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So PK Subban is Going to Arbitration

Most of Habsland is waking up to the news that the Habs and PK Subban are going to salary arbitration.

The Habs vs PK!

Bloodshed!

Bad feelings!

OMG!

Relax.

Once we learn exactly when his hearing is, we’ll know the date by which he and the Habs will have happily come to terms on a shiny new deal (that we can all start criticizing for being too long and too expensive). In the meantime, he is protected from offer sheets, so you can stow your concerns on that, too.

Now go enjoy your summer.

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

One of the big questions for the Habs this off-season is how to solve the logjam down the middle. So let’s see if I have this right before we get started:

The Habs have 4 capable centermen (one being a potential) for their top 3 lines.

Yep, that’s called a logjam, kids.

And it’s normally a pretty good problem to have unless you let meatheads do the solving.

To review, the Habs have Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller, and (supposedly) Alex Galchenyuk as centermen. I tag Galchenyuk with “supposedly” because although he was drafted as a centerman, and the Habs continue to say that he will be a centerman, we have yet to see him play, or even practice down the middle. Yet we’re supposed to believe that’s a change that is coming? I’ll believe it when I see it, because right now, there’s nothing *at all* to suggest that that change is imminent.

After the success of their lengthy playoff run, Habs fans are predictably getting ahead of themselves, looking to make sweeping changes for the sake of change. With guys like Desharnais and Eller having strong post-seasons, and Galchenyuk supposedly (there’s that word again) waiting in the wings, an opinion quickly gaining traction is to trade Tomas Plekanec, their best two-way center now, while he’s still relatively young and valuable.

Tomas Plekanec. uniquely capable of taking tough defensive minutes, including a critical role on the penalty kill.

Tomas Plekanec, the guy who plays in all situations.

Tomas Plekanec, the only guy you’d rely on to take a crucial defensive zone faceoff.

Sure, let’s trade him because we *think* we have able replacements.

This isn’t where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the head meets the desk. Repeatedly.

Are we excited at the idea of Desharnais – Eller – Galchenyuk down the middle? Clearly many are. Personally, I’d keep the pepto bismol close. Don’t get me wrong, each of these guys have their strengths, but it’s the weaknesses, and in the case of Galchenyuk – total inexperience – that make this proposition fraught with peril. Let’s not forget to mention that neither Eller nor Desharnais have shown anything special that indicates that Plekanec is now suddenly expendable. Small detail, I guess.

Given his wingers, many consider Desharnais the team’s top centerman. While that may be true in terms of minutes and situations given to him, we have to remember that he is not considered a top center – or else the Habs would have paid him as such. We also know that Desharnais struggles in his own zone, sometimes mightily. Heck, he struggles most everywhere without stud wingers to fetch the puck for him. This isn’t a rip-job on Desharnais, because he had a good season after a disastrous start, but rather a summary of the gaps in his game that can’t be overlooked. The “heir apparent” to Plekanec, Lars Eller, for all his size and skill, too often lacks hockey IQ, and the consistent determination needed to take on the role of second-line center. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like Eller, but he doesn’t play a strong 200-foot game often enough to simplyt be handed Plekanec’s role come the start of the 2014-15 season. Galchenyuk? Nobody questions his ability, nor his trajectory as a future star in the NHL. But the talk of moving him to center, even on the third line, when he isn’t even the second man in for faceoffs after the first guy is waved out? That’s telling. It says that the Habs aren’t ready to hand him that role (aren’t ready to even groom him) yet, or that they like him at wing permanently.

If the Canadiens do as many fans wish, and cash in on Plekanec’s value now, they leave themselves up a creek at center, definitely in the short term, and possibly in the long term. They think they’re fixing a problem by handing the torch to the kids, but in reality all their doing is tossing the kids to the wolves by putting them in roles that aren’t yet ready for. I’m not saying that the Canadiens should not, or will not ever trade Plekanec. I’m saying that they should NOT do it yet. You don’t trade away your best two-way center and cross your fingers that the kids will pick up the slack. Plekanec’s responsibilities are what allow Desharnais to shine, and what allow Eller to make many believe.

On June 13th, fans will say that they’re ok with taking a “small step back” for long term gain. That’s the drunken stupor from a successful playoff run talking. On December 21st? They’ll be singing an entirely different tune and wishing Bergevin nothing but a lump of cole for trading their best center away. Clever revisionists, Habs fans are.

Don’t trade Tomas Plekanec yet. Not without a safety net.

Thanks 2013-14 Habs

What a strange, amazing year 2013-14 was.

What started with so much promise quickly became a six-month long head-scratching festival, with the occasional dash of awesome. There were many Habs fans that didn’t understand why the Canadiens abandoned what made them so good in the lockout-shortened 2013 season in favour of a style of play that seemed to hold the team back. In the end, it all led to the what may be the ugliest 100-pt season in team history. But 100 points is 100 points. It’s not easy to reach that peak, and Michel Therrien did what he had to do to push the team there. Nitpickers, naysayers and haters would say that with different tactics, strategies, and personnel, 100 points could have easily been 110 points. Some people are very hard to please, apparently.

What followed the 82-game regular season was the most incredible, frustrating, and exhilarating playoff run the team has been on since their last cup win, 21 years ago. From sweeping the Lightning to vanquishing the evil Bruins in seven nail-biting games, to a hard-fought loss to the surprisingly amazing Rangers, Habs fans have a lot to cheer for and be proud about. Despite bowing out of the playoffs, it’s hard not to imagine that the best from this group is yet to come. Conjecture and opinions on how the team can get there is a topic for another day, but today is all about looking back on the season and appreciating what the team accomplished.

In Montreal, we like to say that it’s “Cup or nothing”. That’s bold, and it keeps the bar up where we all want it to be, but it’s also a point of view that ignores every incremental step on the way to victory. The Canadiens took some steps this year. I won’t pretend to know all of the steps required in order to be a Cup winner, but we saw this team battle adversity many times and come out on the other end with their identity, fighting spirit and most importantly, point totals intact. We saw elite players like Pacioretty, Subban and Price push their games to all-world levels. In the case of Subban and Price, we can’t ever quantify how a gold medal helps the quest for a Stanley Cup, but we can be sure that exposure to the game’s best and winning it all in the process is something that will certainly help. We saw guys like David Desharnais and Lars Eller raise their compete level to places we didn’t think they could, or would go. We saw late-season pick ups like Weise and Weaver make strong cases to stay with the team. We saw Rene Bourque make up for a season of futility (and making himself tradeable in the process?). We saw Alex Galchenyuk emerge as a difference maker.

We saw Dustin Tokarski.

We don’t have access to Bergevin’s road map, so we can’t know what he’s planning. He has a lot of personnel issues to resolve, the biggest of which is in signing PK Subban to a new contract. There will be plenty of time to talk about the free agent market (which is pathetic this year, best to avoid it if looking for big fish), and trades in order to improve the team, but for the first time in a long time, we can see the form of a contender taking shape. The core is young and talented. The farm is restocking with quality prospects that will be ready soon (or, immediately in the case of guys like Beaulieu, Tinordi, and Pateryn).

It’s safe to say that coming within 6 wins of the Stanley Cup pours cold water on those who were ready to run Therrien out of town. Those people were fully expecting a series loss to Tampa (oops). What they got instead was a giant helping of crow.

While we rolled out of bed this morning with the realization that the Habs won’t play another meaningful game until October, it’s nice to know that the plan that has been put in place is working and we should all be excited to see what’s around the corner.

Happy Landings, Bruins!

Don’t poke the bear? Why the hell not?

The Emperor is no more! Sauron has been defeated! Drago has been knocked out! Biff Tannen is wearing a truckload of manure!

For what feels like forever, the Bruins have been bullying and beating down the Habs with not just their size, but with goonery and cheap shots. Despite a bunch of regular season success against Boston, the 2009 sweep and 2011 seven-game heartbreak series still feels fresh. For a lot of guys, the physical beatings might feel fresher still. A little pay back was needed, not only for those playoff losses, but also for this type of dirty crap that has come to personify the Bruins more than the quality of their on-ice play:

On top of the joy of advancing to the conference finals, we got to do it at the expense of Boston. Their poor-sport fans, mopey, excuse-making media and sore loser skaters deserve to feel this loss, hard. It’s so sweet to know that the Bruins are being eaten up inside that they lost to the team that they’ve relentlessly tried to paint as weak, cowardly and dirty.

Eat it, Bruins. Eat it, and like it.

Lucic’s post-game petulance…fantastic. Iginla’s depression…love it. Marchand’s lack of words…fitting for a guy with a lack of goals.

As for our boys, it has been amazing to watch this team consistently up their game. THIS is what a championship team looks like. This is what a winner plays like. This is the what the best are willing and able to do to.

Michel Therrien has done a wonderful job in preparing his team for these playoffs. More than that, though, we’re seeing guys like Carey Price and P.K. Subban elevate to superstars right before our very eyes. We knew they had it in them, and many among us probably considered them as superstars. But now they’re doing it on National stage. The rest of the hockey world is taking note of these guys and they’re envious. On top of those two pillars, Pacioretty, Desharnais and Vanek woke up in the knick of time. Emelin has found his hard-hitting game. Beaulieu has plugged a major leak. Gallagher, Gorges, Weaver, Weise and Prust are providing the blood and guts. Brière is doing what he always does in the playoffs, same goes for Plekanec. Bourque is reborn. Eller has been a revelation. Anyone who thought the Habs were robbed in the Halak trade can crawl back under their rock.

There are no passengers. They’re all in.

Who knows what else this team has left to give. You’d think that given the recent history between the Rangers and Habs, that a trip to the Cup Finals is a lock. But these are the playoffs, and the Rangers are looking good. Better than good. But for today, we get to revel in a great victory against a hated rival that is going to have a long off-season of regret.

How I Hate the Bruins

Once a week I participate in The Forum, along with the rest of the good folks at The Montreal Bias. This time, we share our feelings on the evil Bruins. My thoughts are below, here are the rest. If you hate the Bruins, this is for you!

It is literally impossible to stop at one thing that is bad about the Bruins, so I present this list, which is by no means exhaustive:

  • The Neanderthal fans
  • Jack Edwards
  • Nut-spearing, low-bridging, face-punching goons and rats from a culture that values violence as much as it values goals
  • Impossibly thick, biased, pant-licking media
  • The nauseating sound of their goal horn
  • Jack Edwards
  • Rene Rancourt’s WWE-esque fist pump
  • Jack Edwards

It all blends together as a wretched melange that stinks of hot garbage and tastes like month-old acid rain that’s been festering in an over-stuffed ashtray.

Coach Therrien’s Future

With another day to kill before the start of game one, I figure now’s as good a time as any to yak about Habs coach Michel Therrien. Some like him, many can’t stand him. For those who value “process over results”, Therrien is the bane of their existence. For the rest, Therrien’s combined 75-42-13 record during his two seasons is proof enough that he’s pushing the right buttons and getting the most out of the team.

While both camps have valid points; valuing results over process is to be ignorant of what makes the Maple Leafs so hilarious to laugh at every year. Teams that rides percentages in either shooting or save percentage (or both) are doomed. On the other hand, the NHL remains a results-driven business, and few have done better than Therrien from a wins-and-losses perspective since the last lockout ended.

The 2014-15 season will be the final season of Therrien’s current contract. His future beyond that will hinge greatly on what happens in this playoff run. If the Canadiens bow out to Tampa with a whimper, the #FireTherrien camp will expect and demand Therrien’s immediate dismissal. If they bow out in a tough, well-played series, calls for his firing will still be loud and clear, no doubt, but won’t be as adamant. Short of a trip to the Cup Finals, there isn’t much that Michel Therrien can do to satisfy his naysayers. From an organizational perspective, if the Habs meekly exit the playoffs, then being bounced easily twice in two playoff years will not bode well for Therrien. He very well may be fired – to the delight of many, but he would certainly start 2014-15 on thin ice if he managed to avoid the axe.

If the Canadiens have a decent playoff run (which I’ll loosely define as a round one win, and at minimum a long, well-played second round, and more likely a second-round series win), then the #FireTherrien crowd will be sorely disappointed. A strong playoff run will not only result in Therrien emerging unscathed, and him starting 14-15 on terra firma, it will also likely see him get a contract extension during the off-season. The always-aware-of-optics Canadiens will not want questions swirling around their head coach when camp breaks, and a coach entering his final season – especially one that irks so many in both the media and fanbase (and perhaps even in the locker room) – will automatically carry the “lame duck coach” label. No team wants that distraction, so a strong playoff showing will probably end that discussion before it even begins. Then we’ll discuss how great or retarded Marc Bergevin is, again.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Therrien’s current strategy. The Canadiens have been less exciting and have been playing with fire all season long, with short bursts of hope to a return to playing “sustainable, effective” winning hockey. From last year to this year the Habs switched playing styles, and while the bottom line has been similar, the lion’s share of credit for this year’s success can go directly to Carey Price and the duo of Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. Still, all teams ask of their head coach is to win games. That’s it, that’s all. They aren’t asked to win games under the constraint of demonstrating strong analytics (as much as we’d all like to see them). Therrien has done that, and in doing so has ticked the only box assigned to any coach. Initially I didn’t see Therrien making it to the end of his original contract, and that still may happen. The toughest road remains in front of him, but he has gone at least halfway in getting an extension for himself.

Cynics aren’t worried about the Canadiens doing well come Wednesday, and hence aren’t worried that the Habs will be toiling under Therrien for much longer. Of course, there are no guarantees no matter what happens. But the convergence of circumstances means that If you’re not a fan of Michel Therrien, this post-season puts you in a tough spot: the better the Canadiens do, the more likely it is that you’ll be stuck with him for the long haul.

So You’re Upset

Evidently it takes a snoozer of a game against a squad of AHL talent to bring me out of hibernation!

With home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs still up for grabs, I think we all expected a stronger effort than what the Canadiens put forth last night. Not an unreasonable expectation given the opposition. What is verging on unreasonable, however, is the mentality that a team that was 7-2-1 in its previous 10 games needs to be needs to be even better than that before letting the foot off the gas.

I’ve spoken a lot in the past about the need for home ice advantage if you want to win the Cup. Over the last 20 years, it’s been more or less a requirement, with only a couple of teams starting the playoffs on the road and going all the way. From that standpoint, you’d love to see the Habs lock up home ice and at least put themselves in the camp that have won the vast majority of Stanley Cups in the last 20+ years. We in Montreal have become used to the Habs wearing the underdog tag, and wearing it quite well, if only for a round or two (2010 excluded). A lot of fans actually want the Habs to start on the road in Tampa, the logic being that if they can steal a game there, the Lightning are screwed. I would suggest that those people are unaware of the importance of home ice, are blind optimists, have forgotten about 2011, or don’t consider the Stanley Cup a possibility for this team whether they have home ice or not.

Playing the second game of a back-to-back at home vs a “weak” opponent had trap game written all over it, and whether the Habs sprung the trap or simply didn’t care enough to avoid planting both feet directly in to it, they were booed lustily for most of the night by fans seemingly unaware that their team has 98 points and playing decent hockey. What have you done for me lately, indeed!

Here’s the rub: the Lightning have been hot on the Habs heels for home ice for a few games running, and if the Canadiens want home ice, they would have had to nearly run the table, going 9-2-1 in their final 12 (for a total of 102pts), assuming Tampa Bay wins its last two games (leaving them with 101pts). Only Habs fans get upset when their team doesn’t play .792 hockey down the final stretch…”Geez guys, if only you cared, you could have gone undefeated!”

I find it difficult to stress out too much over last night’s game. While it was a waste of an evening, that’s all it was. With a win over the Rangers on Saturday, the Habs will force Tampa to win both of their final games to grab home ice away from Montreal. But from the amount of anger thrown around last night over the loss, you’d think the Canadiens were limping in to the playoffs with a 2-5 record down the stretch.

Which they did in ’93.

Just saying.

So long, Raffy Diaz

Yesterday, Habs GM dealt misunderstood/misused/missthenet defenseman Raphael Diaz to the Canucks for some guy named Dale Wiese. My initial reaction was something along the lines of *headdesk*. Diaz is a useable guy who had become useless to Therrien for reasons only known to the Habs coach. Whether it was a lack of physicality or lack of scoring (he hasn’t beaten an NHL goalie in a long, long time, folks), Diaz found himself on the bench for the last 8 games.

Pretty clear that he’s not in the team’s plans especially now with Beaulieu in the mix, so Bergevin shipped him out to the West Coast, where he’s free to take Yannick Weber’s job for a second time.

Of course, the Habs can’t make a single move without generating utter madness among the fanbase, so it came as no surprise that the interwebs were lit aflame when news of the trade broke. Sure, a few people who want the Habs to get bigger approved of the trade. For the most part, however, the trade made people upset; not because of the trade itself, but because of the mindset that it represents. Bergevin during his short tenure as Habs GM has made a habit of bringing in bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defensemen. Surely more was expected, and definitely more talent is needed, so this move is an exercise in exasperation. Instead of trading Diaz for virtually nothing, people wondered, why didn’t they:

  • Actually play Diaz over Murray?
  • Get more for a guy that the advanced stats say is a good d-man?
  • Get a draft pick for him?
  • Keep him?

We can cry about Murray all we want, but the Habs like him. Why didn’t they get more for Diaz? Because he wasn’t worth much thanks to his own inability to produce. Sure he may be efficient as a D-man, but perceptions are hard to shake and Diaz is seen as an offensive guy who can help a powerplay, which he didn’t do. So long, trade value. Being benched for 8 straight games? R.I.P. trade value. Why didn’t Bergevin just take a mid-round pick rather than a useless player who will likely be in the AHL next year? That’s a good question, and all I can imagine is that the Canucks don’t want to part with assets, either. Smart thinking. Finally, why didn’t the Habs just keep him? Well…with Subban, Gorges, Emelin, Beaulieu and perhaps Markov all laying claim to top-4 slots for 2014-15, where does Diaz fit? As a UFA, it’s his chance to cash in, and unless he’s dumb, he probably has no interest in being a bottom pair guy in Montreal. Just a guess.

So while we can piss and moan until the sun goes down about Bergevin picking up yet another useless, insignificant player, we can and should take some comfort in the fact that he did not and has not moved any prized prospects or draft picks for short-term rentals to save the current season. Diaz may have been sabotaged as an asset and shipped in a trade that was totally unnecessary, but in the end, had he scored a goal against an NHL goalie in the last 2 calendar years (January 21, 2012 was the last time he scored a real goal), maybe he would have retained his value all by himself.

Dropping the Ball on Swing the Axe

In the early days of this site, I wrote often about rampant, violent head shots and dirty hits polluting the NHL. I might even go as far as to say that this plague is what gave birth to this blog, as twitter just wasn’t enough to get it all out. Since then, not much has changed. There are still multiple dirty hits on a seemingly weekly basis, and the NHL isn’t doing much about it, regardless of what they say.

This past weekend, another matchup with the Pens and Bruins led to ugly mayhem. If I were Brendan Shanahan, I’d be cracking my knuckles and getting limbered up to swing a big axe. Shawn Thornton of course, would pay dearly for this heinous assault from behind on Brooks Orpik. Thornton did this because, in his mind, he had to get Orpik for laying out Loui Eriksson with a thunderous, and possibly questionable hit. Orpik refused to fight Thornton – and why should he? Thornton is just one small step above being totally useless, and Orpik is a valuable defenseman to the Penguins. Later in the period, Thornton, refusing to take no for an answer decided to swoop in from behind on Orpik during a scrum, horse-collar him to the ice, and then pound his defenseless face. For a guy who considers himself loyal to hockey’s “unwritten code” (whatever that is), that attack on Orpik is without doubt against everything the vague, undefined code stands for.

Part of the reason for hockey’s reluctance to change is that there are plenty of wacky people who say that if Orpik had just fought Thornton from the beginning, he wouldn’t have been rendered unconscious at all. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Drop the gloves and leave the game for 5 minutes (or more) for doing something that you’re paid to do. “The code”, ladies and gentlemen! The notion that a player needs to fight if he throws his weight around is outdated at best, and outright stupidity at worst. The hockey establishment is in a constant state of worry that today’s “progressive” fan wants to turn hockey in to a “panzified” non-contact sport. The NHL and NHLPA seem to be afraid of this too, but someone needs to tell them that they are the ones who will do away with hitting since every time there’s a big hit (by “big” I am talking about those hits that are considered “hockey plays”), there’s a scrum and ensuing revenge fight. The crackdown on bare-knuckle fighting is coming to the NHL, whether the league, player’s association or fans like it or not.

In my mind, a premeditated attack at an unsuspecting player’s head, and then continuing the assault once he’s down and out carries a suspension of at least 25 games, and probably more. The excuse that Thornton lost control of his competitive emotions is utterly silly. It’s even sillier to suggest that he was trying to do his job within the confines of “the code”, which Thornton knows he violated, otherwise he wouldn’t be so apologetic. An apology, by the way, doesn’t, or shouldn’t lessen the severity of the discipline, either.

The great thing about an unwritten code is that since it’s not actually documented anywhere, anyone can put whatever they want in to it depending on what suits their agenda, and depending on which way the wind is blowing. How’s that for carte blanche? No other sport on the planet would tolerate this, and in no other sport would he play another game this season. But the NHL being what it is (i.e. meek and cowardly when it comes to player discipline), I don’t think he’ll get any more than 8-10 games. Get your “Brendan Shanahan and the NHL is a joke” tweets ready now because I’m sure whatever Shanny does just won’t suffice, unless you happen to be a Bruins fan, in which case it will be way overboard.

James Neal would also pay the piper in my NHL, to the tune of 10 games for his “accidentally on purpose” knee to the head of the pesky Brad Marchand. I don’t know if players think the whole world is stupid when they pull stunts like this (reminds me of Chara’s “I didn’t know Pacioretty was even on the ice” lie). He clearly meant to drive his knee in to Marchand’s defenseless head, and for that he should be suspended much longer than any “star” has been used to. The NHL will likely write this off as being too much in the grey zone and try to insinuate that while the knee to the head could be incidental contact, that Neal needs to be in better control of his body. In the end I expect that he’ll get no more than 5, and probably just 3 games.
If the NHL wants this stuff out of hockey, then they have to go big with the penalties. When players are forced to sit for 2 weeks (which is a lot for a star like Neal), or 2 months, they may start to get the picture, but it appears that the NHL and NHLPA don’t want that. If they took supplemental discipline seriously, then at the very least the NHL can eventually tell some governing body that they are pro-active and concerned about player safety when they get called on to the carpet for why they’ve allowed this crap to happen for so long.

Bizarro Habs

Going in to last night’s game in Washington, the first of a back-to-back set, it’s safe to say that nobody was sure what to expect. Memories of the stunning playoff upset from 2010 is probably still the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the Capitals. But that was what feels like a lifetime ago, and in the fast-paced NHL, it is a lifetime ago. Roster, coaching, and management turnover has rendered those halcyon days (hey, that’s all Habs fans have to hang their hats on for the last 20 years) buried in the past. The reality is that the Canadiens have struggled mightily against the Caps recently, going 1-5-1 since the start of the 2011-12 season. In those seven games, the Habs had been outscored 22-10, including being shutout twice. Four of their 10 goals came in their lone win, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Habs have been curb-stomped by the Caps lately.

The Canadiens are best described as an up-and-down team this season, and with backup Peter Budaj starting last night’s tilt against a Caps team featuring a renewed Alex Ovechkin, the initial knee-jerk reaction may have been to write off the game entirely and look forward to a traditional Saturday night game. Even the most off-beat uk betting sites couldn’t have predicted how last night’s game would have unfolded.

The Habs got even-strength goals from noted non-sniper Travis Moen, as well as goals from the stone-cold duo of David Desharnais and Daniel Briere, the latter’s coming on the powerplay. Taking in to account the entire roster, guessing that Josh Gorges would be the guy to pick up two assists to lead the team would have been somewhere between a longshot and a miracle. Wait, there’s more weirdness on this Freaky Friday. Despite having Ryan White and Brandon Prust in the lineup, it was PK Subban who dropped his mitts and sat for five minutes.

If you’ve watched any sport for long enough, you probably think you’ve seen it all, but as is clear from last night’s game, there’s always room for more odd-ball occurrences. What the hockey gods have planned for tonight’s game vs the Penguins is anybody’s guess, but it’s safe to say that expecting ham-fisted checking wingers and 4th line grinders to bail out the Habs against Crosby and his traveling death squad is a fool’s bet.

Then again, we do remember those 2010 playoffs, right?


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