The most surprising developments of the NHL season so far

The one constant in any given NHL season should always be to expect the unexpected because there is always going to be something that surprises you — maybe even shocks you.

The team that you thought might stink could turn out to be good for some bizarre reason.

The player you pegged as an offseason flop might catch lightning in a bottle and excel.

The player who was supposed to put the Stanley Cup contender over the top? Well, that might be the one who flops and ends up holding the team back.

We have seen a lot of those scenarios playing out over the first quarter of the NHL season.

Among them…

The Max Pacioretty trade is working…for Montreal

After more than a year of constant rumors and trade speculation, the Montreal Canadiens finally put an end to all of the drama and sent Max Pacioretty, their best goal-scorer and one of their best players from the past decade, to the Vegas Golden Knights.

At the time it looked to be a huge score for a Vegas team that stunned the hockey world a year ago by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its debut season, and it would finally kick off a much-needed rebuild in Montreal.

In return, the Canadiens received a package of players centered around Tomas Tatar, who was a total flop in Vegas after he was acquired at the trade deadline this past season, and 2017 first-round pick Nick Suzuki.

So far it has gone the exact opposite way anyone could have anticipated.

Through Vegas’ first 19 games (of which Pacioretty appeared in only 15 due to injury), he has managed just two goals and two assists, while Tatar, who seems to have rediscovered his scoring touch in Montreal, has recorded 16 points (including eight goals) in his first 19 games. Suzuki, meanwhile, has continued to dominate in the Ontario Hockey League.

At some point Tatar is going to cool off, and Pacioretty is going to rebound. And ultimately the key player to this trade for Montreal was — and will continue to be — Suzuki. But it’s still been shocking to see how this trade has worked out in the early going, even if it doesn’t last.

For now though it is a primary reason why Montreal has been one of the biggest surprise teams in the league and why Vegas has been one of the early disappointments.

Max Domi: offensive machine

Sticking with the Canadiens for a second, their other big offseason trade saw them send Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in a one-for-one swap for Max Domi.

Domi was coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons in the desert where he managed just nine goals in each, with four of his goals a season ago coming as empty-netters. It seemed that his offense had completely dried up after a promising rookie season.

But just like the Tatar-for-Pacioretty trade, this one has found a way to work out for Montreal in the early going.

Through Thursday, Nov. 15, Domi had already scored 10 goals (all of them with an opposing goalie in the net) and was one of the league’s top-10 total point producers. Even if it is an unsustainable pace, he is still going to crush his numbers from the previous two years.

The Blackhawks fire Joel Quenneville

It should have been expected that the Chicago Blackhawks might struggle this season. They had not won a playoff series in three years and were coming off their first non-playoff season in nearly a decade. The core is getting older, the depth is getting thinner and the salary cap space is still perpetually getting tighter for them. At some point they were going to start making some changes, and eventually that was going to lead to the end of the Joel Quenneville era. It was just surprising to see that after everything Quenneville did for the franchise that he was let go as quickly as he was, especially when a lot of the team’s recent struggles are probably out of his hands.

The Blackhawks were done in a year ago by an injury to starting goalie Corey Crawford and the fact that they had no capable backup to fill in for him.

This year the problem is that the roster, outside of the top four or five players, just really isn’t that good, and that responsibility has to fall on the front office.

Eventually it will. Because once the Blackhawks continue to struggle under a new coach (and given the roster, they will), the next change will be at the top.

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By Adam Gretz

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