Has there ever been a more boring start to an NHL off-season than this one? Granted, the free-agent pool might not be as deep as it has been in years past, and is only going to keep on getting thinner due to all of these mega-deals, but still, there are enough names out there for this to have been a pretty exciting few weeks in July. It’s funny that when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise actually signed, aside from the initial, “Wow! Minnesota got both!” reaction, the excitement was limited, and people stopped talking about it within two days. Now if Parise had gone to the Rangers, Flyers, or Penguins, and Suter to the Red Wings, not only would we still be talking about it, but suicide hotline workers would be raking in overtime cash.
The waiting is finally over: the Minnesota Wild have signed both of the NHL’s highly coveted free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, to mega-deals worth $98 million over 13 years. While I would argue against Suter being worth as much as Parise, I suppose it is a rather symbolic gesture that the two American players who probably took so long to sign so they knew for sure that is where the other one was going to go, would receive identical deals. This is a great day for the Minnesota Wild, which has an excellent fan base and atmosphere for hockey. This is a team that has never really succeeded, despite continuing support. They got off to a strong start last season and eventually faded away and out of playoff contention due to poor coaching. Thanks to these signings, though, they are going to be major factors in the Western Conference for many years to come. Throw Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom, and to a lesser extent, Devin Setoguchi into the mix, and you have one of the strongest teams in the west.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s game day at last, with the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils slated for a big Game Six matchup in just under ten hours. This series has been very exciting, regardless of who you root for, but a lot has also been happening off the ice as well; some crazy, some stupid, some funny. (Okay, it’s the NHL so of course it’s mostly stupid.) It’s time we take a look at that, and go Around the NHL…
- When NHL games were being played on Versus, and before that, the ridiculous Outdoor Life Network, there was never a limit to the amount of what we hockey pundits could make fun of, because those networks were just…well…stupid. Remember when hockey games were being sandwiched between deer hunting, bass fishing, and extreme cage fighting? Remember when the network changed, and they launched a campaign for fans to show them your “V” (which stood for Versus…I hope; whatever that meant). Bottom line is, the networks were so bad that no one ever really made fun of the actual broadcast, because it looked like Emmy-worthy material when combined with everything else. Now that the NHL is on the highly esteemed NBC Sports Network (if I rolled my eyes any harder at that, they would get stuck facing the inside of my head), broadcasts are losing some of their luster. Aside from Mike Emrick, whose announcing has been flawless, does anyone see a point to having Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olcyk even being a part of the team? They add absolutely nothing; no enlightening comments, no inside knowledge, no nothing. All Pierre does is loft obvious questions with obvious answers toward Eddie, who, nine times out of ten, completely ignores it before saying something else. “I’d say that was a good save, wouldn’t you, Eddie?” No, you idiot, it was horrible. Tie game in the third period, why would that be a good save?
Well, this is what we were all waiting for: the series of the year. While fans of the New York Rangers rooted wholeheartedly for the Florida Panthers, and, dare I say it, Philadelphia Flyers in the first two rounds, the New Jersey Devils’ fans cheered on the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals with a passion. All the ill-wishing was for naught, however, as it is only by destiny and the fate ordained to us by the Hockey Gods (with a little consideration for league economics; did you hear that sound at about 10:15 Saturday night? That was the thud of NBC Sports Corporation executives jumping up and down) that these are the two teams which will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, the prelude to the Stanley Cup. These two teams met there once before, when the Rangers defeated them in seven games back in 1994, thanks to a double-overtime winner by Stephane Matteau, but that moment is long gone now, except for the Devils that hold onto the final shred: the only player still currently playing that was on either team, Martin Brodeur. That was his first full season, and now many think this one will be his last—either way, you can be sure that the Rangers would love nothing more than to see Brodeur’s career begin and end with a Conference Finals loss at their hands, while Brodeur will do everything in his power to have the last laugh this time.
I thought it was time for a fresh voice on the blog to peddle the bemusement that we fans of the New York Rangers have experienced over the last few weeks. While in my last article, I briefly explained why bringing back Sean Avery (in response to fan chants on opening night) was a bad idea or just not going to accomplish anything, it seems that management is actually going to listen to the Garden Faithful (or as some say, Brainless) on this one, as they will be recalling Avery today. Should he not get claimed by another team, he would be available Thursday night against Anaheim.
To voice his frustration and critique on the matter, I have asked my good friend “Gootz”, as we call him, to contribute a guest post, and I hope that he will be a regular columnist on this blog, since it becomes rather tiresome voicing the same frustration over, and over, and over again. Gootz currently serves as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel for the Danbury Whalers of the FHL. Below is his posting:
By guest blogger Chris “Gootz” Hoeler
While attending opening night at the Garden this year, the ire of fans towards the New York Rangers’ organization about sending Sean Avery down to Connecticut was rather evident. A banner hung out over section 427 that wanted Avery back and suggested sending John Tortorella down to the Whale instead. Later in the evening, a loud “We Want Avery” chant went up, as the Rangers seemed lifeless. My reaction? Head in my hands.
Do I like Sean Avery? Yes. I like the way he plays and the way he jaws with other players. It gets things going and I like having characters in a professional sports scene where many people are very bland. But Sean isn’t the answer here.
He provided a spark to the Rangers when he first arrived in New York a few years ago and did so a few other times. But it is now over, Rangers’ fans. We all know that everyone believes that John Tortorella has neutered Avery and made him useless. If people believe that, then why bring him up? And even if you don’t subscribe to that belief, does anyone here really think Sean Avery is going to be the offensive dynamo that this team needs to start lighting the lamp consistently? Probably not. I was an advocate for having Sean on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik and at this point, if Sean makes it up to New York, I am sure it will be tried. Would I like it to work? Absolutely. Do I think it is going to? No.
I want this team to be successful and am willing to try anything at this point because the team seems completely lost right now. Sean may or may not be apart of that but what bothers me the most about this whole situation is how many people seem to think bringing Sean back is going to magically bring this team to the top of the conference and everyone can tell Tortorella “I told you so”. The problems run a bit deeper than this. Marc Staal has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth and no one knows anything about when he may be coming back. Addressing the defense and making that stronger will certainly help issues.
But Ranger fans need to realize that this is most likely the last we will see of Sean Avery in a Ranger uniform, assuming he doesn’t get claimed by another team. I would love to be totally wrong and see him come up here and spark this team but people need to be realistic and look at the bigger picture here. The Rangers have bigger problems on the ice than Sean Avery, who, as God-like as he is to some fans, cannot solve them with an almighty wave of his stick, like he did in front of Martin Brodeur’s face.
Well, we knew it was going to come down to Sean Avery and Erik Christensen. Just who would land the spot as the 13th forward for the New York Rangers? This morning, it was announced that the Rangers plan to place Avery on waivers, thus ending his second stint on Broadway, one not nearly as glamorous as his first. In a way, this is a bit of an end of an era. Avery came here in 2007 in a trade with Los Angeles, and immediately made an impact when he barreled into Martin Brodeur in a game shortly after. From that moment on, he was a fan favorite, and shown undying affection no matter what the situation was, for better or for worse. But in recent seasons, ever since he returned from Dallas, his play began to slip and he started to lose his aggressive and agitating touch. The NHL’s Bad Boy was becoming just another bottom-six checking forward, but with a pretty hefty price tag. There is no doubt that was the main reason in the end, why it was him over Christensen to be waived; the additional $1 million the Rangers pick up could very well go to bringing in a veteran defenseman to replace the injured Staal.
Though I was never really a fan of Avery’s, I would much rather see him on the team than Christensen, who, when he does not score, is completely useless. Avery, on the other hand, can check and fight, and when he is on his game, can reclaim the past glory he had as one of the most annoying players in the league. I do not expect Christensen to be here much longer either, but only time will tell if this really was the right move. Avery’s NHL career might be done with now, because I do not see many teams who would risk bringing his personality into a locker room, especially when he carries a $4 million price tag for the rest of this season. He will probably have to explore other options in Europe if he wants to play hockey, but my guess is that he will retire, and keep himself busy with politics and possibly even the fashion industry. That is not a knock on him, because that is where his mind seems to have truly been. Perhaps if he was focused more on hockey, he would still be playing.
As for Dale Weise being claimed by the Vancouver Canucks, I am very sad to see him go. I interviewed him before last season, and we have remained in contact ever since. He is a really nice guy, but clearly, there was just no room for him here. Hopefully he will see plenty of NHL action north of the border, and I wish him the best of luck!
With the way fans of the New Jersey Devils have been acting this season, you would think they were Union Army soldiers in the middle of December 1862 with Ambrose Burnside at the helm. Okay, so Lamoriello and Lemaire are not too far off from that level of ineptitude, and that has caused fans to turn a blind eye to how terrible the team has been this season. We could sit here and joke around all day that the Devils never really had a large fan base to begin with, that aside from games against the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, no one bothers to risk their life trekking through the streets of Newark to that beacon of false hope known as the Prudential Center.
It’s a shame that with such a beautiful arena, the Devils have no one to sit inside and watch them play. They had all their glory at that crumbling piece of concrete and asbestos Continental Airlines Arena, which included three Stanley Cup victories, but at this new arena, they have only three playoff wins. If they would not mind, I would contact Mega Movers and see if they can put the stadium on a truck and haul it over to New York so the Rangers can use it. At least in their mediocrity over the years, there were still fans in the seats.
Even when the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven straight years, there was still a good amount of people who ventured down to Madison Square Garden. They might not have sold out, but they certainly had more than the average 7,000 degenerates who show up for Devils games. The reason I say that is because they are just not too bright; they seem concerned about other teams before their own. It is because they have an inferiority complex, knowing that their team is smack in the middle of the New York and Philadelphia markets. To the north is Rangers’ fans, to the south, Flyers’, and they just cannot get it through their thick skulls that no one cares about New Jersey Devils hockey. This drive to be recognized and make people think that the Devils fan base is wide-ranging is what prompted them to move to Newark in the first place, because fans could now take the train in from New York City, but what they did not realize is that there are no Devils fans in the City. Hell, there aren’t many Devils fans in New Jersey. But I applaud their management for being so considerate to Rangers fans for providing them with an easier way of transportation for three games a season.
This complex is what prompts them to chant “Rangers suck!” rather than “Let’s go Devils”. They whistle their stupid little tune and then all ten fans in attendance scream out against their neighboring rivals. This would not be so bad if it was just at Rangers-Devils games, but they do this 41 times a year. Every single game, old and young fans yell at the top of their lungs about how the Rangers suck. I guess they haven’t taken a look at the NHL standings in the recent months.
Needless to say, I am extremely happy with the way this season is evolving. The Devils sit in dead last place, the laughingstock of the entire NHL, made so by their undying summer quest of trying to lock up Ilya Kovalchuk for eternity. We have all been predicting this for many years, you know, and of course Devils’ fans wanted no part of the truth, because they thought Martin Brodeur was going to stay spry and agile into his 40′s. Now he’s 38 and he is starting to look like a 38-year-old. The unbelievable saves he made in years’ past are now easy goals, while even mediocre shots have been able to find a way past him—just ask Brian Boyle about that one.
The funny part is, it is entirely his fault. Rather than be a team player and focus on championships in later years, he has tried to play as many games as possible, only so he can own every NHL goaltending record. The Devils embarrassing playoff exits three seasons in a row, to the Rangers, Hurricanes, and Flyers have been proof of that, because Brodeur has been on of the main culprits, showing how tired he is. Looks like the Devils won’t have to worry about that this season.
Anyway, what angers me is that the fans are not sticking by to watch this disaster unfold. Even last night, at the cusp of yet another loss, there were no boo’s in the crowd. Oh silly me, that’s because there were more Rangers’ fans than Devils’ fans—poor example on my part. Instead of booing and showing frustration, fans are choosing just to not show up, but that really is not making an impact because they never really showed up to begin with. Even some of my friends, who have been fans their entire life are not even watching the games on TV. I asked one last night if he watched the game and he responded, “Oh, they were playing?” He wasn’t be sarcastic either. These fans genuinely don’t care anymore. It does not matter how bad your favorite team is, but to not turn on a rivalry game? That’s just pathetic. I have only one friend who watches them on a nightly basis. He sits in his recliner with his infant son on his lap, and a glass of hard liquor on the rocks in one hand, to try to teach his kid how to not play hockey. The glass just makes it more easier.
I tell my one friend all the time, who I always ask if he is watching, that it isn’t fair. Other teams have had seasons like this (cue the Flyers in 06/07) and fans actually stood by the team, even if they booed more than cheered. The Devils are going to be bad like this for the foreseeable future because they have no farm system, more importantly, no goaltender who can fill Brodeur’s shoes (before you bring up Jeff Frazee, let’s be real here), and half the aging veterans have no-trade-clauses. In other words: you’re stuck. The Devils enjoyed success for so long, which you could argue was false success because of their boring, trapping ways, but it was success nonetheless. Now they are having a bad season, their first since 1996 and fans can’t take it. They are showing what kind of fans they truly are, and what they have been all these years.
The standings may show the New Jersey Devils to be the worst team in the league, but tonight, when the New York Rangers came to town, they upped their game considerably and battled hard for the entire night. The Rangers would eventually overcome them, with a 3-1 win, but it was a hard-fought sixty minutes by both teams. I stated earlier this afternoon that the Rangers could not take them lightly, and as close as the score was, I do not think that was the case. The Rangers did not play very well, but they were not terrible. The Devils, meanwhile, played very well but when you are in the midst of a season like this, the breaks do not go your way. This would be evident in the ensuing three periods.
- First period: The Devils got off to a great start by keeping the puck in the Rangers end and cracking the score sheet just over six minutes in. With Henrik Lundqvist down and a scramble in the crease, Travis Zajac shot one past Marc Staal who almost got his skate on it. This would cause some worry in the Rangers, as they were getting badly outplayed, but then Brian Boyle (14) would counter with the tying goal less than a minute later. It started in their own zone with Brandon Prust, who carried the puck out and gave it to Ruslan Fedotenko, who fed Boyle for a quick shot, that hit off the bottom of Martin Brodeur’s glove. Needless to say, it was an extraordinarily soft goal that he should have had, but the Rangers will take it. They would only muster up 5 shots in the period, but Brodeur looked shaky, and they may have scored more goals had they not been outplayed so severely. The Devils would have 16 shots and control play for the majority of the period. The Rangers were lucky to get out tied.
- Second period: As unstable as Brodeur was in the first period was as good as he looked in the second. The Rangers still did not generate an adequate number of shots, but Brodeur made several nice saves, including one on Sean Avery later in the period. The tempo of play also increased, as the game became more hard-hitting and even prompted a fight between Boyle and Dainus Zubrus, who is nothing but a gutless thug. The Rangers would end up giving up 20 more shots in the middle frame, bringing the Devils’ game total to 36, but that would not stop the Rangers from taking the lead 2-1, on a goal by Michal Rozsival (3). Stepan would get the puck to Dubinsky behind the night, who fed Rozsival at the right circle, and his shot appeared to be going wide, before it took a dramatic deflection off Andy Greene and past Brodeur short-side. Lundqvist was keeping the team in the game.
- Third period: The two teams kept playing hard, and the Rangers would get a glorious scoring chance early, with a four-minute powerplay. However, the Devils would kill it off easily and the score would remain the same. The Rangers were able to keep pressure off Lundqvist, who had a heavy workload through two periods. He would end the game with 43 saves in total, a season high. The game would wind down and Jason Arnott was just inches away from tying the it late, when he was a foot away from the crease with the puck on his stick and a wide open net, but he shot it over the top of the net and into the crowd. Brandon Dubinsky would ice the game with an empty net goal, sealing a 3-1 victory against the Devils.
The Rangers did not play a very good game tonight—it was not terrible, but I don’t think they were prepared for a Devils team who obviously had tonight’s rivalry matchup circled on their calendar. In other words, they were extremely lucky to come away with a win tonight, and thanks to a blooper first goal, a lucky bounce on the second, and some amazing goaltending, they were able to keep the Devils reeling, and winless with Jacques Lemaire as coach.
Chris Drury also had a sub-par game tonight. He took a very bad offensive zone penalty with under four minutes remaining in regulation, and luckily the team was able to kill it off. He is still looking for his first goal since his return from a broken hand.
Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle continue to be this team’s unsung heroes. They work hard every night and have developed unbelievable chemistry with their other line mate, Ruslan Fedotenko. They have become a true joy to watch on this team, and they deserve some powerplay time, while Gaborik and Co. continue to struggle just getting shots on goal.
And so the Rangers close out 2010 with a victory over their rivals. It really was not as much fun tonight, beating up on the worst team in the league, but a win is a win, and the Rangers did exactly what they needed to do.
The New York Rangers did exactly what they needed to do on Monday night, when the lowly Islanders came to town. The 29th place Islanders had actually mounted together a couple of wins, and since they always play the Rangers tough, they could not afford to be taken lightly. After the first twenty minutes of play, it looked like the evening was slated to be a classic game in which the Rangers played down to an inferior opponent, as the score was 2-2 and both goals they allowed were soft. However, when push came to shove in the next forty minutes, the Rangers were able to pound the Islanders into submission with a 7-2 defeat.
The Rangers, who lost the first meeting of the season between the two teams, before sweeping a home-and-home series earlier this month, had not blasted their crosstown rivals with a score like that in some time, because whenever these two teams meet, records seem to have no bearing. The last few seasons, when the Islanders have been bad, they always seem to play well against the Rangers. Meanwhile, in the mid-2000′s, when the Rangers were bad and Islanders were good, it was the Rangers who carried the play most of the time, including a six game season series sweep in 2003/04.
Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will be their opponent, a team that sits in last place in the league, with a horrendous 9-24-2 record and a -51 goal differential. The superstar they acquired this summer, Ilya Kovalchuk, has only eight goals and ten assists, and is a mind-numbing -26. The Rangers, if they want to succeed tonight, will have to look at this team as the Devils of old. They must not see their poor record or nonexistent offense which averages less than a goal per game. They must not see Martin Brodeur as an aged, mediocre goaltender with a 5-17-1 record, with a goals against average over three, they must see him as the winningest goaltender in NHL history.
The Rangers have a bad habit of playing poor against poor teams, but a Rangers-Devils game is anything but ordinary, and now that Brodeur is back, you can expect Sean Avery to be mixing it up with him as he usually does, and add David Clarkson to that as well. The Rangers need every point they can get if they want to continue this surprising run. They cannot afford to take a game off against the worst team in the league. They must attack them like they attacked the Islanders, and show no mercy. The Devils will be looking to play spoiler, and see a better Rangers team go down, but they cannot let that happen.
Henrik Lundqvist needs to be on top of his game, while Marian Gaborik needs to build on his performance Monday night, where he scored a goal and added an assist. I would also like to see Chris Drury rewarded for his hard work since he returned from injury, with a goal. Alex Frolov finally looks to be skating with a jump in his step, and they will need that the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Mats Zuccarello has been flying all over the place, showing some skill and even taking the body. I expect him to remain with the team for the rest of this season.
It’s a shame that the blame for this disastrous season of New Jersey Devils hockey will rest on the shoulders of a man who once was a fan favorite as a player for this team, one who scored nearly 350 goals while wearing the red, white, and black [and green]. John Maclean is in his first year as a head coach in the NHL, and he is finding out that games are not like the AHL, where it’s okay if the team loses, as long as the players learned something along the way. In the NHL, the big show, games are about winning—something the Devils have done only five times out of 20, and only once on home ice.
The blame can really be thrown in any direction: an aging Brodeur, a shoddy defense, an injury plagued start to the season, or perhaps even a cancerous acquisition in Ilya Kovalchuk, but nevertheless, it is John Maclean who will take the blame, for even though you can use any one of these aforementioned excuses, this team should not be this bad. They have not even been bad, that has been an understatement. Devils teams of the past who were based on 95% defense and 5% offense still found a way to average more than two goals a game, something that the Devils have not even come close to. They have scored a minuscule 36 goals in 20 games—it’s a miracle they have even won five games with that number. In return, they have also given up 65 goals, an amount that does not lead the league, but might as well since it is so disproportionate to their amount of goals scored.
Their goaltending, which has always been their one, true consistency, is in shambles. Martin Brodeur has been injured twice now, including this recent spell that will have him out the next two weeks. His stats this season are 4-10-1 with a goals against average of 2.74. I could jump on the wagon and say Brodeur was never that good to begin with, his numbers a product of a trap defense that had him facing only 20 shots a night, but for now, I will leave that alone as more attention does not need to be brought upon it from someone who is not a Devil’s fan—they can now see it for themselves. What does Brodeur have left to play for, exactly? He has three Stanley Cups, four Vezina’s, and almost every single goaltending record in the book. The drive towards those records reflected a player only playing for personal statistics found on the back of a hockey card, and not playing for his team, something that is so evident when looking at the amount of games he would play during the course of the season, an amount leaving him so tired that his team would be bounced out of the first round of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion. But that’s okay, he’s still the winningest goaltender in history. Keep telling yourself that, Marty.
Johan Hedburg, the Devil’s backup whose signing was praised as the next best thing since sliced bread, has been atrocious this season. His record is only 1-2-1, but his GAA is a bloated 4.53, and the Devils look like they will now be relying on call-up Mike McKenna to hold down the fort until Marty the Magnificent can make his gallant return. With no amazing prospects in the farm system, aside from Jeff Frazee who is said to be solid, the Devils are empty in the goaltending department, and should consider drafting one this season with their first round pick. But they will have to choose wisely, because one of the picks will be taken away by the NHL as punishment for the Kovalchuk fiasco.
As for Ilya Kovalchuk, I already said previously that the Devils had 27 games last season to see what he would bring, in terms of putting extra fans in the seats and developing chemistry. What they got was a point per game player, but nothing outstanding. He continued to be his same old self, being lazy on defense and pretending to not know what backchecking is. The truth is, to write about Ilya Kovalchuk would be cause for a separate article as his season has been a microcosm of the Devils: all promise, and all fail. Remember during the preseason when the Kovalchuk-Zajac-Parise line was tearing it up and scoring two goals a game? Remember when The Hockey News picked the Devils to finish in fifth? Parise’s injury cannot be why this season has gone by the wayside. Kovalchuk is a six-time 40 goal scorer—you don’t score 342 goals before reaching age 28 by being terrible. No, the blame will rest on the shoulders of coach John Maclean, who has not been able to motivate this team.
It is worthy of mention that last night, as the Devils were having yet another loss handed to them, Maclean could be standing on the bench with his arms crossed and shaking his head, the obvious frustration strewn all over his face. But unfortunately, shaking your head does not translate into anger with your players. I am not one to advocate a coach having a conniption, but if there is a team in the league that needs such a wake up call, it would be the Devils. Had it not been for the New York Islanders losing twelve in a row, and the Edmonton Oilers stuck in the middle of a rebuild-and-learn season, the Devils would be occupying last place all by themselves. But still, this team is not so bad that they should be playing like this.
Jacques Lemaire coached this team to their best regular season in franchise history last year, winning 48 games. What thanks does he get? He was booed out-of-town because fans were sick of defensive hockey. “Give us run and gun!” they said, begging Old Lou for an offensive minded coach, and this preseason, fans got their wish when the Maclean-lead Devils were tearing through opponents on the score sheet. But when the regular season started, that all went away. The team did have the offensive tools in Parise, Kovalchuk, Zajac, Elias, Rolston, and Arnott, but the defense was just not there to protect the team’s 38-year-old goaltender. The goals against mounted while the goals for went down, to compensate for the lost defense. Maclean is now left there with no options to go to. He cannot spark his superstar, because Kovalchuk is now in one of his frustrated moods, and he cannot wait for Parise to return, because it will be too late.
If the Devils want any hope at salvaging this season, they will need to fire John Maclean. When they get healthy, they are just one large winning streak away from coming close to contention, and then one more from surmounting the deficit they have created. It may sound crazy, but the Devils are not done yet—every season we sit back and say that this is the year they miss the playoffs, and every year they make it. This season we said nothing, and look at what has happened. The Devils are one team that can still salvage this season, but they will need a new coach. There are not many options out there, but I can think of one that absolutely makes sense, and that is Bob Hartley. The ex-Avalanche and Thrashers head coach has Stanley Cup experience, has coached Kovalchuk in the past, and most importantly, plays a defense-first style. Devils fans may shudder at that phrase “defense-first”, but look at where it got you: three Stanley Cups and the top of the league’s respectability (before angering the league with the Kovalchuk situation).