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Breaking down the bests (and worsts) from the first quarter of the NHL campaign

Who has been the comeback player of the year? How about the top coach? Which team has been the biggest surprise? And which player has been the biggest disappointment? That and more as we break down the bests and worsts entering the second quarter of the campaign.

We’re not going to use the term quarter pole here because (a) we don’t know anyone who is exactly 25 per cent Polish, and (b) the quarter pole is a term used to describe an actual pole that is a quarter mile from the finish of the race, not the start. It’s not like bi-weekly, an ambiguous term that really doesn’t help anyone with anything.

In any event, the NHL passed the one-quarter mark with its 14-game docket Wednesday night. That will be followed by a 15-game slate Friday and an 11-game menu Saturday, with all 31 NHL arenas being dark on Thursday, which is American Thanksgiving. There are seven Canadian markets in the NHL, which means there are seven places for which today is not a holiday and would love to watch hockey. Thanks, NHL.

With nothing to do and no hockey to watch, this is as good a time as any to take stock of the season to this point. With that in mind, here are a couple of off-the-board awards at the quarter pole, er, quarter mark of the season.

Best coach: Peter Laviolette. How about just once the NHL gives this award to a coach who does something other than revive a bad team from the dead? Laviolette coached the Predators to the Presidents’ Trophy last year and has them in first overall now. Despite a brutal power play, the Predators are the class of the league.

Comeback player of the year (from injury): After being limited to just 42 games last season, Zach Parise is second on the Wild in goals and points to only Michael Granlund and is part of the reason the Wild have been one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this season.

Comeback player of the year (from being lousy): Max Domi was dreadful last season. Full stop. If anyone needed a change of scenery it was Domi, who appears to have embraced the pressure of playing in Montreal instead of shrinking in the spotlight. The Canadiens exhaustive search for a legitimate No. 1 center might not be over, but Domi is the best they’ve had in a long, long time.

Best off-season decision: After scoring 84 points and busting out as an elite player in the NHL, Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen made the decision to shelve his contract talks until after the 2018-19 season. He is now the top scorer in the league and one-third of the most dynamic line in hockey.

Worst off-season decision: Just think of where the Toronto Maple Leafs would be in their imbroglio with William Nylander if they had signed Auston Matthews to a long-term contract extension July 1 and Mitch Marner July 2. That would have provided all the clarity they would have needed going into the Nylander negotiations. Instead, they’re faced with either him sitting out the entire season or being forced into dealing him.

Biggest surprise (player): As highly regarded as Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson was coming into this season, not sure anyone could have foreseen that he would have accomplished this much in the first quarter of his first year. Among none rookies, David Rittich may have very well saved the Calgary Flames’ season.

Biggest surprise (team): The New York Rangers were supposed to be in the midst of the Jack Hughes Sweepstakes by now, but they’re taking advantage of a wonky Metropolitan Division and playing with accountability under rookie coach David Quinn.

Biggest disappointment (player): When the Calgary Flames signed James Neal to a five-year deal worth $28.8 million in the summer, they weren’t expecting an 11-goal season in Year 1. That’s how many goals Neal is on pace to score this season.

Most likely to lose his job: It would be wise for independent discipline arbitrator Shyam Das to start freshening up his resume. Not only did he reduce Tom Wilson’s headshot suspension from 20 to 14 games, he also cut Austin Watson’s suspension for alleged domestic abuse from 27 to 18 games. Since either the league or the NHL Players’ Association has the right to fire the arbitrator July 1 without providing cause, Das telling the league it can’t pull suspension numbers out of thin air will not go over well with the NHL.

First all-star team: G – Frederik Anderson, Toronto. D – Morgan Rielly, Toronto; Thomas Chabot, Ottawa. LW – Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary. C – Connor McDavid, Edmonton. RW – Mikko Rantanen, Colorado.

All-rookie team: G – Linus Ullmark, Buffalo. D – Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo; Henri Jokiharju, Chicago. F – Elias Pettersson, Vancouver; Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa; Colin White, Ottawa.

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