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Hockey Hall of Fame: Who will make up the 2020 class?

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The Hockey Hall of Fame vote will be different this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 18-person Selection Committee will debate virtually, with the 2020 class announced on Wednesday afternoon. All voting is done via secret ballot, so we never know who fell just short and who made it in a landslide.

The committee can elect a maximum of four male players, two female players, and either two builders or one builder and one referee or linesman. All candidates need to receive at least 14 votes (75%) to get in.

Last year’s class consisted of Hayley Wickenheiser, Guy Carbonneau, Sergei Zubov, Vaclav Nedomansky, Jim Rutherford, and Jerry York.

The question of whether the 2020 induction ceremony, currently scheduled for Nov. 16 in Toronto, will take place remains an unknown at the moment.

So who will get the call this year? Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, and Shane Doan are among those players in their first year of eligibility. One is a lock; another is a possibility; and the third will probably end up in the “falling short” category every time we debate the Hall of Fame.

Let’s take a look at who might make up the 2020 class.

THE LOCK

Jarome Iginla — The one lock. Iginla spent 1,219 of his 1,554 NHL games as a member of the Flames. After breaking into the league in 1996, “Iggy” went on to score 625 goals, record 1,300 points, win two Rocket Richard Trophies, the King Clancy, the Art Ross, and the Ted Lindsay Award. He reached the 50-goal mark twice and hit 40 goals four times. Before he became a six-time All-Star, he won two Memorial Cups with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. On the international scene, he represented Canada at various levels, winning two World Junior Championships, one World Championship, one World Cup of Hockey, and two Olympic gold medals. It was his pass that led to Sidney Crosby’s golden goal during the 2010 tournament in Vancouver.

THE PROBABLY-SHOULDS

Daniel Alfredsson – This is Alfie’s fourth year of eligibility. A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, he has an impressive resume and strong international credentials to make the cut. He scored 444 goals and recorded 1,157 points during his NHL career, and has a trophy cabinet that features Olympic gold and silver medals, the 1996 Calder Trophy, six NHL All-Star appearances, the King Clancy, and inclusion in the IIHF Hall of Fame.

Marian Hossa – He’s a first-ballot HOFer to me, but given how under-appreciated he was during his 19-season NHL career it would be fitting if he’s overlooked in a year absent a large number of locks. For his resume, Hossa has a Memorial Cup title and three Stanley Cup rings to his name. He represented Slovakia at the World Championships eight times, Olympic Games four times, and played in two World Cup of Hockey tournaments — once for his home country and the other for Team Europe. In 1,309 NHL games, Hossa scored 525 goals and recorded 1,134 points. The production continued into the postseason with 149 points in 205 playoff games.

His trophy case lacks a number of individual honors, however. He was runner-up for the Calder Trophy in 1999, the only time in his career he was a finalist for an NHL award. His two-way game was sorely underrated and that was reflected in Selke Trophy voting where he finished 10th or better only three times.

Alexander Mogilny – He was the first Soviet player to defect west and when he arrived he quickly made his mark. His 76-goal season in 1992-93 tied him for the NHL’s goal scoring lead with Teemu Selanne. He would finish with 127 points that season. A year later the Sabres named him the first European captain in league history. When it was all said and done, the six-time All-Star scored 473 goals and recorded 1,032 points. He’s a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club after winning the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship gold. He also helped the Soviet Union to gold at the World Junior Championship.

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THE POSSIBLES

Rod Brind’Amour — The Hurricanes head coach has seen his support grow since first becoming eligible. The induction of Carbonneau last year could help Brind’Amour make it to Toronto. A two-way stalwart, he scored 452 goals and recorded 1,184 points in 1,484 NHL games. Along with the 2006 Stanley Cup, he also has two Selke Trophies to his name. You can argue his resume is better than Carbonneau’s. Finally, from the News and Observer’s Luke DeCock: “There are 36 players in NHL history who had 15 seasons with 49 or more points. Thirty-five of them are in the Hall of Fame. Want to guess who’s not?”

Curtis Joseph – 454 wins, 51 shutouts, an Olympic gold medal, three-time NHL All-Star. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, CuJo had himself a fine career, but did not win a Stanley Cup or any individual hardware. Is he Hall of Fame worthy or perfectly fit for the Hall of Very Good ? Only seven goalies have been inducted into the Hall since 1990 via the player category.

Boris Mikhailov – The long time Soviet captain had a decorated career playing for CSKA Moscow and representing his country. Domestically, Mikhailov scored 429 goals for CSKA and recorded 653 points, leading them to 11 Soviet League titles. On the international scene, the long time captain captured two Olympic golds and eight gold at the World Championships.  The support for international stars has grown with the inductions of Sergei Makarov (2016), Alexander Yakushev (2018), and Vaclav Nedomansky (2019). If not Mikhail this year, perhaps Vladimir Petrov? Sven Tumba? Alexander Maltsev?

[MORE: Our picks for the 2020 Hockey HOF class]

Jeremy Roenick – 513 goals, 1,216 points, nine-time All-Star, silver medals at the Canada Cup and Olympic Games. Roenick’s elite level status only lasted for a few seasons in the early 1990s. After three-straight 100-point and 45-plus goal seasons, his production settled into the “very good” range in the mid-90s. Roenick did not win any individual hardware during his career, so even in classes where there appears to be an opening, the door might remain closed for him.

Doug Wilson – 237 goals, 827 points, 1982 Norris Trophy winner, eight-time All-Star, Canada Cup gold. His name has sprung up in Hall of Fame discussions over the last few years even after having been on the ballot for over two decades. He played during an era dominated by Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque, but examine his career and it was a pretty solid one. He finished his up top 20 in points by a defenseman and top 10 in points per game. A fun piece of trivia via Sean McIndoe of The Athletic that bolsters his case: “Here’s the complete list of players who both won a Norris Trophy (peak) and finished in the top 25 all-time in defenseman scoring (longevity), but haven’t been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Doug Wilson, and that’s it.”

THE REST

Tom Barrasso – 369 wins, 38 shutouts, youngest goalie to win the Calder Trophy and youngest winner of the Vezina, 1985 Jennings Trophy, two-time Stanley Cup winner, 2002 Olympic silver medal.

Shane Doan — 1,540 games with the Jets/Coyotes franchise, 402 goals, 972 points, two World Championship gold medals, one World Cup of Hockey gold medal, two-time Memorial Cup winner, two-time NHL All-Star, King Clancy Trophy winner.

Patrik Elias – 408 goals, 1,025 points, Olympic bronze, two World Championships bronze medals, two-time Stanley Cup winner, nine 20-plus goal seasons.

Theo Fleury – 455 goals, 1,088 points, seven-time All-Star, gold at the World Junior Championship, Canada Cup and Olympics, silver at the World Championship and World Cup of Hockey, 1989 Stanley Cup winner. Here’s something in his favor, via TSN’S Steve Dryden: “Only 15 players in NHL history have averaged at least one point per game in both the regular season (min. 1,000 games) and playoffs (min. 75 games). Fourteen are in the HHOF.” That list includes Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Phil Esposito, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, and Mark Messier.

Sergei Gonchar – 220 goals, 811 points, five-time All-Star, 2009 Stanley Cup title (two more as a coach), silver and bronze medals from the Olympics and World Championships, eight 50-plus point seasons, five straight seasons with at least 18 goals.

Steve Larmer – 441 goals, 1,012 points, 1983 Calder Trophy, two-time All-Star, 1991 Canada Cup gold, 1994 Stanley Cup title, owns third-longest consecutive games streak in NHL history.

Vincent Lecavalier – 421 goals, 949 points, 2004 World Cup of Hockey gold and MVP, 2004 Stanley Cup, 2007 Rocket Richard Trophy, 2008 King Clancy Trophy, four-time NHL All-Star. It’s not quite the trophy case of 2018 inductee Martin St. Louis, so that could probably leave Lecavalier stuck in the Hall of Very Good.

Jere Lehtinen – 243 goals, 514 points, three-time Selke Trophy winner (as a winger), one Stanley Cup, World Championship gold and three silvers, one Olympic silver, three Olympic bronze medals, one World Cup of Hockey silver, IIHF Hall of Fame inductee.

Kent Nilsson – 262 goals, 686 points, two-time NHL All-Star, 1987 Stanley Cup title, 1978 WHA rookie of the year, two-time WHA champion, IIHF Hall of Famer, Canada Cup and World Championship silver medals with Sweden.

Chris Osgood – 401 wins, 50 shutouts, three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Jennings Trophy winner.  A good goalie on some great Red Wings teams for a long time. How much has that hurt his candidacy?

Keith Tkachuk – 538 goals, 1,065 points, 1996 World Cup of Hockey champion, Olympic silver medal. He’s 33rd on the NHL’s all-time goals list. Only four players ahead of him are not in the Hall of Fame; but Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr, and Jarome Iginla will end up there. Maybe Patrick Marleau, too. Like Roenick, Tkachuk’s numbers are good, but he’s in a range where there are a handful of players with similar stats. While Joe Mullen’s inclusion may help Tkachuk or Roenick at some point in time, right now, he’s just on the outside.

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WOMEN’S CATEGORY

Jennifer Botterill – Since the Hall regularly started inducting women a decade ago, there’s still plenty of catching up to do. Given the number of worthy candidates, there’s no reason at least one of two women should be going in every year. Botterill has had a strong case for some time. A three-time Olympic gold medalist, she also helped Canada win five World Championship golds while averaging over a point per game in her international career (62 goals, 164 points, 162 games). Before starring on the international, Botterill was a two-time winner of the Patty Kazmeier Award, which recognizes the top women’s college player.

Karyn Bye-Dietz – She was part of the gold medal winning U.S. team at the 1998 Olympics and took home silver at the 2002 Games and six World Championships. During the ’98 Games, Bye-Dietz led the Americans with five goals and eight points and finished her international career with 84 points in 51 games. In 2011 she was only the fifth woman to be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame, and in 2014 was named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Maria Rooth – A 2015 IIHF Hall of Famer, the forward represented Finland at the Olympic four times, taking home silver and bronze. She played 265 times for Sweden and finished with 105 goals. Before her international career, Rooth played at Minnesota Duluth where she ended her collegiate career with three NCAA titles, was the second-leading scorer in school history (119 goals, 232 points) and a three-time All-American. She’s also the only woman to have her number retired in the history of the program.

Kim St. Pierre – There are a lot of gold medals in St. Pierre’s trophy case. Inside you’ll find three from the Olympics, five from the World Championships, and one from the Four Nations Cup. The netminder played 83 times for Canada, helping them win 64 times with 29 shutouts. She earned best goalie honors at the 2002 Olympics, as well World Championships in 2001 and 2004. She also won the Clarkson Cup twice with Montreal Stars of the CWHL and was named the league’s top goaltender two seasons in a row.

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BUILDER CATEGORY

Red Berenson – After an NHL career that lasted 987 games and saw him win a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens, score six goals in a game once, and represent Canada in the famed 1972 Summit Series, Berenson went into coaching. After six seasons as a coach with the Blues and Sabres, he left for the college game and was behind the bench for the University of Michigan until 2017. In those 33 years, he helped the program to a pair of national championships, 11 Frozen Four appearances and 11 conference titles. He won CCHA coach of the year twice, was the 2008 Spencer Penrose Award winner for top D-I coach, and going back to his NHL coaching days, was the 1981 winner of the Jack Adams Award.

Ken Hitchcock – His coaching resume lists 849 wins (third all-time), one Stanley Cup title, and numerous players thankful for his influence and teams who were improved with him behind their bench. He’s also owner of a HOF-worthy sweatshirt.

Mike Keenan – Whether it was his quick hook with goalies or clashing with his players, there was never a dull moment when “Iron Mike” was coaching your team. But he also did win 672 NHL games and the 1985 Jack Adams Award. His teams won four conference titles and he helped lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994, ending their 54-year drought. He also won in Russia, guiding Metallurg Magnitogorsk to the 2014 Gagarin Cup title, making him the first North American coach to win the KHL championship and the first coach to win both the Gagarin Cup and the Stanley Cup. Keenan’s championships also include the 1983 AHL Calder Cup and two Canada Cups, including the legendary 1987 tournament.

Bryan Murray – He compiled 620 wins as a head coach for five teams over 17 NHL season and made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 12 times in 13 full seasons behind a bench. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1984 and was named NHL Executive of the Year after building the 1995-96 Panthers team that reached the Cup Final.

Marguerite Norris – Following her dad’s death in 1952 she became the NHL’s first female executive and later was the first woman to have her name on the Stanley Cup after the Red Wings’ won in 1954. In Jen Conway’s case for Norris in 2017, she wrote, “The Red Wings became a more profitable team under her care, and she tried to convince the other owners that televised games were the future. She also advocated for arenas to be more female-friendly and for the farm team system then in place be revamped to be more equitable and fair to all the teams.”

Viktor Tikhonov – The head coach of the dominant “Red Machine” passed away in 2014 and is long overdue for induction for his influence on the game. Tikhonov, a 1998 IIHF Hall of Famer as a builder, led the Soviets to the 1981 Canada Cup, eight golds at the World Championships, two at the Olympics and another coaching the Unified Team at the 1992 Games. He also coached CSKA Moscow and led them to 12 straight league titles.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Penguins keep heating up; Struggling Stars sink lower

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Is it time for the Dallas Stars to throw Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn under the bus again?

We’re still in October, and things are looking unsettling for a team that navigated some serious highs and lows in 2018-19 to eventually drum up lofty expectations for 2019-20. So far, the Stars have flopped in their encore performance, like a band tripping over all of their instruments while the crowd raises its lighters.

On paper, you’d think it would be the Pittsburgh Penguins who were struggling against the Stars on Friday. After all, they are the team still dealing with injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust, while the Stars recently got interesting offseason addition Corey Perry back in the lineup.

Instead, the two teams continued on their opposite trajectories. The Penguins keep finding ways to win, in this case riding two Kris Letang goals to a 4-2 win against the Stars, pushing Pittsburgh’s winning streak to five games. Dallas, meanwhile, lost its fifth game in a row (0-4-1), and the Stars saw their overall 2019-20 record sink to a deeply unsettling 1-7-1.

Former PHT editor Brandon Worley captured much of the mood among Stars fans after another dispiriting loss.

Most are shaking their heads in dismay, with some feeling like it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Like many, I didn’t expect Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and other Stars goalies to combine for a .923 team save percentage like they did in 2018-19, which towered over last season’s league average of .905.

It absolutely was a red flag that the Stars only marginally outscored the opposition (209 goals for, 200 against) last season despite that Herculean goaltending.

Still, there were signs that Jim Montgomery’s system was putting Bishop and Khudobin in a situation to succeed, and there are elements of a modern puck-moving defense in place. One could picture another step for sizzling sophomore Miro Heiskanen, and the Stars made the playoffs despite dark horse Norris candidate John Klingberg being limited to 64 regular-season games. More Heiskanen, more Klingberg, another step for Roope Hintz, plus the additions of Joe Pavelski and, to a much lesser extent, Corey Perry? There were worse formulas for success heading into 2019-20, so fools like me wondered if the Stars might be able to rekindle that magic.

Luck should improve

And, to be fair, counting the Stars out just a little more than two weeks into 2019-20 would be hasty.

Hintz and Heiskanen are some of the only Stars off to the starts you’d expect, with Seguin parked at four points in nine games, Pavelski only managing one goal and one assist, and Klingberg sitting at three points (after Thursday’s goal and assist).

Things should improve to some extent, even if it’s foolish to count on all-world goaltending once again. With six of their first nine games on the road, maybe Dallas is having some trouble bringing its small-margin-of-error style out of Dallas.

While the Stars have a hapless divisional neighbor in the Minnesota Wild, the bottom line is that the Central Division figures to be unforgiving, so Dallas needs to shake out of this funk as soon as possible.

A matter of philosophy?

Maybe it’s too early to panic, but it’s absolutely time to ask tough questions. The Stars aren’t that far removed from being one of the most electrifying teams in the NHL, only to turn their back on that formula at the first signs of pushback, instead going the “safer” route of becoming more defensive-minded under Ken Hitchcock and then Montgomery.

It was easier to watch that beautiful thing die when the Stars were winning, yet it’s debatable if dumbing things down by going all-defense is truly the “safe” route, especially with a team fueled by offensive talent from Seguin and Alexander Radulov on offense and skilled defensemen like Klingberg and Heiskanen on the blueline.

Maybe losing to a depleted Penguins teams at least provides another chance to do some soul-searching?

[MORE: What’s wrong with the Stars?]

The Penguins carried the Stars’ outscore-your-problems torch once Dallas wavered, and Pittsburgh marched to two consecutive Stanley Cups despite defense that ranged from shaky to shabby. Then, for reasons even more perplexing, the Penguins began to lose confidence in that approach, and ended up losing some ground in the process.

As of Friday, the Penguins and Stars are moving in very different directions, and one can bet that they’ll see other dramatic shifts over an 82-game regular season. Maybe both can provide each other lessons about playing to your strengths and knowing who you are, though.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kings give McLellan his third head coaching job

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The Los Angeles Kings officially announced former Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan as their new head coach on Tuesday.

This continues a tour of the Pacific Division for McLellan, as he was most recently fired by the Edmonton Oilers.

From 2008-09 through 2014-15, McLellan served as Sharks head coach; he then spent 2015-16 through a portion of 2018-19 behind the bench with the Oilers, before making way for Ken Hitchcock. While the Sharks made the playoffs in six of his seven seasons (the final being the failed year, which in part cost McLellan his job), things didn’t go so swimmingly with Edmonton. While their run to Round 2 in 2016-17 represents the best season the Oilers have enjoyed in years, Edmonton only made the postseason that one time under McLellan, so he bares the mark of “not being able to get it done while having Connor McDavid on his team.”

Of course, McLellan didn’t pick the groceries, he just tried to do the best he could with those ingredients.

Unfortunately, you could also argue that his “cart” is full of expired (or nearly expired) and/or overpriced items, as the Kings sure looked like a slow, broken-down mess at times in 2018-19. McLellan inherited a tremendous Sharks team upon leaving as a Red Wings assistant, and he also came into Edmonton during McDavid’s rookie season, so this is the least promising situation McLellan’s started with. At least on paper.

There were rumblings that the Buffalo Sabres were also after Todd McLellan, including this recent bit from Pierre LeBrun:

Maybe McLellan sees more potential in the Kings (particularly in getting a few more years out of an aging core featuring Anze Kopitar [31] and Drew Doughty [29])? Or maybe this as much a statement about the way the Sabres are running things than what Los Angeles might be doing well?

Whatever the explanation might be, the McLellan era is set to begin for the Kings. How do you feel about the decision to have McLellan sit in the throne?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

McDavid shoots down trade rumors, addresses injury

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If you want an idea about how dark things can get for the Edmonton Oilers, consider that in the span of a week:

1) People were wondering if Connor McDavid would soon be on the verge of demanding a trade.

And

2) Sportsnet’s Mark Spector excitedly tweeted that McDavid attended Sunday’s exit interview while not on crutches.

Yeah, these have been trying times.

But, hey: McDavid was reasonably reassuring (to use his words, “fairly positive”) about the two most disturbing ways his season ended for the Oilers, beyond the team missing the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

McDavid noted that he still needs to get an MRI, so that “fairly positive” update could still be somewhat problematic if there’s soft tissue damage/structural damage/other bad things. That said, McDavid admitted that he feared the worst, saying that “I thought my leg was in two pieces” after Saturday’s terrifying fall:

Number 97 didn’t try to claim that he was happy with the Oilers results, stating that he’d be “a loser” if he wasn’t frustrated with the way things are gone, and that he expects changes in Edmonton’s front office. But McDavid did his part to shoot down trade rumors, stating that he wants to be part of the solution, and that he wouldn’t have signed an eight-year contract with the Oilers if he didn’t want to stay.

Now, sure, “part of the solution” is a phrase that brings back some bad memories of the Taylor Hall trade … yet it’s better than McDavid giving a non-answer altogether, right?

Also: don’t expect the speedy star to change the way he plays, even after another frightful moment. As you may recall, his other major NHL injury happened because he was tripped up while going all-out.

As Ken Hitchcock said after the Oilers received Saturday’s fairly positive update about McDavid, they’re not out of the woods just yet. If McDavid suffered an injury that inhibits his speed over his career, it would be a loss for hockey fans everywhere, not just for the Oilers and their fans. So keep that in mind, and keep your eyes on PHT for updates.

All things considered, it could still be worse, though.

(Oh, and no, McDavid didn’t think Mark Giordano made a dirty play.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers face much bigger questions than what to do with Hitchcock

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When the Edmonton Oilers hired Ken Hitchcock, they were essentially hoping he could be the firefighter who could save the day as the franchise was surrounded by flames like a meme dog with a cute hat and a cup of coffee.

Now that it’s clear that the Oilers’ 2018-19 season is very-much-not-fine, it’s now time to ask a question that seemed almost beside the point at the moment of Hitch’s hiring: should Edmonton bring him back? Sportsnet’s Mark Spector posits such a point in a Tuesday article about Hitch’s “old-school style being just what the young Oilers need.”

For his part, Hitchcock wants to be back. As the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones reports, Hitchcock described coaching the Oilers as “the best experience of my life” and added the great line that “the way I feel, I can coach until I’m 99.”

But should the Oilers bring him back? And, really, how much does it matter compared to the real front office choice that will truly shape the future of this franchise? Let’s dive in.

Minimal impact

The Spector piece revolves around Hitchcock getting in the “face” of players, relying on emotion rather than “Xs and Os.”

And, no doubt, Hitch has a reputation for barking at players. One can debate all day about whether that approach is effective, and if it’s appropriate for the Oilers.

But what about his actual work behind the bench? When the Oilers fired Todd McLellan, they were a mediocre 9-10-1. With Hitchcock … they’ve been a mediocre 24-24-7.

Their underlying stats are actually worse, too. Through 20 games, Edmonton was basically middle-of-the-pack at even-strength under McLellan. They actually slipped even further under Hitchcock by Natural Stat Trick’s metrics.

Much of the same?

In a lot of ways, it shouldn’t be that surprising that there wasn’t a night-and-day difference. Back in October, I pointed to the Oilers’ system relying far too heavily on defensemen shooting pucks —  defensemen who, really, weren’t even the type of blueliners who seem to be especially adept at that practice.

Once you get by the usual suspects in the top three of shots on goal (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), there are a lot of pucks being fired by blueliners overall in 2018-19. Edmonton has eight players with 100+ SOG, and of that group, three are defensemen. Four of the top nine are blueliners, too. You might explain that away as Edmonton simply being top-heavy, yet look at another top-heavy offense – like, say, the Avalanche – and you’ll see the top shooters far more populated by forwards.

None of this is to say that Hitchcock is totally out of touch. As this great bit from The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis discusses (sub.  required), Hitchcock has a firm grasp on why successful teams are able to transition the puck in ways that are more successful than the Oilers.

Hitchcock hasn’t been able to transfer “using the middle of the ice” onto the current makeup of the Oilers, but maybe – just maybe – he’d be able to cook better meals with better ingredients. The true key, then, is for the Oilers to find a better grocery shopper.

The GM question matters far more than to keep or replace Hitch

Ultimately, hiring the right GM is enormously important. It’s key for any team, but especially for an aimless franchise like the Oilers, whose executive have made blunder after blunder.

Peter Chiarelli isn’t the only person to blunder far too often in Edmonton, yet looking at the salary structure at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that he’s “accomplished” the unlikely feats of leaving the Oilers with limited skill around their star players and limited cap space to fill in the gaps.

The Oilers slogan might as well be low skill, high bills.

Allan “Lowetide” Mitchell (also of The Athletic) went deep on the Oilers’ future in a multitude of ways lately, coming to two conclusions I share: 1) the Oilers need to emphasize speed and skill in future acquisitions and 2) fixing their problems might be more than a “one summer” job.

It won’t always be easy, and it probably won’t be a seamless transition, but the Oilers need more of the types of players who could move the puck the way Hitchcock described here:

“If you look at any teams that are quick transition, they find the middle of the ice and they’re not afraid to,” Hitchcock said, via Willis. “There’s a risk and a dynamic to play that way, but any of the successful teams use the middle of the ice way more than they use the boards. You can’t be a good transition team if you just keep putting it on the boards. You end up chipping it out and chasing it, you don’t end up with possession metrics at all. You can’t be afraid to use the middle of the ice on your exits.”

The Oilers have been “chipping it out and chasing it” for far too long, valuing brawn and over-emphasizing buzzwords about “character” instead of searching for the sort of swift, slick players who would supplement superhuman speed genius Connor McDavid.

Would Hitchcock truly optimize a roster that had more skill and speed? It’s not clear one way or another, but what is clear is that the current plan isn’t working.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.