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Scouting, done Army of the Ohio style.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007
(Writer's note (2/16): Everything up to the analysis of Ron Hainsey was done before the game on Friday against the Sharks, and so a stat or two might be out of date, but the point remains the same.)

(Writer's note #2 (2/18): The positives of Foote are where I left off before Sunday's game.)

(Writer's note #3 (2/20):
Some things may be in the tense of my talking or writing as if I was writing last week. The thing is, I was. So please keep that in mind when reading this entry.)

I'm going to level with you, my awesome readers. This past week has been a veritable pile of "sick" and "insane" for me, with issues ranging from a bad case of a stomach flu and head cold-like feeling, cold sweats, and rage directed at Chase Bank due to financial issues, coupled with an unexpected shutdown of my Internet connection (Time Warner Digital) tied in with said financial quandary. Even now, my head is still spinning like it was on some sort of axis. Alas, Advil has failed me and left me for dead.

Coupled with a five day work week this week and a pretty crazy Blue Jackets' home schedule, I've not really had much time to soak in the games and watch during my breaks, leaving me with little motivation to only be able to watch the 2-3 minute long video recaps on or YouTube when they're put up, and Google Video taking half a month to post the most recent Blue Jackets' game.

With this in mind, I'll just have to rely on some other way to add content to this blog. And last night I decided that something I've been wanting to do is churn out something of a scouting report for each of the players on the Blue Jackets who have at least spent a majority of the season up with the team, in some capacity or another. And no, this has nothing to do with Drew's own trade analysis of each player. Sorry.

Pull up a chair, grab a snack and a drink, and get ready for something of an extremely long-winded post, folks. We'll be going in no particular order, save for the dividing up of Defensemen, Forwards, and Goaltenders.

Anders "Bubba" Eriksson
Positives: One of the more obvious upsides this season to Eriksson's play has not been in the defensive zone, but instead the offensive zone. He ranks 2nd on defense in assists, only behind Ron Hainsey.

This isn't to say his defense is bad. On the contrary, his type of defense is of the sound variety, and Eriksson prefers to avoid taking risks more often than not, parking himself right near his goalie. Blue Jackets' fans will recall during the two game shutout streak that Fredrik Norrena had that it was Eriksson who, thanks to his positioning, was able to stop two impossibly unstoppable pucks from going in to the net. Additionally, Eriksson is the only defensemen on the team with a plus/minus rating in the green at +3, the other being Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.

Negative: There's a few problems in Eriksson's game from a defensive standpoint, and at least from what I am able to watch. Although Eriksson has a strong body and the weight and height to throw it around, he generally avoids full-on confrontation with opposing players in the defensive zone. This could be partly because of his staying near the net most of the time, and maybe even just a desire to not get caught out of place with his hockey pants between his legs. Ironically this inactive approach can prove costlier than a more proactive approach.

Ron Hainsey
Positives: Regularly cited as a great example of endurance and ability to play great amounts of time during games, Hainsey continues to eat up minutes whenever he's given the opportunity to get on the ice. He also is the leading scorer on defense with 24 points, seven points ahead of Eriksson.

Negatives: Unfortunately at this time, his endurance and his point scoring touch are all that are positives for him this season. Hainsey has had the same problem as Eriksson where he just hasn't been able to efficiently use his large body, even though he's shown scrappiness at times. Worse, unlike Eriksson he has had a tendency to get smoked or caught twisting in the wind when in the defensive zone, partially due to a lack of discipline when it comes to placement and what he should be doing. It's pretty obvious why he sports a -11 plus/minus, the only defensemen besides Adam Foote to be in the -10s (Duvie Westcott excluded due to the fact he's been on the shelf for a horribly long period of time now due to both hand injuries and concussion issues).

Rostislav Klesla
Positives: Like Anders Eriksson, Klesla has shown an affinity at being a modest, scoring defensemen when given the opportunity. Unlike Eriksson, who has all 17 of his points in the "Assist" column, Klesla has spread the wealth on his stat sheet, with 9 of his points being goals. Klesla's one of the defensemen on this team who hasn't been afraid of throwing his weight around, having brought the big hits every now and then, particularly up against the boards.

Additionally, Klesla's been able to do just what TSN's scouting report said he has to do: avoid serious injury. Through the season thus far, Klesla's only been out two games due to injury. The other two games he missed were due to a suspension because of that nasty hit on Blackhawk's player Turomo Ruutu during the pre-season.

Negatives: Mentioning that hit is a good way to lead in to what I feel is one of Klesla's negatives, which is that he currently relies too much on the hitting aspect of the defensive game. It's well and good that he regularly brings with himself a physical force to the ice, but it's burned him more than once this season. Although this is the "Negatives" section, I do have to admit that he's managed to stay the third best amongst defensemen on the team in the plus/minus department, with a -5. That's nothing to be jumping through hoops over, but then again only two other defensemen have a positive rating, those being Eriksson and Tollefsen.

Ole-Kristian Tollefsen:
Positives: Tollefsen, who was drafted in the third round by the Blue Jackets back in 2002, has actually done quite well so far this season. Alongside Eriksson, O.K. holds a +4 on the plus/minus rating, tying him for best both on defense and on the team. But there's more to it than that. Tollefsen doesn't have a 17 point cushion to pad his rating like Eriksson has, currently with the second worst amount of points on the team with a measly 3 assists in 51 games. Berard is excluded from this list, considering his just recent return. Only Jody Shelley has less points while playing about the same number of games (Shelley has a big, fat egg ... or zero).

Any one with half a lick of awareness can conclude just from these observations that Tollefsen, then, plays extremely well when in the defensive zone. He knows where to go, he knows who to cover, and he always knows where the puck is. He also knows how to give opposing players headaches both in the frustrating sense, and the hard-pounding sense. Let's not forget he's also second on the team in fighting majors this season.

Negatives: While it is nothing severe, O.K. could work on helping out more in the offensive zone, as I alluded to by pointing out his low point total this season. He plays a very conservative game, which immensely helps his defensive prowess and just cements the fact that he is, in every sense of the word, a defensive defenseman. However on a team which holds the least amount of goals, players need to step up from the unlikely of places, and O.K. could do that by so much as taking more part in offensive attacks, so long as he can continue to excel at his defensive play and not get caught in too deep.

Adam Foote
Positives: One of the first things that you can give Foote credit for is his ability to bring the body despite his age. While he isn't always looking for the biggest hit nowadays, he is still able to take down opposing players without too much difficulty. Off the ice, Foote has been apparently able to show some good amounts of leadership when it comes to the team, but then again, scouting reports don't exactly care much about how a player does off the ice, huh?

Negatives: It's sad, but I really could go on an amazingly long rant just about Foote's negatives alone. Foote has one of the worst plus/minus ratings on the team, and you can see why whenever he is on the ice. He looks extremely confused, and never really seems to know what to do in his own zone, which is very scary. He ends up trying to reach for pucks, unable to really get at them before they're passed by an opponent or he's simply trying to get a pass.

Bryan Berard:
Negatives: It might not be fair, but with only a few games under Berard's belt, I've seen almost nothing positive come from him. However I continue to see bad things come from him, and the worst thing he does on a regular basis? He passes the puck right to the opposing player. I can't even count how many times I've seen him fire a pass up the ice, and almost perfectly on to the tape of an opponent's stick. I don't know if it's rust, or even an issue with his vision, but I do know it's driven me to utter insanity at times.

I know Berard deserves some credit for managing to come back after missing a whole 82 games over the last season and this one, and I'm sure much of it is also the fact that he has not been back for all of 10 games. Yet this just is not what the team needs right now out of him.

Although I wish I could recollect anything feasible, I wouldn't be able to do Aaron Johnson much justice if I covered him. The fact of the matter is that although he's played a fair amount of games this season, nothing just seems to stand out about him. It's true, he's an improvement over Berard, who has since taken his spot on the team since his return eight games ago based on seniority and experience, but even thinking back to those games, nothing "Wow!"-ed me about him. He was just ... there.

David Vyborny
Positives: David Vyborny continues to be David Vyborny; dependable, and like a rock when it comes to stability on the team's forward lines. No matter who Vyborny is paired with, he will always -- always -- be able to get a pass off, or do something with the puck that leads to a Blue Jackets' goal (when the team as a whole isn't getting shut out, that is). Currently at 49 points as of February 19th, Vyborny has a 13 point lead in scoring over the next best point getter, Rick Nash.

Negatives: All Blue Jackets' fans are probably guilty of wanting to cut themselves whenever Vyborny has had the puck, a wide open net, and instead of firing off a shot? ... he passes. Vyborny just seems to hate the idea of shooting, and almost seems to avoid it like the plague unless it is under very special circumstances. And the funny thing is that despite his strength being in the assists department, he can score pretty goals if he actually puts some faith in to himself. Think back to that slow-motion spin-o-rama that Vyborny pulled off on VERSUS several weeks ago against Boston. That's a prime example of what he can do if he just does it instead of second guessing himself. There's also the fact that Vyborny, in four penalty shot attempts over the years as a Blue Jacket, has never been unsuccessful (this is ignoring shootout results). If he shot the puck more, and he could very well be at 59 points at this point in the season.

Rick Nash
Positives: It's taken just about all season, but Rick Nash seems to finally be getting back to his "crash the net" style of play when it comes to getting the goals. Considering his size, it's about time, too. As well, Nash has begun to show a ferocity that he hasn't always been known for, when he got into scrums with Flames stud and Hockeygirl crush Dion Phaneuf and a turtling, babymaker-hacking Sharks coward. Hitchcock has also been able to finally teach Nash at least a thing or two about defensive responsibility by not shying away when it comes to throwing him on to the penalty kill, and to his credit has helped on at least one short-handed goal this season.

Negatives: Nash has always had issues in the defensive zone, that much we know. But something else that has had me scratching my head lately is the lack of real pressure he has been able to apply in the offensive zone. I can't put my finger on what it is, but he doesn't seem to be capable of just grabbing the puck from opposing players when he comes flying in to the zone. The few times I've seen him do so, he seems to come in a step too late before an opposing player manages to get the puck to a teammate, resulting in nothing but a 'nice' hit along the boards and nothing more.

Sergei Fedorov
Positives: At his worst, Fedorov has still been able to play a level of defense that the warm bodies which actually make up the defensive corp. of this team seem unable to do on most occasions. Fedorov is always the one you'll see scouting the ice, looking for any opportunity to strip a puck, be it on the penalty kill or at even strength ... the best example of this is his team leading two short-handed goals this season. Although age has slowed down his goal scoring touch, he is still able to make players around him better, but not to the extent that Vyborny is able to. He's always had a bit of a sixth sense to what is happening around him.

Negatives: There seems to be times where Fedorov will play in slow motion, and that could be attributed to a combination of age and past injuries. Even so, Fedorov needs to use that large body to better effect, much the same way that Nash should be able to overpower players or knock the puck away from players with a strong physique as well.

I also get the nagging suspicion that sometimes Fedorov may become frustrated with what is going on around him, and simply throw his hands in to the air in irritation at what is going on around him. Almost as though he'll sometimes feel as if the team around him is letting him down. Remember that Red Wings' fans felt this way about him at times as well, but mainly because of possible concerns between him and "The Captain" Steve Yzerman during those glory days in Detroit.

Dan Fritsche
Positives: I could really go on and on about the things that Fritsche has done great this season. Coming in to this season on a two-way contract all because MacLean refused to give him the benefit of the doubt that he'd be worth anything more (and I'll admit, I also had my doubts about him after his play last season), Fritsche came on strong somewhere around the mid-way point of the season. He's been able to blow past opposing players, and he brings more energy than probably half the team does combined. He's proven to be extremely effective on the penalty kill, always a constant threat when at the point and whenever coasting about and applying pressure.

Don't forget that he's currently played in four less games than last season, yet has doubled his point output, and is tied for points with heralded veterans Anson Carter and Fredrik Modin. He's also only one of five players with a positive plus/minus rating (+3).

Negatives: Even home state heroes have their problems. It's hard to accurately pinpoint one, since it seems as though he plays firing on all cylinders every night, and doesn't seem to make too many mistakes. On the other hand, playing full-tilt might be a reason why Fritsche, even after having joined the top line alongside Nash and Vyborny, is still only clocking about a quarter's worth of a game's total time at around 14-16 minutes. Fritsche is young, and needs to be able to use that energy for even more of a game's length.

Fredrik Modin
Positives: I'm going to touch on one thing that I like about Modin. Even though he's had a hard time this year, and has struggled when it mattered most in the offensive zone (this is mentioned in the negatives), Modin continues to chug along and work his very hardest game in and game out. He holds himself to such high standards, and his body language is obvious from all the way up on the upper concourse whenever I'm watching the games at home. Modin, though he lacks any recognizable symbols such as an 'A' or a 'C' on his jersey, is a role model for a team that needs to learn a thing or two about work ethic.

Negatives: Just like Fedorov and Nash, Modin seems almost adverse to using his body when it would really be beneficial either in the defensive zone, or when trying to grab a puck in the offensive zone. While Modin isn't a finesse skater who is capable of staving off opposing players while ramming in to them, he has nothing to lose by using his height and weight to his advantage.

Beyond that, there's more serious issues. Modin has been unable to capitalize on so many opportunities this season, and recent home games have really made this painfully obvious. Pucks that go to him almost act like kryptonite to him, where he'll whiff on shots, juggle it with his stick and lose it, or lose it in his skates. This seems more like a mental thing than anything else, and he needs to get over this hump.

Anson Carter
Positives: Here's something I never quite understood, and maybe Canucks' fans can enlighten me. Why do people keep saying that his year in Vancouver was "his best ever"? Because looking at his statistics, what I see is that his best year ever was in 2001-2002, when he tallied 60 points and had a +3 rating with the Edmonton Oilers -- not the 55 points, -1 rating over 81 games he had with the Canucks. Incidentally, he also had another 60 point season in 2002-2003 when he played for both Edmonton and the New York Rangers.

Is this some sort of delusions of grandeur thing that Canucks' fans have going on? Or maybe I just don't "get it"?

Either way, Carter's positives really seem to involve his garbage goals this season. I've seen him more than once cherry pick a rebound, and the guy is essentially a vulture, knowing when to strike after much circling. Playmaking ability seems to be there, though he has to better use it.

Negatives: TSN is more or less spot on when they say that Carter just does not use his body. This could be a part of his vulture-esque way of dropping in. It's almost like Carter hates to do any dirty work, instead relying on lucky bounces and breaks ... and those aren't always going to happen. Carter needs to actually hit people, and also try to ram his way down a team's throat, be it across the ice or just in front of the net.

Jason Chimera
Positives: Of course the easiest thing to say about Chimera is that he's fast ... and he really is! While it might not be the most amazing of nominations, remember that Chimera was named as one of the players voted for in the NHL as the fastest skater in the league a few weeks ago during an ESPN vote, when a combination of 141 non-active and active players were asked to name names. Although it was just 1% of the vote, that's still 1% of the vote when only 16 other players were even mentioned amongst the fastest in the league.

Chimera's also feisty. While he isn't prone to glove dropping, he has an in-your-face style that fits extremely well with his third line, grinding methods. He pisses players off, and knows just how to do it.

Negatives: As speedy as Chimmer is, he has the puck control of a toddler just learning how to hold a stick. And it's frustrating, because Chimera is one of my favorite players, too; if he could learn how to better stickhandle, imagine how good of a player he could be. Imagine if he could just sap Nikolai Zherdev of his toedrag move, and turn it in to his own thing while going at the speed he usually is skating at.

Alexander Svitov
Positives: Several posts back, I touched on Svitov's upsides, and the main point was that he's like a faster, more versatile, and scoring Jody Shelley. I still stand by this observation, but I also must give credit to Svitov for starting to temper his wild energy. He's not getting as many dumb penalties, and while he still barrels in to opponents like a hummer at full-tilt, he's making sure that he doesn't do anything stupid in the process.

Negatives: If there's one thing that Svitov has to work on, its his offensive skills. While he has definitely started turning the curve and is beginning to score more and more after being left for dead in the minors by the Tampa Bay Lightning, he is still a moderate amount of time away from being an offensive threat on par with his third overall pick label back in 2001. The best way he can do this is by working on his skills when it comes to assisting goal scorers, since he's most likely not ever going to be a pretty scorer, relying mainly on scrum goals and goals involving flattening the defense during bullish rushes down the ice, which he's actually done recently.

Nikolai Zherdev
Positives: Speedy, wily, and sometimes even unpredictable when he has the puck. Although the toe-drag is so last year, and Zherdev has now been analyzed to death by the opposing players as can be noted by his inability to make the toe-drag work, he is still able to turn on the speed and the goal-scoring touch when he's in the mood. That's the problem, though ... he hasn't been in the mood for much of the season. Recent games this season, however, have shown everyone just what Zherdev is capable of when he is motivated. Interesting that this coincided with his ejection from practice.

Negatives: In order from biggest issue to smallest issue: work ethic, inability to rely on others on the ice, and defensive play. Zherdev's work ethic has been documented frequently in The Columbus Dispatch, and while I know that Truth Serum at End of the Bench likes to stand up for Nikky Z for all the bad attention he receives, it's impossible to ignore that he's clashed on more than a few occasions with the coaching staff. He's also had a hard time relying on others on the ice, and one great way to point this out is the fact that he still tries to do it all on his own, as seen by his abuse of the toe-drag. His plus/minus is testament to his bad defensive play, and he doesn't seem to really understand how to apply pressure on opponents when in those situations. While Nash has started to gain a sense of defensive responsibility, Zherdev has lagged behind.

Jody Shelley
Positives: Besides his pugilistic style of play, Shelley has actually shown to be quite the efficient scrummer when fighting for the puck up against the boards. While he lacks any points this season, he still manages to hold his own when it comes to puck cycling and digging in down low to keep the pressure on the opponents. He also exudes motivation whenever he fights, whether he wins or loses. He's a charismatic team leader, and if he wasn't just a fourth line enforcer, would probably have a bigger role on this team.

Negatives: Seriously, can this guy buy a point? No points this season! Not one! Shelley is totally snakebitten, and at this rate he'll finish this season without any sort of tallies in the Assist/Goal columns. That's a scary thing to consider. Even though Shelley is anything but an offensive threat in most cases, this is a serious issue and something needs to be done about it. 10 points in one season ... even 5 points in a season? That's all I ask for from Shelley.

Manny Malhotra
Positives: Malhotra is like a more defensively responsible Jason Chimera. What he lacks in the speed that Chimera has, he makes up for in being more reliable on both ends of the ice when it comes to offensive pressure and defensive coverage. He also has a better understanding of cycling and how to handle the puck, making him an efficient player when it comes to frustrating the opponent when they are trying to regain control of the biscuit.

Negatives: Oh, what a sad fall from grace. After a record season last year with 21 points in 58 games prior to a season-ending shoulder injury, Malhotra has only tallied about half that total in 59 games. What happened, exactly? Maybe Malhotra just turned out to be the odd man out amidst the numerous line shufflings, and the victim of Alexander Svitov's sudden surge in skills and ability to be useful. Regardless of the reasons, Malhotra still needs to work on a better work ethic, at least in my opinion. He needs to be hungry for more, and if he isn't, he'll continue to be relegated to the fourth line alongside Jody Shelley, despite his ability to be an efficient third liner.

Gilbert Brule
Positives: Brule's starting to finally come around offensively, and even before he started to hit the net and help with scoring goals, he continued to be just on the cusp of something special. Brule plays with an amazing intensity despite his smallish stature, and can score goals in a variety of ways ranging from twisted wristers to net crashing. Given enough time, Brule is going to be able to hone his playmaking skills in a way that instead of just making himself better, he'll make others around him better.

Negatives: His defensive skills are still lacking, and despite his limited ice time until just recently, he still has one of the team's worst plus/minus records. Brule doesn't seem to be able to use that 'kamikaze', crashing-against-opponents style of play to good use when in the defensive zone, leading to more problems than anything else for the rest of the team.

Pascal Leclaire
Positives: Lightning fast speed, composure under pressure, and the ability to get himself 'in the zone' during big games. Many of Leclaire's goals this season have, in my opinion, been more the responsibility of a poor defense than anything else. The thing that makes Leclaire stand out the most, of course, is his legs. I'd kill for leg speed like that.

Negatives: Like this one isn't obvious. Leclaire's conditioning is deplorable, and he continues to suffer from injury issues. One of the things that TSN mentions in their scouting report for Leclaire is the fact that he will overcommit, which is true. The thing is that this overcomitting is actually what leads to his injuries, which have all been leg-based. The one he got against Ottawa back in December? It was because he found himself stretching much, much further across the crease than he should have. While Leclaire has the lightning fast legs of a cheetah, that doesn't mean he's immortal. Unless he works on his endurance, he will have problems latching on to a number one goaltending position with the Blue Jackets.

Fredrik Norrena
Positives: Norrena is something of an anomaly. His ability to play so well while playing in an unorthodox manner continues to perplex me ever since the first game I saw him play in. He also seems to be on the longer end of the stick when it comes to how the team plays around him lately, possibly due to the fact that they've grown so accustomed to him during Leclaire's absence. Regardless, Norrena has many upsides. When he's gotten rest, he's about as unbeatable as a brick wall, and has three shut outs on the season so far. His puck handling skills are also of modest quality, and while he's no Brodeur, he knows what he is doing with the puck at all times.

Negatives: Inconsistency is going to be death of Norrena. With the exception of an amazingly stellar run during December, Norrena has found himself having the hardest time stringing together two games in a row, and this could be an endurance issue more than anything else. As well, even though Norrena has a firey drive and motivation, it has sometimes backfired and instead led to anger, frustration, and outright rage as can be seen by his reaction to many goals and situations on the ice. He needs to temper that energy without losing it, so that he can keep himself on his game during crunch time.

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  • At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Drew said…

    Good analysis. I don't agree on all points, but I like the microscope being applied to all players and in general I think you're pretty on.

    Hope you get some rest this week and get on the mend.

    Take care.

  • At 12:03 AM, Blogger Michael said…

    Well, you can't please all of the people all of the time, right? In fairness, some of the opinions and views expressed fluctuated as the span of 2-3 games passed, and some times specific things seemed to stick out to me concerning one or two players.

    Thanks for the well wishes, by the way. I actually had to leave the Blueline early today, after a really rough night last night. I really hope I'm well by the game on Thursday.

  • At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Drew said…

    Heh... don't worry about pleasing me with your writing, or anyone else but yourself. I know what you mean, though. My point was I think it's good to encourage people to think critically about their team and not proceed forward with a blind eye to the good and bad in every situation.

    Now get some rest!

  • At 2:48 PM, Blogger hockeygirl said…

    As well, Nash has begun to show a ferocity that he hasn't always been known for, when he got into scrums with Flames stud and Hockeygirl crush Dion Phaneuf

    I swear, he's fighting hard for that spot in this heart. He knows I'm watching (which I really am, I have found myself tuning into CBJ games recently...).

  • At 4:31 PM, Blogger hockeygirl said…

    See? It's on.

  • At 5:50 PM, Blogger Skye-chan said…

    Let's see if it'll actually post this this time. Ugh.

    and while I know that Truth Serum at End of the Bench likes to stand up for Nikky Z

    I stand up for Nikky a lot too, and not just because I love him to no end. I just hate it when one person gets ragged on a lot for something that they can't really control. Yes, Nikolai could be doing a LOT of things better. Yes, he REALLY needs to quit doing the toe drag. But it is not his fault and his fault alone that the team has been less than stellar this year.

    Somebody kind of needs to tell Aaron Portzline this.

    Recent games this season, however, have shown everyone just what Zherdev is capable of when he is motivated. Interesting that this coincided with his ejection from practice.

    The other night, when he scored against Montreal, I noticed that his confidence seemed to soar after that. He was playing more like himself (or, at least, how I'm used to seeing him play).

    Vyborny has had the puck, a wide open net, and instead of firing off a shot? ... he passes.

    That reminded me a lot of another Czech, Aleš Hemský. Maybe it's a Czech thing? Mmm, who knows. All I know is that like you said, whenever Vybes shoots, he can make some really pretty goals happen.

    Let's not forget he's also second on the team in fighting majors this season.

    Maybe that's why I seem to like O.K. so much...

    Very nice scouting report, though, and I hope things get better for you and quit messing with you!


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Name: Michael
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About Me: A mid-20s male who feels much too old even before he's 30. Has a degree in Sport Management and after branching out and trying a few other things in the job market, has finally decided to go back to his first love of hockey and hope he can break in with a team, big or small, somehow.
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