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With Training Camp Underway GM McCrimmon Happy For Some Normalcy

(Photo by Brandon Andreasen)

Golden Knights training camp begins today representing the return of the players and finally the fans. The start of a normally scheduled camp has the Golden Knights brass ecstatic as well. The Golden Knights’ GM addressed the media yesterday to give his expectations on training camp and making another chase for the Stanley Cup.

Really excited about 82 games. Really excited about playing 31 other teams. Last year was a challenge for a lot of people and for a lot of different reasons. We’re really optimistic that this will feel a lot more like a normal NHL season. We’re pleased with our offseason, pleased with the makeup of our team as we head into the season. -Kelly McCrimmon, Vegas GM

While the GM was satisfied with his offseason changes he’s also eager to learn more about what’s in the cupboard. Entering their fifth NHL season, Vegas’ front office would like to add contributions from some of their more experienced prospects.

I always get excited about the evolution of young players. I’m excited to see Keegan Kolesar, Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague, Nic Roy, that group of young players. I’m excited to see their progression because that’s a big part of how your team improves. Zach Whitecloud, still a young player. I’m excited to see those players. -McCrimmon

The list of players the Golden Knights GM rattled off are under contract for one more season before entering restricted free agency. Of course, it’s an established roster but the Golden Knights at some point will need impact from the younger generation. McCrimmon also mentioned centers Nolan Patrick and Brett Howden but there are different expectations considering both are new to the organization.

Coach Pete DeBoer will have the luxury of roughly three weeks and seven preseason games to examine his younger players. DeBoer will need some to quickly become everyday NHL players. There may not be many openings in Vegas’ opening day roster but there could be bottom-six minutes up for grabs.

This year has seven preseason games, last year did not. I think there’s real value in that. Not only for your veteran players but it’s a great opportunity for young guys… I believe our forwards as a group are better than they’ve been at any point in our existence. I think we made our team better at the forward position. -McCrimmon

McCrimmon stated, and few would disagree, Vegas has a roster that only a handful of teams can match. The general manager never mentioned direct expectations but the goal has to be the same under The Creator’s ownership.

With the franchise’s best-ever forward unit, star-studded defense, and superb goaltending, it has to be a Cup or Bust type mentality behind closed doors. Expect another fun ride.

Roster Battles Incredibly Limited At 2021 VGK Training Camp

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When you take a hard look at the Golden Knights roster you’ll quickly realize there aren’t many question marks when it comes to lineup construction. The top-six is all but guaranteed to remain intact, the entire blue line is locked in, and there’s no longer a goalie competition for either the starting role or the backup.

There are at least 15 players out of the allowed 20 that will dress on October 12th we can essentially write in with a Sharpie marker. There would actually be a 16th if Alex Tuch were healthy, but his injury leaves at least one more spot open for discussion.

Of course, the lines and pairs could shift, but here are the names that I’d be willing to go out on a limb and guarantee (if healthy) are in the lineup in 27 days at T-Mobile Arena.

Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone
Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Janmark-(Open)-Dadonov
(Open)-(Open)-(Open)

Martinez-Pietrangelo
McNabb-Theodore
(Open)-Whitecloud

Lehner
Brossoit

Thus, there are reasonably five slots that could be interchangeable.

At forward, there are five players currently under one-way NHL contracts. William Carrier, Brett Howden, Keegan Kolesar, Nic Roy, and Patrick Brown. Then, there’s Nolan Patrick who is an RFA but will likely have a contract prior to Opening Night. Throw in the waiver-exempt Peyton Krebs, Jack Dugan, and Lucas Elvenes and we’re looking at a group of nine players with a chance of suiting up against the Seattle Kraken.

Roy is probably the closest player in this group to having a guaranteed spot in the lineup, especially considering his strong postseason and massive goal in Game 4 against the Canadiens.  The other three spots truly represent the only roster competition in VGK Training Camp.

Kolesar would seem to have the next strongest case considering he was protected against waivers for the entire 2020-21 season. His game certainly progressed over the year and there’s really no reason to believe they’d be willing to risk him on waivers this year when they were in an even tighter spot a year ago.

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Hunting Career Highs: Defensemen And Goalie

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Though hockey is a team sport and the ultimate goal for every player involved is hoisting the Stanley Cup, individual numbers matter too. Each guy is always looking to build what they’ve done so far in their respective careers. With a pair of shortened seasons in the books, the last two years, and the Golden Knights primed to be one of the best teams in the NHL, many players have a chance to put up career-high numbers in numerous statistical categories.

We’re taking a look at each individual player and choosing the statistic they are most likely to set their career high in this season. Today we start with goalies and defensemen, later in the week we’ll move on to forwards.

Robin Lehner
Stat: Wins
Career High – 25

Lehner has his name engraved on the Jennings Trophy twice in the past three seasons. He has also received Vezina votes in two of those years. He did both of those as part of a goalie tandem though. Before that, he was the starter in Buffalo but for just two seasons, neither of which were his best. Now, Lehner has been handed the reins in Vegas and will likely be looking at 55-60 games in the net. His career-high mark in wins is just 25, the year he came in 2nd for the Vezina. Assuming health, he should get there with ease.

Other options: Shutouts (6), Quality Starts (32), Games Started (58)

Shea Theodore
Stat: Points
Career High – 46

Shea is the perfect guy to break through statistically this year because he doesn’t even need to improve his game to do it. In the 71 game season, in which he finished 6th in Norris, Theodore posted 46 points, an awesome number, but very reachable with 11 more games. He improved on it last year going off for 42 in 53 games. That’s 0.8 points per game. To set his career-high this year, he’ll need just 0.57 points per game.

Other options: TOI (1,588), Assists (34), Shots (219), Goals (13), Power Play Points (16)

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Golden Knights Must “Churn” Roster In Order To Stay Good For Now And Later

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are into offseason number three as they prepare for season number four. In season three, they began to work in some younger players like Nic Roy, Cody Glass, Zach Whitecloud, and Nic Hague, but the playing time was limited and the roles were certainly reduced.

As they move forward, especially with the cap staying flat, the Golden Knights must find more ways to save cap space by getting larger contributions out of younger players.

You can’t sit still. There’s a balance between having a real strong nucleus that gives you a chance to win but there’s also the importance of having enough churn that you give opportunities for new players. -Kelly McCrimmon

The question that will be answered this offseason is just how much “churn” is enough.

The Golden Knights prospect system has a heap of players that appear to be ready to break into the NHL. From the four that did in 2019-20 to Jack Dugan, Lucas Elvenes, Peyton Krebs, Jonas Rondbjerg, Dylan Coghlan, and Jimmy Schuldt the options are certainly there for Vegas.

Every one of the players mentioned carries a cap hit of less than $1 million, which means replacing just about anyone in the everyday starting lineup means cap savings.

But, how much is too much? Especially when considering the Golden Knights are a clear Cup contending team and have aspirations of lifting it in the very near future.

In 2019-20, when the Golden Knights were pushed up to the salary cap limit, they pretty much always had at least two entry-level contracts on the NHL roster. It started with Hague and Glass, then morphed into Roy and Whitecloud as the season went on and into the playoffs.

I’d guess that Roy and Whitecloud have become permanent members of the NHL roster moving forward and any of the other six players mentioned could easily make a case as well. But there has to be a spot for them and at the moment there don’t appear to be many open.

That’s where this offseason comes into play and why Vegas fans should be expecting at least a bit of a shakeup, if not a mega one, in the Golden Knights standard 18-man starting roster. McCrimmon and McPhee not only want to see what they have in the system, but they’ll need to get production out of these younger players if they want to continue to improve their team without the advantage of a rising salary cap.

Expect to see at least one player from the top-six to head out and a high probability of one of the six starting defensemen from the Dallas series no longer in steel grey and gold come opening night of season four.

Churn is normal every offseason, but the Golden Knights are ripe for a bit more than usual with the collection of factors the front office is up against in this one. The cap is at the top of it, but also a seven-game scoring drought that ended a promising playoff run, and a new coach behind the bench for his first offseason.

The Golden Knights will remain a very good team, and one most will project to win the Pacific Division once again when play gets underway. However, don’t expect that team to look too much like the one that just exited the bubble in Edmonton.

Comparing Current & Former VGK Rookie Seasons

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Cody Glass and Nic Hague were drafted together in 2017 as the first homegrown generation of Golden Knights. The two rookies were selected alongside Nick Suzuki and Eric Brannstrom potentially in what appeared to be the Golden Knights future core. Obviously, things changed and Suzuki and Brannstrom were traded to other organizations. However, Golden Knights fans will always keep an eye on the two former prospects.

In Montreal, fans are frustrated with the Canadiens dim playoff chances but Suzuki is pleasantly surprising Habs nation.

His hockey IQ certainly stands out… he knows where to go instinctively. He knows who to take, he knows the area to cover. The puck seems to follow him. Players with good IQ’s, that’s what happens.- Dan Robertson, TSN Montreal PxP

The 20-year-old is 7th on Montreal’s roster in goals and overall points. He began the year in a bottom-six role, averaging 13 minutes per game, but now he’s a second-line winger. He’s making an impact on the Canadiens power play, chipping in seven PP points. His playing time went up and so did his production. In 40 games, the 13th overall pick in 2017 has three multi-point games, one in which he registered three assists. Currently, Suzuki is in the top five in NHL rookie scoring along with Olafsson, Makar, Q.Hughes, and Mikheyev.

In comparison, Cody Glass has pitched in as well as a Golden Knight, but not quite to the level of Suzuki in Montreal.  In 35 games, the Golden Knights rookie has played mostly on the third line but he’s added 6 power play points. Unfortunately, Glass missed a handful of games due to injury but many Golden Knights fans are still impatient and hoping for more. It becomes increasingly difficult to calm folks down when Suzuki is having such success in Montreal.

 Cody GlassNick Suzuki
Games3540
Goals47
Assists716
Points1123
Points Per Game0.330.58
Rating-7-3
Power Play Points67
Shots4766
Shooting Percentage8.5%10.6%
Time On Ice13:2915:05

The story changes a bit when you look at the defensive rookies side-by-side. Vegas fans have nothing to be disappointed about in that respect. Hague has played in 30 of VGK’s 42 games and has shown a lot in his time on ice. Whereas Brannstrom is still trying to figure out his role.

In Vegas, the 6’6″, 21-year-old rearguard worked his way from beginning the season paired with a Deryk Engelland, to now skating consistently with Shea Theodore. It shows the coaching staff trusts him more with tougher assignments and keeping up with the high-level Theodore brings. Although Hague is without his first NHL goal, the rookie defender is releasing 1.13 shots per game and eventually his laser slapshot will hit the back of the net.

Up in Ottawa, the Senators sent Brannstrom down to the AHL in early December. According to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, the Swedish defenseman needed to rebuild his confidence.

A healthy scratch for only the second time this season as the Senators faced the Oilers, the decision was made by general manager Pierre Dorion, coach D.J. Smith and the rest of the staff that the time had come to send Brannstrom down because he wasn’t playing up to his capabilities in the NHL… Not only was Brannstrom struggling to contribute offensively — he is still looking for his first NHL goal — while getting lots of opportunities in those situations, his game had taken a turn for the worse defensively because he was taking gambles, trying to get points. –Bruce Garioch, 12/05/19

What drew the Golden Knights scouting staff to draft Brannstrom was his offense and creativity with the puck. However, the Senators were concerned he wasn’t progressing properly and felt the risky, young d-man needed some more time in the AHL. Garioch speculated that there could’ve been a bit pressure on the 20-year-old, after all, Brannstrom was the centerpiece of the Mark Stone trade. In mid-December, Ottawa recalled the undersized rookie and he’s since been averaging 17+ minutes per game.

 Nic HagueErik Brannstrom
Games3030
Goals00
Assists74
Points Per Game0.230.13
Rating-2-9
Shots3434
On Ice Goals For2716
On Ice Goals Against2524
Time On Ice16:1014:43

While the comparisons are still premature, considering these players have lengthy careers ahead of them, their rookie seasons won’t determine anything in regards to their success. Glass and Suzuki will always be compared throughout their hockey lives because of their positions, but mostly because Vegas traded one of them for Max Pacioretty. Hague and Brannstrom don’t compare much at all. Either way, if all four rookies turn out to be successful NHL players, Vegas fans should feel confident about the organization’s scouting department, and the prospects they draft in the future.

Golden Knights Utilizing Zone Starts To Deploy Right Defenseman At Right Time

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the most overlooked stats in hockey is zone starts. NHL coaches go to great lengths to get the correct players on the ice at the right times, but when examining stats, very rarely will you see a nod to a player’s zone starts.

When judging defense we like to use stats like +/-, Corsi, goal percentage, and defensive point shares. However, it’s important to consider deployment when taking all of this into account.

It’s become especially crucial when breaking down the statistical seasons of the Golden Knights blue liners. Looking at the numbers without zone starts involved it appears as though Shea Theodore has emerged as Vegas’ best defenseman. He leads all defensemen in goals, assists, points, shots, offensive point shares, defensive point shares, Corsi, Corsi relative, expected goals, expected goals percentage, and expected +/-.

There’s no question that Theodore has become the Golden Knights’ most effective offensive weapon from the blue line. That’s why the coaching staff have used him in a role much different than that of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb.

The Golden Knights are 2nd in the NHL in percentage of faceoffs in the offensive zone. In Golden Knights games this season, 35.6% of draws have been in the offensive zone, 32.7% in the neutral zone and just 31.7% in the D-zone. Vegas has taken 648 offensive zone draws to only 577 in the defensive zone. That means the Golden Knights baseline zone start percentage is 52.9%.

In other words, any player getting less than 53% offensive zone starts is being deployed in a defensive role, while anyone above is in an offensive role. Here are the Golden Knights primary defensemen’s offensive zone start numbers this season.

oZS%
Hague 65.5%
Theodore 58.0%
Engelland 54.9%
Merrill 51.8%
Holden 49.8%
Schmidt 47.7%
McNabb 47.3%

The difference between the top of that list and the bottom is massive. Hague and Theodore are drawing offensive zone shifts more than 6% more than the team average while McNabb and Schmidt are finding themselves starting in the D-zone around 6% less than the average.

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Clearing Rebounds Should Be Easier And Better In New System, But Also More Important

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

VGKD 2.0 is 2-0-0 with a pair of thrilling victories that went beyond regulation. Against Arizona, Vegas allowed just one goal and it came from an incredible shot by a defenseman who fooled Malcolm Subban by even shooting it in the first place.

The difference in how the Golden Knights now defend is only six periods old, but it sure looks like it is making a major difference… even if the head coach doesn’t want to admit.

What new system? -Gerard Gallant

Obviously, we’ll be keeping a close eye on it during this road trip against a trio of teams that play three majorly different styles. After two games though, one particular pro of the system has jumped off the ice, and that’s clearing rebounds.

Against the Coyotes, Vegas was terrific controlling second chance opportunities in the slot. No matter where the first shot came from, the Golden Knights had two or three bodies around the rebound and quickly removed the puck from danger before any Coyote could get a second look at net.

If there’s a shot from the outside we want to make sure there’s not a second shot, a second chance. We’ve always talked about it, even in the old system, winning those net-front battles and making sure we tie up sticks and keeping those chances to the outside so they don’t get two, three, or four whacks at it in front. -Nic Hague

According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Golden Knights allowed just four rebound chances the entire game against Arizona. Only one was a truly dangerous chance. It happened to come in the waning seconds of the game and could have been a disaster had it found its way past Subban, but all in all Vegas was excellent in finding loose pucks and sending them to safety.

Our team cleared them really well. That’s an important thing for us. Give up shots from the outside and then do what you can on the rebounds. -Malcolm Subban

Even though Gallant doesn’t want to make a big deal of the change, he was very complimentary of his team’s work in front of their own net.

I think anytime you can box guys out and keep them from second and third chances in front of your net, it is going to help your team win games. A lot of teams are going through stuff like that, and if you can keep them on the outside you have a better chance to win and keep the puck out of your net. -Gallant

Every Golden Knight I’ve talked to about the new system has mentioned that they expect it to get better and better as they get more games and more practices under their belt. Yesterday they had a full practice at the Prudential Center (where they are playing tomorrow) and Gallant specifically mentioned working on “d-zone coverages.”

The Golden Knights have stacked two wins in a row four times prior to these last two, but have gone 0-3-1 in their attempts to win a third straight. They’ll have that chance again tonight, and if VGKD 2.0 works as well at MSG as it did at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, they should be able to get it done.

Quick Stint In AHL Helped Nic Hague Upon Return To NHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Golden Knights training camp ended and the team headed into Opening Night against the San Jose Sharks, Nic Hague was on the NHL roster.

He was a healthy scratch the first game of the year, but an injury to Nate Schmidt thrust Hague into the lineup. He played seven straight games and was replaced by Jake Bischoff for four. He played one more at the NHL level before being assigned to the Chicago Wolves upon Schmidt’s return.

Obviously I go down there and I’m in a position where I’m playing big minutes, I’m on the power play, penalty kill, regular shift 5-on-5, so to go down and get a touch in all those areas it was nice, but I don’t want to be there, I want to be here. -Hague

Hague played in four AHL games, racked up two points and 13 shots, while playing top-pair minutes. But it’s what happened after those four games that really seemed to change the course of Hague’s young NHL career.

Since coming back to the NHL on November 5th, Hague has played in every game but one (VGK’s worst game since, at Washington).

Truthfully I think the more those kids play the more confident he’s going to get. When they look confident on the ice, when you notice it and when I notice it, that’s when you are going to be an NHL hockey player and that’s what I’ve liked about him lately. -Gerard Gallant

Hague’s play since coming back has been substantially better than it was in his first stint in the NHL to start the year. He’s standing guys up at the blue line, his gap control has improved, he’s been more physical, he’s starting to utilize his long reach, and most importantly, his offensive game is beginning to shine through.

He’s been way more confident with the puck. Often now you see him not dumping it in every time he’s got it. That’s where you see the maturation process in a player and you see it with him. -Nate Schmidt

Personally, I think that four-game stretch in the AHL made a huge difference for the giant left-handed defenseman. There are stats that point to it, but it’s more about how he looks. His reads have been better and quicker. His decision-making in all three zones has improved, and for the first time in his career, we finally saw him take advantage of the length of his stick to help create a goal against Chicago.

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Explaining The Salary Cap Benefit Of Sending Nic Hague And Nic Roy To The AHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Well, it happened again. Following a night in which both Nic Hague and Nic Roy played in a win against Columbus, they were optioned to the AHL. This morning, they were called right back up and one or both may play tonight against Toronto.

Being shuttled back and forth between the AHL and NHL isn’t new for the Nics. It has happened to Roy three times and Hague twice. They are sent down with the idea of eventually bringing them back up and sometimes it all happens within a day or two.

When it happens, you’ll see dopes like the guys at SinBin.vegas tweet something like this…

It’s about cap space we say.

Reminds me of one of my favorite lines in Seinfeld history when Kramer says “they just write it off.” He has no idea what writing it off means or how it helps businesses, but it sounds smart, so he says it.

They are accruing cap space, all the teams are doing it!

But how? Why? Are you sure?

If you nailed down most, they’ll eventually crack like Kramer and say “I don’t know, but they do it.” And the conversation would end there because let’s be honest, does anyone really care how or why it happens?

But, since you are still reading, you must be someone that cares. So, I’m here today to explain it. (After I spent most of my night last night reading through the CBA and having my buddy Hart from PuckPedia.com further explain it to me.)

The NHL has what they call an “upper limit” or a maximum amount of money a team can spend on their team salaries. This is often referred to as the salary cap. The idea behind it is to make it so that no team can go out and buy the best players and pay their way to a dynasty. There’s a crazy calculation to figure out what the cap will be each year, but that’s for another day. This year the upper limit is $81.5 million.

So, every day at 5PM EST, the league takes a look at every roster in the NHL, calculates the total amount of salary they have on their roster and makes sure it’s at or under $81.5 million. But, it’s not always as easy as simple addition. Instead, they use what’s called an “averaged amount” based on the player’s contract and the length of time he’s been on the NHL roster.

If a player makes $1 million and he’s been on the roster for every day of the season, he counts for $1 million against the cap. However, if that player was off the roster at any point, his cap figure comes down. Here, let me show you an example.

The league season is 186 days long. It runs from October 2nd to April 4th. Thus, every player’s salary is calculated over 186 days. To make the numbers round, let’s use a player that makes $1.86 million. Every day of his contract is worth $10,000 against the cap. $10,000*186 = $1.86 million.

Say this player is on the roster on opening night. The league calculates it as if he’s going to be on the roster for the rest of the year, so his cap hit is $1.86 million. If he’s on the roster every day for the next 40, his cap hit never changes, it’s always $1.86 million.

But, if he’s sent to the minors for one day, his cap hit is now reduced by $10,000 ($1.86 million divided by 186). When he comes back his cap hit is now $1.85 million.

Every day he’s not on the NHL roster, his cap hit decreases by $10,000. Send him down for 10, you save $100,000. Send him away for 30, you save $300,000.

Got it? Ok, let’s move away from this mythical player and get back to the Nics, Hague and Roy.

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VGK Assistant Coaches Explain How/Why They Select D-Pairs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For just the second time this season, the Golden Knights will see a new defensive pair along their blueline. Following the injury to Nate Schmidt, Nic Hague was placed into the lineup playing alongside Deryk Engelland. He held that position for seven straight games, recording two assists, six shots on goal, and averaging 14:28 per game.

Tonight, however, Hague will watch from the press box as Jake Bischoff is slated to make his NHL debut. Bischoff made the Golden Knights roster out of training camp last year, stayed with the team for about three weeks, but never drew into a game. This year, he was sent to the AHL out of training camp before being recalled eight days ago to replace Jimmy Schuldt.

Like Hague, his defense partner will be Deryk Engelland as the two slot in as the Golden Knights third pair.

Recently, speaking at a fan Q&A hosted at Jaguar & Land Rover Las Vegas, assistant coaches Ryan McGill and Mike Kelly were asked about what goes into the decision-making process of picking defensive pairs.

First of all, we like to try to put experience with a little bit of inexperience. Just to give them a little bit of a safety valve. Number two, you want to have somebody that can move the puck up the ice quick or that can be involved with the play with another guy that can watch his back. -Ryan McGill

McGill is the assistant that handles the Golden Knights defense.

But the biggest thing trying to find chemistry. If you don’t find chemistry you can’t have those players together all the time. -McGill

Kelly, who has worked alongside Gerard Gallant for nearly a decade, piggybacked McGill’s comments.

If something happens on the ice where it didn’t go well for the younger guy, he makes a mistake, he’s going back to the bench with the guy he’s playing with. You like to have someone who is a good person with experience whispering in his ear saying ‘don’t worry about it kid.’ -Mike Kelly

The Golden Knights have always had a heavy focus on leadership, character, and other unquantifiable intangibles. Through two years and eight games, it’s hard to argue against its success.

You put them with people that you think it’s going to work with and you kind of look the other way, cross your fingers, and hope it works. Most of the time it does. Sometimes they are going to hit a rocky patch but you know if they are with a Deryk Engelland you know they are hearing the right words. -Kelly

Every rookie that’s come through the Golden Knight d-corps, Hague, Schuldt, Whitecloud, and Theodore, has found their way to Engelland’s side.

Now it’s Jake Bischoff’s turn. Here’s to hoping there aren’t too many “don’t worry about it kid” comments needed from Engelland tonight in Pittsburgh.

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