Auston Matthews

Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

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Here we are, into the unknown…

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the NHL to put the 2019-20 season on “pause.” When will see hockey again? How will the rest of the season play out? Will the Stanley Cup be awarded? Those are questions that will remain unanswered for the moment.

As we wait for hockey’s return, let’s remember where we left off after Wednesday night’s NHL action.

The standings

The Capitals, Bruins, Blues, and Golden Knights are your four division leaders and the Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Avalanche, Stars, Oilers, and Flames are your No. 2 and No. 3 divisional seeds. Rounding out the playoff picture we have the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Jets, and Predators as the four wild cards.

Eager to find their way into a playoff spot, the Islanders, Rangers, Panthers, Canucks, Wild, and Coyotes are just a few points out.

The NHL could contemplate several options if there’s a timely return to playing games again. 

• The remainder of the season could be played with the beginning of the playoffs being pushed back beyond the original April 8 start date. 

• Cut down from 82 games to something in the 70’s and go from there. 

• End the regular season and use points percentage to determine the 16 playoff teams and seeds.

• Remember all that talk about “play-in” games like the NCAA basketball tournament? If there will not be a resumption of the regular season, teams can play a mini tournament to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference.

This situation is obviously very fluid and the NHL is contemplating a range of situations as they hope for a green light to play again.

There is the sense, though, that if the season extends into summer, it won’t affect the start of the 2020-21 schedule. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Sportsnet that he expects 2020-21 to be a “normal season.”

[RELATED: NHL decides to ‘pause’ regular season due to coronavirus]

That Brendan Lemieux hearing

The Rangers forward was scheduled to have a Friday hearing with the Department of Player Safety for his hit on Joonas Donskoi of the Avs.

Will we hear that announcement on Friday? Or will Lemieux have a long wait to not only learn his fate?

UPDATE:

The scoring races

Leon Draisaitl holds a 13-point lead over Oilers teammate Connor McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy:

Leon Draisaitl – 110 points
Connor McDavid – 97
David Pastrnak – 95 
Artemi Panarin – 95
Nathan MacKinnon – 93

Draisaitl is also in the mix for the Rocket Richard Trophy, but is five goals behind David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin, who each have scored 48 this season:

David Pastrnak – 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin – 48
Auston Matthews – 47
Leon Draisaitl – 43
Mika Zibanejad – 41

If there was a Gretzky Award for most assists, Draisaitl would have an edge there with 67, four more than McDavid and Artemi Panarin.

Leon Draisaitl – 67 assists
Artemi Panarin – 63
Connor McDavid – 63
John Carlson – 60
Brad Marchand – 59

The draft lottery picture

Here’s where the race to draft Alexis Lafreniere No. 1 overall stands:

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Calgary Flames — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Pierre LeBrun on Friday that a decision on the draft and scouting combine has not been made at this point. He did add, “The only thought to conducting an on-line draft (or one conducted telephonically/technologically) would be if there would be a need to do so.”

The post-lockout 2005 NHL Draft was held in an Ottawa ballroom and featured no fans and only the top 20 prospects in attendance.

Bettman said on Thursday that he “expects” the league to resume at some point and he wants to award the Stanley Cup this season. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursday that the league has reached out to teams to get arena availabilities through the end of July as part of preparing for what could happen next.

Then you also have the questions about what to do about free agency and when player contracts expire if the season goes beyond July 1? How is the 2020-21 salary cap, which was expected to rise, affected by this potential hit on revenue?

So many questions, and we don’t know when we’ll have any answers.

MORE:
Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead
Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19

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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.

Push for the Playoffs: In the event the push doesn’t go on pause

Push for the Playoffs if NHL does not pause regular season
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(Update: The NHL decided to “pause” the 2019-20 season, so Thursday’s games have been canceled. Read more.)

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2019-20 NHL season, barring a pause. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

As discussed in Thursday’s Morning Skate, it’s difficult to ignore the elephant in the room. While the NHL pushed the decision back on Wednesday, they’ll need to make the call soon. Will they put the season (and thus the Push for the Playoffs) on pause because of the coronavirus, much like the NBA, or will there be another solution? Could we see each team play multiple games in empty arenas?

A lot is unknown as of this writing.

Frankly, there’s also a lot to settle when it comes to various playoff races. If Thursday’s 10 games do take place, they will have serious implications for the standings.

Teams in dogfights for playoff spots cannot allow distractions to disrupt their games. That’s easier said than done, but teams like the Hurricanes, Panthers, Predators, Islanders, Coyotes, and others have little choice but to battle until the league blows the whistle to pause the Push for the Playoffs … you know, or not.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Bruins vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Lightning vs. Maple Leafs
Flyers vs. Penguins

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Blues vs. Predators
Golden Knights vs. Jets
Avalanche vs. Stars
Oilers vs. Flames

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Games canceled, season put on hold.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Bruins – 100 percent
Lightning – 100 percent
Capitals – 99.9
Flyers – 99.4
Penguins – 95.5
Hurricanes – 79.3
Maple Leafs – 73.9
Islanders – 53.2
Panthers – 43.6
Blue Jackets – 33
Rangers – 22.2
Canadiens – 0
Sabres – 0
Senators – 0
Devils – 0
Red Wings – OUT

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Blues – 100 percent
Avalanche – 100
Golden Knights – 99
Stars – 95.6
Oilers – 93.3
Canucks – 67.9
Flames – 65
Jets – 56.8
Predators – 54.7
Wild – 49.6
Coyotes – 15.5
Blackhawks – 2.6
Ducks – 0
Kings – 0
Sharks – 0

THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 2.5 percent
New York Rangers — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 110 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 97 points
David Pastrnak, Bruins – 95 points
Artemi Panarin, Rangers – 95 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 93 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

David Pastrnak, Bruins – 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 48 goals
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 47 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 43 goals
Mika Zibanejad, Rangers – 41 goals

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.

Looking at the NHL’s race to 50 goals this season

NHL Goal Leaders
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Boston’s David Pastrnak and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin are currently involved in a back-and-forth race for the NHL’s goal scoring crown, with both sitting just two goals away from reaching the 50-goal mark for the 2019-20 season.

Pastrnak will have a chance to get there on Tuesday night when his Bruins visit the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and try to snap their current nine-game winning streak.

Barring injury, it seems to be a lock that both players will eventually get there this season, while Toronto’s Auston Matthews (46 goals entering Tuesday’s game) should be right behind them.

Overall, there is a very real chance for the NHL to see at least four, and perhaps even five, 50-goal scorers this season with Pastrnak, Ovechkin, Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, and Mika Zibanejad all having a chance at it.

This would be a significant accomplishment.

How significant? Just consider that before this season there were only five 50-goal seasons in the league between the 2013-14 and 2018-19 seasons, and four of those seasons belonged to Ovechkin (Leon Draisaitl was the other player, reaching the mark last season). Go back as far as the 2010-11 season and that number only goes up to eight.

In other words: You are lucky if you see one 50-goal scorer in a single season.

The last time the NHL had at least five in one season was the 2005-06 season, while there have only been four seasons since 2000 where they were more than two (the ’05-06 sesaon, and three each in 2000-01, 2007-08, and 2009-10).

Here is a quick look at the current contenders this season,

A few random factoids about the race for 50 goals, just for some historical context.

  • With two more goals this season Ovechkin will hit the 50-goal mark for the ninth time in his career, which will tie him for the most ever alongside Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.
  • Pastrnak would be the first Bruins player to score 50 goals in a season since Cam Neely did it during the 1993-94 season.
  • Matthews would be just the fourth Maple Leafs player to reach it. Rick Valve scored 50 goals three different times during the early 1980s, Gary Leeman did it once, and Dave Andreychuk reached it most recently during the 1993-94 season.
  • Aho would need an absolutely incredible finish to the season to score 50, but it would make him just the second player in the history of the Hartford/Carolina franchise to do it. Blaine Stoughton did it twice for the Whalers (1979-80 and 1981-82). Even if he does not get to 50, he is still having an all-time great season for the Hurricanes. Eric Staal (twice) and Jeff O’Neil (once) are the only players to ever score 40 goals since the franchise relocated to Carolina.
  • It seems the only thing that is going to stop Zibanejad is the fact he has missed 13 games this season due to injury. Even with that he still has a decent shot at it. The only Rangers to ever score 50 goals: Jaromir Jagr (2005-06), Adam Graves (1993-94), and Vic Hadfield (1971-72).
  • Draisaitl’s current two-year run is already one of the most impressive and dominant runs the league has seen in decades. If he can score seven more goals that would give him back-to-back 50-goal seasons, which would put him on a very short list of players to do that over the past 25 years. That list: Ovechkin, Dany Heatley, and Mario Lemieux.

Even if it is just Pastrnak, Ovechkin, Matthews, and Draisaitl that get there it would still be a pretty dramatic change for goal scoring in the NHL after we went nearly a decade where only one player (Ovechkin) seemed capable of reaching it.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Pressure is on Maple Leafs

NHL Playoff Race
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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2019-20 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

There is a potential Round 1 playoff preview in Toronto on Tuesday night when the Maple Leafs play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is still only a potential Round 1 matchup at this point because the Maple Leafs are suddenly feeling quite a bit of pressure from a Florida Panthers team that is not quite ready to go away just yet.

Toronto enters Tuesday’s action riding a three-game losing streak (all on a Western Conference road trip that saw them lose to three of the league’s bottom teams) while having lost 10 of their past 17 games overall. It has been a maddening run of inconsistency where they have struggled to solidify their standing as a playoff team. Their recent slump, combined with the Panthers stacking a couple wins together (including Monday’s impressive 2-1 win against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues) has closed the gap between the two teams to just a single point. They now face a very real risk of not only dropping into a Wild Card spot, but perhaps even out of the playoff picture entirely. It is something that seemed almost unimaginable at the start of the season.

Given the expectations this team had at the start, as well as their struggles at times this season, their precarious spot in the playoff race would create enough pressure on its own. Now they have an absolutely brutal three-game stretch ahead of them this week that will see them play Tampa Bay, Nashville, and Boston. If they are going to solidify their standing in the playoff race, they are going to have to earn it.

While much of the criticism for this year’s Maple Leafs team falls on their defense and goaltending, the big culprit on their recent losing streak has been an offense that has gone cold, scoring just three goals in the three games (including only one over the past two games).

On Monday, coach Sheldon Keefe put his lines into a blender in an effort to help jumpstart the offense. He split up the Auston MatthewsMitch Marner duo, putting Matthews with Zach Hyman and William Nylander, while Marner skated alongside John Tavares and Kasperi Kapanen.

The Maple Leafs are also getting top defenseman Morgan Rielly back on Tuesday night after he missed the past two months due to a broken foot.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

WESTERN CONFERENCE

St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Winnipeg Jets
Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars
Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
New York Rangers vs. Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
New York Islanders vs. Vancouver Canucks, 10 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Boston Bruins — 100 percent
Tampa Bay Lightning — 100 percent
Washington Capitals — 100 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 99.9 percent
Pittsburgh Penguins — 94.2 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 76.2 percent
Toronto Maple Leafs — 67.1 percent
New York Islanders — 63.9 percent
Florida Panthers — 44.5 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 35.3 percent
New York Rangers — 18.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 0.4 percent
Buffalo Sabres — Out
Ottawa Senators — Out
New Jersey Devils — Out
Detroit Red Wings — Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES 

St. Louis Blues — 100 percent
Colorado Avalanche — 100 percent
Vegas Golden Knights — 98.9 percent
Edmonton Oilers — 98.3 percent
Dallas Stars — 97. 9 percent
Calgary Flames — 66.5 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 64.1 percent
Minnesota Wild — 56.2 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 49.9 percent
Nashville Predators — 47.1 percent
Arizona Coyotes — 19.2 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 2 percent
Anaheim Ducks — Out
San Jose Sharks — Out
Los Angeles Kings — Out

THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators — 13.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 11.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 7.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 6.5 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 6 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
New York Rangers — 2 percent
Florida Panthers 1.5 percent
New York Islanders — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Leon Draisaitl, Oilers — 110 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers — 96 points
David Pastrnak, Bruins — 94 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche — 93 points
Artemi Panarin, Rangers — 93 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals — 48 goals
David Pastrnak, Bruins — 48 goals
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers — 43 goals
Mika Zibanejad, Rangers — 39 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Top MVP candidates

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the biggest individual award race — the Hart Trophy for league MVP.

This is always a complicated argument because everyone has a different definition of what consists of “value.” Is it simply the the best player? Does the player have to be on a playoff team to be considered? Those are the questions that bring people to screaming matches the most in this discussion, and this season will almost certainly be the same. Especially since there does not seem to be a runaway favorite at this point.

With these rankings I’m trying to strike a balance between players I think deserve to win, and the players that have the most realistic chance of winning.

Who makes the list?

To the rankings!

The Favorites

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He might be the perfect candidate this season because he checks absolutely every box any MVP voter could possibly have. He is the best player on one of the league’s best teams. He has helped carry that team through injuries. He is one of the league’s top scorers and, at this point, one of the best overall players. There is not a single mark against him or his case at this point.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Recent history suggests players that the scoring title by the margin Draisaitl is on pace to win it by tend to be slam-dunk MVP winners as long as their team makes the playoffs. Barring some kind of incredible meltdown over the next month, the Oilers will be in the playoffs, so he has that going for them. The only factors that might hold him back are the presence of Connor McDavid on his team, and the fact his defensive impact isn’t great. But another 50-goal season and 125 points would certainly get a lot of attention.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. He has a shot at becoming just the third-player in the past 20 years to hit the 60-goal mark while also taking the Rocket Richard award away from Alex Ovechkin. Both would be significant accomplishments. Combined with his all-around player he has rapidly become one of the league’s best players.

4. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. He has been worth every penny the Rangers paid him this summer. But with the team being a real long-shot to make the playoffs at this point his standing is going to take a hit in the eyes of many voters. But he will still get votes (probably a lot of them, too) because he has been the single biggest reason the Rangers have remained in playoff contention as long as they have.

5. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. It is absolutely crazy that after losing out on the MVP award in each of the past two years because the team around him completely stunk, he is going to lose out on the MVP this year because he missed a few games and his teammate (Draisaitl) is having an historically great year.

The second tier contenders

6. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. This guy needs more attention. Pettersson has been a franchise-changing talent in Vancouver, while presence has rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild. He is quickly turning into a complete force all over the ice. A one-man highlight reel every shift.

7. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Hellebuyck is the single biggest reason the Jets are in playoff contention right now. He has not only been a workhorse in net, playing a ton of games and facing more shots than any other goalie in the league, he has also been outstanding. The Jets needed an MVP effort from him this season to be competitive, and he has more than delivered.

8. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The reigning league MVP should probably be getting a little more attention than he currently is. He is on track for his third consecutive 100-point season.

9. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Hate him all you want, the list of wingers in the NHL that make a bigger impact than him is small enough to be counted on one hand.

Worthy of consideration

10. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. He faced a lot of criticism for his performance a year ago, but he has been a force for the Penguins this season and helped get them through a never-ending run of injuries. On a per-game level, this is the third-most productive seasons of his career behind only the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons. He finished in the top-two in MVP voting in those two years.

11. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs might be a disappointment as a team based on overall expectations, but Matthews is having one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history and is one of the few players on the roster that hasn’t failed to meet expectations.

12. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. He is having one of the best offensive seasons in NHL history. That alone will almost certainly get him the Norris Trophy, and it will probably get him more than a few MVP votes.

13. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Coming into the season it seemed as if Pacioretty’s days as an elite goal scorer were in the rear-view mirror. Not the case. He is having one of the best seasons of his career and is on track for close to 40-goals while also posting dominant possession numbers. I don’t know that his performance is getting enough attention, though, to put him at the top of the list. Even if it is good enough.

14. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. I don’t think he’s going to win, but he still has a shot to league the lead in goals on a potential division champion. He’s finished in the top-10 in voting four of the past five years and will probably be somewhere in that neighborhood again this season.

15. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. Bishop is one of the league’s best goalies, and has proven that over several years now. He has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy multiple times and very well could be there again this season. He also has a decent MVP argument given his overall play, combined with the fact the Stars are one of the league’s worst offensive teams among contenders.

16. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. He is very quietly on track for 45 goals this season and is one of the best possession-drivers in the league. He is the face of the Hurricanes’ franchise and the foundation for everything they have built (and are continuing to build).

17.  Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. In a season where almost the entire Blue Jackets roster has been decimated by injury (including Werenski himself for a stretch of games), Werenski has been a rock on their blue line and one of the driving forces of their offense. He’s on a 25-goal pace over 82 games and has helped keep his team in the race.

18. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. If there was any justice he would have a much better chance to win this season. Not only because his season deserves it for the season he is having, but because it is a shame that one of the league’s best, most exciting, and most impactful players is stuck on a franchise that hasn’t given him a chance to win. As it stands, he has virtually zero chance of winning simply because his team stinks. HIs season still deserves recognition.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.