the conference basement. Edmonton's season has been like an episode of "The Twilight Zone," where GM Peter Chiarelli traded a bunch of scoring forwards for various needs and -- here's the twist -- the Oilers ended up needing those scoring forwards after all, as they limp to a paltry 2.50 goals per game while going 7-11-2. Connor McDavid deserves better. And by that we of course mean "better than the local media criticizing his turnovers, which is like someone lambasting the chef on the Titanic for over-salting the soup as the ship descends into the icy depths."

Crosby has six goals and 10 assists in 22 games. Those numbers would be fine for anyone not named Sidney Crosby, as the Penguins star has averaged over a point per game in every season of his career. He's been on the ice for 13 more even-strength goals against than goals for this season. As usual, there's already a cottage industry of "What's wrong with Crosby?" takes that will seem antiquated when he starts scoring in bunches. But for now, his production and play are way off from his usual output, and questions about Sid, the Penguins and the amount of hockey they have played in the last two seasons are valid ones.

Most likely to regress

New Jersey Devils. Even if that offense keeps cranking -- and it might -- the Devils' underlying possession numbers and defensive stats are a few average Cory Schneider starts away from a downward spiral. Although one hopes they don't regress, as they are one of the most entertaining teams in the NHL, which remains a really weird thing to say about the Devils.

Most likely to improve

The Carolina Hurricanes have been possession monsters all season that simply weren't getting enough offense to win games. But the engine is starting to get revved: The Hurricanes have scored three or more goals in seven straight games, going 5-1-1 in them.

Best return on investment

Nail Yakupov, Colorado Avalanche. The first-overall pick in 2012 might always be considered a bust, but the 24-year-old has entered theAlex Daigle"cheap reclamation project" phase of his career. Yakupov signed a one-year deal worth $875,000 with the Avalanche, and has already matched his point total (nine) from last season in just 19 games.

Worst return on investment

Steve Mason, Winnipeg Jets. Mason signed a two-year deal worth $4.1 million annually with the Jets in the summer. He has appeared in six games and has a 1-3-1 record with a 3.76 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage. You know who hasn't minded any of this? Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who stole Mason's job and is having his best season in the NHL.

Most moved

Antti Niemi was signed by the Penguins, lost all three games he played for them and was waived; claimed by theFlorida Panthers, for whom he played two games and was waived; and then claimed by the Montreal Canadiens.Niemi became the fifth goalie in NHL history to play for three teams in the same season. And it's November.

Best trade

C'mon, this can't be anything but the blockbuster that sent Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators and seven assets of picks and players to the Avalanche. Duchene has had a rough start with the Sens, failing to tally a point in five games and skating to a minus-6. Turris? He has two goals and three assists in five games with Nashville.

Next in line to be traded

Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens. He's been on the block for the better part of two years, he's off to a slow-as-molasses start (four goals and four assists in 21 games) and the Habs need a shakeup, desperately.

It's weird that no one's talking about ...

How coach Travis Green has coaxed a 9-8-3 record out of the Vancouver Canucks and reduced the Sedins' ice time by over four minutes on average without the sky falling.

Most emotional moment

Deryk Engelland's powerful speech to the Golden Knights crowd at their home opener, 10 days after a mass shooting in Las Vegas, remains one of the season's most poignant moments. But if we're talking about in-game moments, then it'sBrian Boyle's goal on Nov. 10 against the Oilers, his first following a prolonged absence after his leukemia diagnosis. Boyle actually wept during his celebration on the ice.

Hot seat

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has been in the job since May 2012. He's made a series of moves -- the P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber trade and signing Karl Alzner among them -- with a "win-now" mindset. That becomes problematic when the team mostly loses now, going 8-11-2 this season. His is a seat hot enough that we're genuinely concerned about the well being of his perfectly tailored suit pants. (Although a relative lack of bilingual candidates to replace him could buy him some time.)

Cool seat

Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers. There was heavy speculation he was going to be fired, but the Rangers' recent 7-3-0 spurt has them back on the playoff bubble and Vigneault safe, if he ever was in trouble to begin with.

Most injured

Shout out to the Anaheim Ducks, who are somehow 10-7-3 and in a playoff seed despite currently missing Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler,Patrick Eaves and Ondrej Kase, and having missedCam Fowler,Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm for stretches as well.

Best debate

Who's the Calder Trophy favorite? This wave of young stars has produced another stellar rookie-of-the-year field. Clayton Keller might have the early juice, with 11 goals and 9 assists for the Coyotes, but Mathew Barzal (4 goals, 15 assists), Brock Boeser (7 goals, 10 assists) andNico Hischier(3 goals, 12 assists) are right there. You want defensemen? Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins, Will Butcher of the Devils (a stellar 16 points) and Mikhail Sergachev of theTampa Bay Lightningare here for you.

Worst debate

When hockey met politics in the Penguins' White House visit,J.T. Brown's protest during the national anthem and Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin promoting "Putin Team." These athletes deserve the chance to use their platforms to make political statements -- or in the Penguins' case, to punt on one -- but nuance isn't exactly a hallmark of political discourse these days, and these situations created toxic deliberation among fans.

Most uncomfortable question

What if Canadiens goalie Carey Price, whose eight-year, $84 million contract kicks in next season, gets more fragile with age?

It's time to panic

... if you're a Florida Panthers fan, because you're watching a one-line team whose 7-11-2 start might be an unrecoverable stumble.

It's not yet time to panic

... if you're a Minnesota Wild fan, because while the Wild really need to tighten up defensively, they're got Charlie Coyle back, have shown signs of life and betting on coach Bruce Boudreau in the regular season is as money-in-the-bank as betting against him in the postseason.

My major awards at the quarter mark

We're tracking the favorites for the NHL awards all season. Here's where things stand for the five majors:

Hart: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

Norris: Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets

Vezina: Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Calder: Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

Jack Adams: Gerard Gallant, Golden Knights