Logan Couture

Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension

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For the San Jose Sharks, priority No. 1 has been checked off their offseason to-do list.

That bit came on Monday morning when the Sharks re-signed defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal worth what reports suggest will be $92 million once the team makes it official.

That’s a hefty chunk of change for one of the game’s premier rearguards, and rightly so. A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson has game-breaking capabilities from the back end. It’s not surprising that he’s one of the highest paid players in the NHL.

But behind the elation general manager Doug Wilson is feeling at the moment, there also has to be a bit of trepidation.

With Karlsson’s contract expected to be in the $11.5 million AAV region, that leaves the Sharks with roughly $13 million in cap space remaining and only 16 players signed, including 11 forwards.

It’s safe to assume that the end of an era is coming for someone in the Bay Area.

Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are both unrestricted free agents come July 1. Thornton has signed one-year deals with the club for several years now. Pavelski enters the free agent arena for the first time in five seasons after completing the final year of a five-year, $30 million deal.

[MORE: Sharks give Karlsson eight-year extension]

Both are integral parts of the Sharks. And the Sharks may have to let them walk this time.

At 39, Thornton’s on-ice play isn’t worth the $5 million he made last season. He’s the de facto leader of the team, but the Sharks simply can’t afford him at that price point again. If they want him back, a low-salary, bonus-laden contract could be an option.

Losing Pavelski, their captain, would also be a blow.

Despite being 34 (35 next season), Pavelski had 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games last season. Not bad for $6 million, and perhaps he goes the Thornton route for a few years and signs one-year deals that allow the Sharks some breathing room.

Does Pavelski deserve a longer-term commitment? Sure. But the Sharks are once again going all-in with the Karlsson signing and this might be Pavelski’s best shot at a Stanley Cup ring as a captain of the team.

Aside from the two superstars, the Sharks need to make sure they lock down some of their younger talent.

Joonas Donskoi is set to become a UFA, as is Gustav Nyquist — a trade deadline pick up who meshed well with the team.

Nyquist is likely the odd-man out here. Going by Evolving Wild’s free agent model projection, Nyquist, 29, could earn a six-year deal in the $5.7 million range. That’s too rich if you’re planning on keeping Thornton and Pavelski around.

Donskoi, 27, is projected to get a three-year deal in the $3 million average annual value region.

And then there’s the restricted free agent crop.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc have become great pieces for the Sharks and both now need raises.

Evolving Wild has Meier taking a six-year deal with a cap hit close to $6 million while Labanc is more affordable at three years and around $3.5 million.

Remember, the Sharks have $13 million to play with following the Karlsson extension.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Pavelski gets $7 million and Thornton gets $5 million. That’s $12 million and roughly $1 million left on the cap.

See the problem? And how many extensions do the Sharks want to give older players? Logan Couture‘s six-year, $8 million AAV deal kicks in next season. He’s 30. Brent Burns, 34, has six more years left on a deal that’s paying him the same amount as Couture per season.

The Sharks only need to look further down on a California state map to see Los Angeles and the devastating effects handing big contracts to old players can have.

Still, banners fly forever and the Kings have two of them and the Sharks have zero.

The Sharks could sell off some assets, too, including a Justin Braun ($3.8 million, one year left) or a Brenden Dillon ($3.2 million, one year left) on the back end for some cap relief.

And the point of this exercise is that someone has to go.

The question now is, who?

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Karlsson gets eight-year extension from Sharks

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The most coveted pending free agent defenseman won’t be making it to the dance.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Monday that “all signs” point to two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson re-signing with the Sharks, the only team that can offer the talented 29-year-old Swede an eight-year deal.

Not long after, fellow TSN insider Pierre LeBrun reported that the deal was done.

And then official announcement came from the team.

“We are extremely pleased that Erik and his wife Melinda have committed to the San Jose Sharks and that they have done so prior to July 1,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “Players with Erik’s elite level of talent are rare and when they become available, it’s important to be aggressive in pursuing them. He is a difference maker who consistently makes the players around him better. We are pleased that he has been proactive in addressing his injury from last season and are looking forward to him being part of our organization for a long time to come.

The Sharks wouldn’t disclose the terms of the deal, but according to McKenzie it’s in the $11.5 million per year range, making the total worth of the contract around $92 million. — in the realm of the $88 million Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty got last year.

The deal is the largest in Sharks’ history, besting both Brent Burns‘ and Logan Couture‘s eight-year, $64 million extensions.

The deal keeps Karlsson from hitting the open market, of course, on July 1. It also makes sure he doesn’t hit the courting period, which begins on June 23. The Sharks were the only team that could offer Karlsson the max eight years.

“I’m super excited to continue my journey with the Sharks,” said Karlsson. “Since my first day here, I have only good things to say about the people, organization and the fans. The entire Bay Area has been extremely welcoming to me and my family. I appreciate that and we can’t wait to spend the next eight years in San Jose.

“As far as hockey goes, I’m excited to continue the chase for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Last year was an unbelievable run but we didn’t achieve what we set out to do. But the dedication I witnessed from my teammates, coaches, staff and organization showed me that we all have a great future ahead of us, and that we are capable of fighting for that championship year in and year out.”

San Jose’s gain is a big loss to a few other teams that were in contention, including the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others reported — perhaps even a stunning return to Ottawa, as reported earlier this month.

[MORE: Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension]

Karlsson was traded to the Sharks last summer by the Senators, the team that drafted him 15th overall in 2008 and one he put on his back in 2017 as the Sens marched to the Eastern Conference Final before losing in overtime in Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

At the time, the move appeared to provide the Sharks with a defensive core to die for.

Karlsson joined Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and other solid pieces that were supposed to carry the Sharks deep into the playoffs.

“It’s extremely rare that players of this caliber become available,” Wilson said at the time of the trade. “The word ‘elite’ is often thrown around casually but Erik’s skillset and abilities fit that description like few other players in today’s game. With Erik, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, we feel we have three of the NHL’s top defencemen and stand as a better team today than we were yesterday.”

Karlsson started slow with the Sharks but regained his stride along the way, finishing with 45 points in 53 games. But it’s that game total that was a big issue throughout the year.

Karlsson dealt with multiple groin injuries right up until the Sharks were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final. Karlsson had to watch the decisive Game 6 in that series from the press box as the nagging problem.

It’s not the ideal season, but the Sharks appear fine with gambling on that groin after Karlsson had surgery on it earlier this month.

It will be interesting to see how the Sharks navigate the salary cap after the Karlsson deal. It appears someone will have to go from the UFA pack of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Thornton and Pavelski would command the most in terms of dollars (perhaps there’s room for one-year, low-salary, bonus-laden contracts for both.

The Sharks also have Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, both restricted free agents in a need of a raise.

Meanwhile, attention for a top-pairing defenseman should now shift to Winnipeg Jets rearguard Jacob Trouba.

Trouba’s a restricted free agent but is likely to be dealt at some point this week or at the 2019 NHL Draft this coming weekend. A 50-point d-man last year, Trouba is a solid top-pairing defenseman that can play in all phases of the game.

The issue with Trouba at the moment is that any team willing to pay Winnipeg’s price tag needs to be darn certain they can extend him.

A small piece of consolation in Ottawa: The Senators will gain San Jose’s 2021 second-round selection because of the extension for Karlsson.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Game 7 X-factors, Conn Smythe contenders

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Is Tuukka Rask the only Conn Smythe candidate at this point, win or lose? Is there Blues player who has a shot?

SEAN: With what Rask has done this postseason, he probably should take it, win or lose, but there is a strong case for Ryan O’Reilly. He’s second in scoring among all players and has picked up his offensive game in the Stanley Cup Final with four goals and seven points. Since the award is for the entirety of the playoffs, outside of the San Jose series where he had a measly one goal and five points, he’s produced regularly and played a huge part in shutting down the top offensive threats on the other side of the ice.

JAMES: Look, points aren’t everything, but it says a lot that only two players who’ve scored more points than Logan Couture‘s 20 (Brad Marchand with 23, Ryan O'Reilly at 21). Not ideal when Couture’s Sharks were eliminated on May 21, and even then, Couture was on a three-game pointless drought.

For years, I’ve grumbled about should-be Conn Smythe winners losing out just because their teams didn’t win. In my opinion, Jarome Iginla and Chris Pronger should have had at least one playoff MVP apiece. No one deserves the Conn Smythe more than Rask, whether the Bruins win or the Blues break their Stanley Cup curse.

ADAM: I am 100 percent certain that if the Blues win someone on their team will get it, that does not mean I have to agree with it. Rask is everything the playoff MVP should be, win or lose. He has been the best player on the ice the entire postseason, he has played at a historically good level for his position, and is quite literally the single biggest reason his team is here. Without him playing the way he has they lose to Toronto or Columbus in the first or second round, and he pretty much broke the Hurricanes early in the Eastern Conference Final series. While the Blues have a great team and a lot of excellent players having really good postseasons, there is not one player on the team that reaches that level we have seen from Rask. If I had a vote, it is Rask win or lose.

JOEY: I think Rask has been unbelievable throughout the playoffs, but I don’t think I’d give him the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Bruins don’t get the job done in Game 7. In my mind, there are a couple of worthy candidates if the Blues hoist Lord Stanley. First, Ryan O’Reilly has to be a strong candidate. He’s put up points and he’s been terrific on the defensive end, too. I know there was a point last round where he didn’t produce as much, but he has to be up there. I also think Alex Pietrangelo has to be considered. He’s logged some heavy ice time and he’s been productive, too.

SCOTT: Rask is the only choice, although history has defied that many times over. But you can’t tell me for a second that Rask hasn’t been the best player for the majority of it. I can field an argument for Ryan O’Reilly, but only because it’s become increasingly rare for a non-winning team’s player to get the award. Given that, if St. Louis wins, it likely gets placed into the hands of ROR. And that would be shame to not recognize, win or lose, what Rask has done to get the Bruins this far.

RYAN: Ryan O’Reilly has an outside shot of winning the Conn Smythe Trophy if St. Louis takes Game 7, but even then Tuukka Rask is the heavy favorite.  The only scenario where I think Rask would fall short of the award is if he absolutely collapses in Game 7.  Assuming he at least has an okay game, he’ll win the Conn Smythe even if the Bruins lose.

Getty Images

Who is your X-factor for each team and why?

SEAN: Ryan O’Reilly has been the engine for the Blues in the Cup Final. He’s played a strong two-way game that has put him ahead of the line on the roster for Conn Smythe Trophy consideration. For the way he leads that top line and how he’s been successful at helping neutralize the Bruins’ top line at times through six games, they’ll need him at his best one more time. Tuukka Rask has not had a game this postseason with a sub-.900 save percentage. That’s huge, and it’s a reason why the Bruins will need him again in an anything goes Game 7. 

JAMES: David Perron‘s been able to possess the puck in the offensive zone, and has 16 SOG in the series, but only a goal and an assist to show for it. A player with his skills could break open a tense situation like a Game 7. Speaking of being limited to only a goal during this series, Patrice Bergeron‘s stuck at a single tally despite 21 SOG (though his three assists give him a solid four points in six games). I’d wager that Bergeron is playing through an injury, but even with that in mind, the all-world, two-way center feels due for some puck luck. What better time for that to happen than Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final?

ADAM: Jaden Schwartz was so white-hot for the Blues for most of the playoffs and he’s just kind of disappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. He was never as good as he looked in the first part of the playoffs, he was never as bad as he looked during the regular season. There’s a middle ground there and the middle ground is a darn good player. I think he’s due to make an impact in this series and maybe score a big goal for the Blues. On the Boston side, I think I am looking at Jake DeBrusk. He has points in four of his past five games and seems to be getting better as this series goes on.

JOEY: I’m going back to Pietrangelo here. The Blues will need him to play 24 or 25 minutes (more if Game 7 goes to overtime) and they may need him to help set up some of his teammates, especially on the power play. All the players mentioned by others on this list will be key, but Pietrangelo is one of the key veterans on the team. As for the Bruins, I’m looking for David Pastrnak to come up with some big goals. He’s gone hot and cold at different points this postseason but Boston needs him to come up big on Wednesday night.

SCOTT: Brad Marchand. He knows how to get the job done in a Game 7 to decide the Stanley Cup Final. If you’ve done that once, it’s often more experience than anyone else has on the ice. The Bruins have five players who’ve been in this spot before. Marchand had two goals and three points as a rookie in 2011. The pressure didn’t seem to get to him that day. With several more years and now on a third Stanley Cup run, and the demons of 2013 still fresh enough pinch, I think Marchand plays a big role.

RYAN: Jordan Binnington has been more hit-than-miss in the playoffs, which is impressive for a rookie, but there nevertheless have been misses.  For the Blues to win Game 7, Binnington needs to be at the top of his game.  Patrice Bergeron is a big X-Factor for the Bruins.  He’s been somewhat quiet at times in this series, having been held off the scoresheet in four of the first six games.  He’s also minus-four and has averaged 17:31 minutes, down from 19:10 over the first three rounds.  He has the power to change the course of a game though, both on the ice and through his leadership.  A big night from him would make all the difference.

Finally, let’s hear it: Who wins Game 7?

SEAN: It’s Game 7, nothing that happened in the previous six games matters. Discipline, top players getting shut down, hot goaltending… this is the final game of the season and everyone knows what’s on the line. I think the Bruins shake off the Blues’ attempts at establishing their forecheck and rough and physical style and eek out a close out. Jordan Binnington has been fine, but Tuukka Rask has been unbelievable. 

JAMES: I’m on the record of having no sweet clue what will happen, and this series has been almost jarring in its tonal shifts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blues win it all. I picked the Bruins head into the series, and as impressive as St. Louis has been, this Boston team seems like it has that fabled “extra gear.” So, I’ll choose Boston, with about as much confidence as someone has picking an AFC team other than the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl.

ADAM: Have been picking the Blues in every series from the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and am not going to go away from that now. They have been better on the road all postseason, they have always bounced back after tough games, they have been an outstanding team from top to bottom for months now. They win it.

JOEY: I had the Blues winning the series in seven games at the start so I have to stick with that now. Jordan Binnington will have a big say in who wins this game. If he struggles like he did in Game 6, the Blues will have a hard time winning it all. If he turns in another solid performance, there’s a good chance that this game will be low scoring. Give me St. Louis.

SCOTT: I picked the Bruins from the beginning on the playoffs and they haven’t let me down yet. Rask has been unbeatable in games that matter most and Bruins top line and power play seemed to get back to form in Game 6. Boston wins 4-1.

RYAN: My prediction going into this series was Blues in 7, so I’ll stick with that.  St. Louis has done a great job of bouncing back throughout the playoffs.  They just need to do it one more time after dropping Game 6.

Blues-Bruins Game 7 from TD Garden in Boston will be Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (live stream).

Looking at David Krejci’s postseason brilliance

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When the Boston Bruins open the 2019 Stanley Cup Final on Monday night (8 p.m. ET NBC; Live Stream) they will be playing in their third championship series in the past 10 seasons (tied for the most during that stretch with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks) and going for their second title with this current core of players.

This is shaping up to be one of the most successful eras in the history of the Bruins franchise and the quartet of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, and David Krejci has played a significant role in that success.

Out of that group the former three get the bulk of the attention, and for very different reasons.

Bergeron is the rock. He is the centerpiece of everything the Bruins do and has been as good of a two-way player as there is in the NHL for more than a decade now.

Chara is one of the greats from his era on the blue line, and along with Bergeron, helped make the Bruins one of the fiercest defensive teams in the league throughout the primes of their career.

As for Marchand … well … he is notable just because he is Brad Marchand. Everything he does is notable. A dominant offensive player, a pest, an agitator, and at the end of the day a player that every general manager in the NHL would love to have on their team, especially at his bargain of a cost against the salary cap.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The member of that group that tends to get overlooked the most is Krejci, but do not sleep on his production and the impact he has made on the Bruins over the years.

Especially in the playoffs.

While he has always been an excellent player in Boston he has never really been one that will put up huge numbers or finish near the top of the league in any category during the regular season. He is an outstanding second-line center that is going to be a 20-goal, 60-point player. At the start of every season you know exactly what he is going to give you, and he almost never lets you down.

You should also know by now that he is going to continue that production, and often times increase it, come playoff time. This season has been no exception.

Entering the series against the St. Louis Blues Krejci’s 14 points are third on the team (behind only Marchand and David Pastrnak) and continues what has been an outstanding career of postseason performances.

Just take a look at what he has done throughout his career in the playoffs.

  • Since the start of the 2010-11 playoffs, the year the Bruins won the Stanley Cup by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games, there are only five players (Sidney Crosby, Logan Couture, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, and Alex Ovechkin) in the NHL that have recorded more points than Krejci’s 80 during that stretch.
  • He has reached that level of production while getting almost no boost from the power play, where he has managed just 16 points during that stretch. It is almost entirely even-strength production. His 64 even-strength points since 2010-11 are second only to Crosby’s 67 points, with Krejci having played in four fewer games entering this series.
  • He is one of only 20 players in NHL history to have led the postseason in scoring (2010-11 and 2012-13) in scoring in a single postseason. Out of those 20, he is one of just 11 to do it since 1967 (when the league doubled in size from six teams to 12 teams).
  • His 101 postseason points for his career are the third most in Bruins history, trailing only Ray Bourque and Phil Esposito. John Buyck and Rick Middleton are the only other players in Bruins history to top the 100-point mark (both with exactly 100), while Bergeron will join that group with one more point in these playoffs.
  • This postseason alone he has been held without a point in just four games, and only two of the previous 15 games. He enters the series on a six-game point streak.

Whether the Bruins end up winning this series or not, Krejci has been a significant part of the team’s success both this season and in previous seasons. Outside of one dismal postseason performance in 2013-14 when he recorded just four assists in 12 games, he has been one of the most consistent and productive playoff performers in the league and one of the best in the history of the Bruins franchise.

If you are looking at things in terms of just raw numbers his overall postseason performance is pretty close to his overall regular season performance, which makes sense — he gets a lot of points because he is good, no matter when the games are being played. He averages around 60 points 82 games in the regular season, and his postseason average is around 67 points per 82 games. It is an increase, but not a huge one. Still, any increase in playoff scoring from regular season scoring is an impressive accomplishment because goals are tougher to come by in the playoffs, especially when you are not getting a huge boost from the power play. He has also had multiple postseasons where he has been one of the top scorers in the league, including this one where he enters the Stanley Cup Final in the top-10 across the league.

He may not be the biggest star on the Boston lineup, and he may not always get a lot of attention for what he does, but on the list of most significant players in Bruins history Krejci ranks up there with any of them given what he has done on the biggest stage.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has the better defensemen?
• Who has the better goaltending?
• Who has the better special teams?

• X-factors
• PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Roundtable: Secondary scoring, underrated players
• How the Blues were built
• How the Bruins were built
• Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites entering Stanley Cup Final

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Now that we are through the first three rounds of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy is really starting to sort itself out.

It is down to just two teams and both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues have several worthy contenders that have stood out as potential postseason MVPs.

Some of them have been dominant from the start, while others have started to make their presence known over the past couple of weeks.

It is time once again to check in on the top contenders in the PHT Power Rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. It is not a stretch to suggest that this is the best hockey Rask has ever played in the NHL. After allowing just five goals in the Bruins’ four game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, he now has a .942 save percentage in the playoffs and is helping to make what was an already great team a downright dominant team. He is one of just six goalies in NHL history to have a save percentage of .940 or better through their first 17 games in a single postseason, joining a list that includes only Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2002-03), Jonathan Quick (2011-12), Olaf Kolzig (1997-98), Henrik Lundqvist (2013-14) and … Rask himself once before (2013).

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Simply one of the most impactful skaters in the NHL. Love him or hate him, he is a total force on the ice in all three zones and he is putting together another tremendous postseason performance for the Bruins. His 18 points are second only to San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture (he finished the playoffs with 20 points in 20 games; Marchand’s per-game average is still higher) and he has already recorded six multi-point games (tied with Tomas Hertl for the most). That includes three games with at least three points, also tops in the league.

3. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has followed up what was one of the worst regular season performances of his career with a postseason that could be worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Blues end up winning the Stanley Cup. After scoring just 11 goals in 69 regular season games, Schwartz enters the Cup Final having already eclipsed that mark (12 goals) in the Blues’ first 19 playoff games. That includes a league-leading 10 even-strength goals, two game-winning goals, and two hat tricks. Yes, a lot of that goal-scoring spike is due to a 22 percent shooting percentage that certainly will not continue forever, but his underlying numbers are outstanding across the board. When he is on the ice the Blues are attempting more than 57 percent of the total shot attempts and generating more than 55 percent of the scoring chances. He is playing extremely well and when combined with a positive change in his shooting luck it has produced a huge postseason.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues. After a somewhat slow start to the playoffs, at least as it related to his point production, Tarasenko went on a tear at the absolute perfect time by recording at least one point in all six games of the Western Conference Final, finishing the series with eight total points, including three goals. He remains one of the most productive postseason goal-scorers in league history and is currently in the top-25 all-time in goals per game (among players with at least 40 postseason games). Is it a case of recency bias to have him so high at this point? Maybe, but that is how the Conn Smythe voting tends to go. He is the Blues’ best player and when he gets on a roll he can be nearly impossible to stop. Right now he is on a roll.

5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. It has been business as usual for Bergeron this postseason as he plays big minutes, dominates possession, shuts down other team’s top scorers, and chips in some offense of his own. Maybe the only surprise from him in the playoffs is that six of his eight goals have come on the power play. Before this season he had scored just seven power play goals in 112 postseason games.

6. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues. His overall numbers for the playoffs are not great, and are definitely lower than what he did during the regular season, but that does not mean he has not played extremely well at times. Like Tarasenko, he is doing so at just the right time to get noticed in the Conn Smythe race. He is 6-2 with a .925 save percentage in his past eight starts and has allowed just five goals in the four knockout games he has played (three games where the Blues could eliminate a team; one game where the Blues faced elimination).

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better special teams?
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.