Christmas in July, Wild sign Parise and Suter

The Wild have just signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts.

Let’s let that soak in, for just a moment.

The Wild, who for the past few seasons have been stuck in the rut of the Doug Risebrough era, have finally arrived as the big-time contender that Chuck Fletcher promised when he took over the reins. They beat out perennial contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, not to mention their former teams, the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators – neither of whom are slouches, themselves.

Wow. Just wow.

Regardless of whether or not you think this makes the Wild an immediate contender, there’s no doubt whatsoever that this makes the Wild immediately better.

Parise gives the Wild a game-breaker and a player that a) has the drive and desire to win and b) makes those around him better. For those of you living under a rock the last few days, Parise has scored 30-plus goals five times in his seven season NHL career (one, of which, was ended by injury and the other was his rookie year). He’s also never scored less than 60 points outside of those seasons as well. Other than the one season where he injured his knee, he has never played less than 81 games in a season. Not only that, but he’s also scored 43 points in 61 playoff games – something that tends to hold some weight in the NHL these days.

So, suffice it to say, Parise coming home to Minnesota is a windfall for the Wild. That, alone, would have been a banner day for the team, but Chuck Fletcher wasn’t done there.

Oh, no. He decided that he wasn’t satisfied with just Parise. He decided that he wanted defenseman Ryan Suter, as well.

Suter gives the Wild a player that can play 25-plus minutes per night, he can play in every situation and he immediately replaces the shutdown hole left by the trade of Nick Schultz. He’s steady and he can put points up, as well, scoring at least 30-plus points in his last five seasons and 35-plus in his last four. He plays against teams top lines and he is the type of defenseman that can make a difference on both ends of the ice.

So, you’ll forgive me if my fan side (which I tend to squash in deference to somewhat balanced analysis) is doing backflips right now.

This isn’t just a good signing for the Wild, this is a great one; not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. The Wild desperately needed to make this type of splash, not just to improve their roster, but to energize a fan base whose interest has been waning after years of middling finishes.

We’ll have more here soon, and we’ll take a look at the wild’s updated line combinations here next, but for right now let’s just say this is a big day in the State of Hockey.

In Which Free Agency Frenzy Begins

Christmas in July is officially upon us. The Wild are expected to be unbelievably busy this off season, going for their home run (Parise and/or Suter) and also filling out their depth.

Some deals have already gone down, which I’ll talk about in a bit, but I want to first address something that happened this morning that has drawn the Wild a bit of ridicule.

The Minnesota Wild reported on their Twitter account that they put in offers on both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. This immediately led to the typical outcry on Twitter of people both lauding the move and ridiculing it but, in my mind, this is a brilliant move by the Wild.

Why, you may ask?

The Wild don’t have much to pitch both Suter and Parise. They’ve missed the playoffs for the past few seasons, they’ve been stuck in a rebuild for, seemingly, that entire time and they’ve got some gaping holes in their organization because of the draft mismanagement of the previous managerial regime. They’ve got a dearth of youngsters that are coming in that they’re hoping will work out, but there’s nothing concrete. So they can pitch the players on the perspective of future success. But what else do they have?

The fans.

The Wild’s fans are some of the most knowledgeable and passionate of any franchise in the NHL. Even when attendance is waning during the team’s down years, the building is still packed. The Wild’s players are revered around the Twin Cities and that’s exactly why the Wild’s decision to offer up the information that they put in offers to both is a great idea.

Why?

All they have to do is point to Twitter to show the players the reactions of the fans. Could they pitch it without? Absolutely. Both Suter and Parise have played at the Xcel Energy Center. They’ve experienced the Wild’s fans firsthand. Both also played in the WCHA and have experienced the phenomenon that is hockey in Minnesota. But now they can point to Twitter and say, “See? This is the response you’re getting. This is what you will mean to this franchise.”

We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the gambit works out, but if it does, it could be the home run that the Wild desperately needs.

Wild Desperate for Free Agency Home Run

As I just mentioned, the Wild needs a home run in free agency.

Last season, they needed a home run with a coach and took a flyer on Mike Yeo, who proved to be exactly the coach that the team needed.

A few seasons prior, the Wild also needed a home run in free agency, and they got what appeared to be that with Matt Cullen, Martin Havlat and Greg Zanon.

Now they’re in a similar situation and there’s nothing to indicate that they might not be hitting a similar home run this season.

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has come through in the clutch for the franchise when he’s needed to. He moved Brent Burns (who, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be on the way out in Minnesota anyway) and Havlat for some big pieces last season. He brought in Guillaume Latendresse who, despite having moved on from Minnesota, became a quick fan favorite.

Will Fletch hit a homerun today, though? I doubt it.

This isn’t to say that he’s not going to, but on July 1? With the amount of offers that these players are likely receiving, I highly doubt that a decision will be made today unless there’s one obvious choice.

At the end of the day, Parise and/or Suter may very well end up in Minnesota, but it could lead to a restless night for Wild fans, as the likelihood it is settled today looks slim.

Wild Sign a Pair

So far in free agency, the Wild have already made a couple of moves, signing forwards Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell to contracts.

First, let’s look at Konopka. He adds toughness to a Minnesota team that already has Darroll Powe,Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Kassian up front. With Konopka, who signed for two-years and a $925K AAV over that time, that is a scary line up of hitters.

He’s not going to score a ton of goals, and the Wild don’t expect him to. He’s going to protect the Wild’s best players, along with Kassian (who was signed earlier in the week to a one-way deal).

On the surface, Konopka seems to be a solid fit for the team’s fourth line and will provide the Wild that toughness that they wanted.

Next, let’s take a look at Torrey Mitchell.

Mitchell is fast, he’s physical and he can chip in a bit offensively – something that seems to be becoming the “mold” for the Wild’s third-line forwards.

Signed for three years and a total of $1.9M, Mitchell will be a solid fit on the third line with the likes of Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak – again, a line that I wouldn’t willingly drop my head against if I’m the Wild’s opponents.

Keep it tuned here, as we’ll be back with updates periodically, but that’s all for now.

Wild steal win from Devils

If you were to ask me how the Wild keep winning, I honestly couldn’t tell you.

The Wild played a pretty poor game on Friday night, but still managed to sneak out a 4-2 win over a New Jersey Devils team that has been struggling of late, but is still a very good team.

Friday night, the Wild showed their ability to fight back and, boy did they ever. Minnesota responded to a quick goal by the Devils with a Dany Heatley goal just 20 seconds later (the goal was vintage Heatley, too). Just over three minutes later, Kyle Brodziak scored on a beautiful effort and not even two minutes after that, Casey Wellman re-directed a Matt Cullen shot past Martin Brodeur to give the Wild a two-goal lead and chase the future hall-of-famer from net.

The biggest news coming out of the game, however, was that Niklas Backstrom was injured during the first period. Josh Harding entered in relief and played a solid two periods, stopping all 22 shots he faced. Backstrom’s injury isn’t thought to be serious and it sounds like he’ll be on the road trip with the Wild, but they’ve called up Matt Hackett just to be safe.

Predictably, though, it was a sloppy game for the Wild. It was a one-game home stand, after a big shootout win, against a desperate Devils team and, if not for their great start, the Wild probably lose this game. They spent a good chunk of the game pinned in their own zone because of sloppy play in the neutral zone and poor execution, which is evidenced by their 16 total shots, but they got great goaltending and they never stopped working and battling, which Mike Yeo lauded after the game, saying “I love the work ethic and the attitude that our guys bring.”

But, the good news is that the Wild won. They’ve now won three straight since their two-game slump heading into their five-game road trip and things are very optimistic around the team right now.

Burning Questions

Can the Wild solve the Devils? I don’t know if you can say that they solved the Devils, but they certainly solved Brodeur. 3 goals on 4 shots. Ouch.

Can the Wild get on the board first? Nope but, once again, it didn’t matter. With as quickly as they responded to the Devils’ goal, though, they might as well have scored first.

Can Casey Wellman impress on the second line? He scored a goal, he brought speed and even a bit of a physical game and his goal was not only a key goal but it was the type of goal that the Wild are looking for more of – the dirty kind.

3 Stars

1)      Kyle Brodziak – Two goals, plus-two and five shots.
2)      Josh Harding – Stopped 22 of 22 shots and was dominant for the Wild.
3)      Zach Parise – A goal and an assist and eight shots.

We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Around the NHL: Vacant Captaincies

Today’s going to have a little less coverage than a normal Tuesday would because, well, NHL ’12 comes out in stores today, so you all will have to suffer through a day or two of my nerdiness, but fear not. That nerdiness will result in a review of the game coming up this week, so you’ve got that to look forward too.

As a result, though, there will be no player profile today and there will be a truncated Around the NHL, so let’s get to it!

Captain Questions
There are six separate franchises that are searching for captains this off season, so I thought that we could take a look at each of those franchises and whose chest I think that they should put the C on.

Zach Parise

First, let’s take a look at the New Jersey Devils.

Gone is Jamie Langenbrunner, their previous captain, and Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias all are listed as the alternate captains on the team’s website. So, which one of these would make the best captain for the team? Or is there an unlisted player who would fit the bill?

Well, first of all, let’s look at the three alternates.

You have Elias, the veteran, Parise, the franchise, and Kovlachuk, the player who’s going to be in a Devils sweater for the next 16 years.

To me, the decision is simple. Elias has come out and said that he doesn’t want the role and, to be honest, I don’t feel that he’s best suited to be a captain. An alternate, yes, but not the guy with the C on his chest. Elias is on the downside of his career. This season, he’ll turn 36 and, though he’s still good, he’s no longer that point-per-game player that he once was. Kovalchuk might be the choice at some point down the road, but he’s not the answer for this season. The answer for this season is simple: Zach Parise.

Yes, there’s the chance he might not be there after this season, but you’ve got to take that chance if you’re the Devils. No one else on the roster is either ready or seemingly primed to step into that role and the other two alternates just simply aren’t as good of a choice.

He’s your franchise. He’s your best player and he’s also the player that you need to woo to keep in your organization, and he also happens to be one of the best guys for the job. He’s not a free agent signing, like Kovalchuk. He’s a Devil, through and through, and the organization needs to show that confidence in him to give themselves every opportunity to re-sign him before he hits free agency next season.

After the Devils, we’ve got the Philadelphia Flyers.

Chris Pronger

The Flyers currently have no alternates listed on their website and, to be quite honest, probably have the easiest decision to make. If he’s healthy, the captain should be Chris Pronger.

He’s a veteran, he’s got experience wearing the C and he’s one of the most respected and feared players in the NHL.

If we’re going to nitpick things, yes, Daniel Briere could be a viable option, as could Scott Hartnell, but really, the job is Pronger’s to lose or to turn down.

Next, let’s look at the Buffalo Sabres.

This is probably one of the more intriguing situations out there. With Craig Rivet’s rough season last year, the Sabres played most of the season without a player wearing the C. That meant Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Jochen Hecht

Jason Pominville

all wore the A for Buffalo last season and were the captain by committee.

So, who gets the C?

Is it one of the aforementioned five?

The answer is yes. It’s the player that has shown the endurance and the resilience to keep playing, even after some crushing hits or devastating injuries. It’s Jason Pominville.

To be fair, all of those five players are pretty suitable candidates for the job and each of them would bring something different to the job but, in my opinion, you’ve got to go with Pominville. He’s been a key player for Buffalo his entire career and he’s a proven performer. He can play in every situation and he is as much of the fabric of the Buffalo Sabres franchise as Ryan Miller (who, let’s be honest, is the de facto leader in the locker room).

So, what about the Colorado Avalanche?

Replacing Adam Foote will be no small task for this young roster, but they’ve got someone tailor made for the position.

Matt Duchene

Last season, the alternates were Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny, but I don’t think that either will be the one to get the C this season.

That honor is going to go to Matt Duchene.

He’s the face and future of the franchise and he’s proven over the last couple seasons that he’s up to the task, not quailing under the pressure of the NHL in his first two seasons. He’s well respected in the room and he’s loved by the fans and, let’s face it, the trend in the NHL is to give the C to your young superstar. Throw in the fact that, if the Avs struggle, Hejduk and Stastny will be among the first names to get bandied around in the rumor mill and it makes sense.

The Avs franchise has been in flux for a couple seasons now and naming Duchene would lend a sense of stability to the organization.

But what about the Florida Panthers?

Ed Jovanovski

Their website only lists one alternate, and that’s Stephen Weiss, but I don’t see Weiss getting the C just yet.

That honor is going to go to the guy who started his career with the Panthers and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season. Ed Jovanovski.

Jovo Cop is the man for the job. Indeed, why bring him back to a young team unless you plan on him being a major part of your leadership core. Yeah, he’s a newcomer to the squad as it stands now, but he’s well liked by the fans and he’s got a huge history with the organization and, the symbolism behind naming him captain alone would be worth it.

And finally, we have the New York Islanders.

Both Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo are listed as the team’s alternates, and I think that they have a future captain on their squad in John Tavares, but I don’t think that is the route they’re going to go quite yet.

Mark Streit

As evidenced by their building process, Garth Snow is exceedingly cautious and exceedingly patient and, it stands to reason that his coach would be as well. I think that Tavares is their captain of the future, without a doubt, but right now the honor will and should fall on Streit.

The Isles are still a very young team. They’re still growing and they need someone who’s been there and done that, and Streit is that guy. He’s been around the block a couple times and he’s going to be the guy to help lead these youngsters this season.

So there you have it. My view on the captaincy situations of these six teams. What do you think? Am I crazy? Am I dead on? Let’s hear it!

Around the NHL: 8/16/11

Sorry for the lack of a mailbag yesterday. The kids and I were out at the Octagon Sports pro camp over at the St. Louis Park Rec Center and there wasn’t really any questions to be answered so, we had a day off. I’ll be heading there a few times a week, so I’ll put up some thoughts once more players get there.

Anyway, on to our look around the NHL. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Rick Rypien Found Dead
We’re starting with a sad story today, as 27-year-old enforcer Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home on Monday.

Rypien’s dead was reported by News 1130 in Vancouver as a “non-suspicious, sudden death,” and, past that, no more details have been released.

Rypien is the second NHL player this off season to be gone to soon and, out of respect for him and his friends and family we aren’t going to speculate about the cause or circumstances of his death.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family during this trying time and, once more concrete information is available, we’ll have more on this.

* * * * *

Kaptain Kontroversy in New Jersey?
As funny as it sounds, there might be a controversy brewing in Newark surrounding the captaincy of the New Jersey Devils.

Will it be Ilya Kovalchuck, the $100 million-dollar man or will it be Zach Parise, the team’s franchise player whose future with the team is seemingly in limbo? Or will it be someone else like Patrik Elias (despite his insistence that he doesn’t want the job)?

For me, I can’t even imagine why there is any controversy here. The right call, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is Parise and the

There should be a C added to that picture this season

rationale goes beyond a simple power play to try to convince him to stick with the team past this coming season.

First of all, Parise is the team’s true franchise player. He was drafted into the organization and has been the cornerstone of the franchise since he first suited up in a Devils’ sweater. In Parise, you have not only a strong player, but a player with a strong pedigree (son of former North Star J.P. Parise) and a player who has won everywhere he’s been. Not only that, but you have a player that has been the face of the Devils’ franchise for all the right reasons (as opposed to being the face of the franchise due to illegal cap circumvention.)

In Kovalchuk, you have a player who sat back, waited and went to the highest bidder. Does Kovalchuk really want to be in Newark? I have no doubt that he does. (He chose it over Hollywood, for crying out loud.) But he’s been the name that people think of when they think of the Devils for all the wrong reasons.

Kovalchuk does have the experience of being a captain on his side, but is that really a good thing? The Thrashers slapped the captaincy on him in the hopes that it would convince him to re-sign in Atlanta.

The experiment failed.

The franchise didn’t win and Kovalchuk left.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I love Kovalchuk. I’m probably one of his biggest supporters and he’s one of my favorite players outside of the Wild, but he’s not a captain. He’s not the guy you want your players looking to for guidance. He’s not the guy you think of and say to yourself, “Now there’s a great leader.”

I’m sorry, but he’s just not.

On the other hand, Parise has been a leader everywhere he has played. From North Dakota to the Devils to Team USA.

He is the man for the job and it’s not just a power play to keep Parise on the team. It’s the right call.

* * * * *

Crosby May Not Be Ready For Camp?
In the interest of full disclosure: I hate Sidney Crosby.

I’m sure he’s a great guy and he’s certainly a great player, but I just can’t stand him.

Don't worry Pens fans. He'll be back.

But, my personal decisions aside, if he’s not ready for training camp, that’s a huge blow to not just the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the NHL. Crosby is a huge draw around the league and he makes the league more intriguing to watch. If he’s not ready to play this season, that’s a huge blow.

Should it be a cause for concern?

Yes.

Should anyone go into full out panic mode?

Absolutely not.

Head injuries are funny things (funny, weird, not funny, ha-ha). They’re unpredictable. One day you can be on top of the world and the next you can be unable to get out of bed.

Crosby is in a precarious position right now. He’s been cleared to work out and he’s doing so. As some Penguins blogs are pointing out, there’s a good chance that he’s feeling light-headed after workouts because, well, everyone does at one point or another.

He’s an elite athlete who is likely pushing himself to get into shape for training camp.

Yeah, he’s going to have instances where he’s not feeling his best.

As has been pointed out, though, the biggest key is going to be whether or not he is cleared for contact once camp comes around. If he is, great. If he isn’t, though, it’s going to be a huge hit for everyone.

Until then, though, it’s a disservice to everyone to speculate.

Crosby is still working out and that gives every indication that he’s doing just fine.

So, Pens fans, don’t panic…Yet.

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We’ll be hitting up more of the Octagon camp tomorrow, so we’ll try to get some photos to throw up here and we’re going to have the prospect report done tonight for you, focusing on the Wild’s newest prospect – Charlie Coyle.

Enjoy your day and we’ll be back later tonight!

Mid-Morning Musings: Devils and Gestures and Headshots. Oh My!

***Mid-Morning Musings is a feature that I’ll be doing every couple days (read: every day the Wild don’t have a game) during the week here at Wild Nation. It will have to do with anything and everything hockey related, Wild or otherwise, so sit back and enjoy my opinionated ramblings.***

Could things get any worse for the Devils right now?

I mean, honestly. Any worse?

First they get out to their horrific start, then they have to deal with a knee injury to Zach Parise and now Martin Brodeur is looking like he will have to miss time?

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear here. The Devils are a good team playing bad hockey. They’re much better than their 4-9-1 record indicates. But at the same time, they’re a team that’s doing next to nothing to get themselves out of this slump.

But, as much as this is the player’s and the coach’s fault, some of the blame with this has got to fall on Lou Lamoriello and the rest of the front office and ownership.

This team’s off season put them in this situation.

Lou addressed a big need on this team in bringing in Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder on defense – they were shrewd signings and very important ones at that. But then he did something very un-Lou-like.

Now I don’t know if it was pressure from the owner or a slight break in his better judgment, but the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk was not only ill-conceived, it was ill-timed as well.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Kovie. I think he’s a much better player than people give him credit for and I’m the first to jump to his defense. He was a point-per-game player for them and gave them another offensive weapon.

But the team was 13-9-5 while he was there. Not a bad record, to be sure, but look at the results. They never put together more than two wins in a row – something they did seven separate times before his arrival (four three-game winning streaks, and one five-game, four-game and six-game streak apiece). They also went on losing streaks (no matter how small) four times – something they did just five times the entire rest of the season.

Did he help their offense? Not a ton – approximately 2.81 goals for with Kovie against about 2.65 without.

The only thing that he did was come into the locker room and mix up a team that had very good chemistry prior to his arrival.

And you re-sign him?

You can say what you want about this team, but the franchise’s Stanley Cup hopes were squarely in the capable hands of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. The two were gelling and were beginning to come into their own as players in the league.

Give them another season together and they would have been the one-two punch that the Devils needed. But instead, you bring in Kovalchuk and screw up their chemistry.

So what you are left with now is a team that doesn’t know how they’re going to get under the salary cap once players return from injury and, what’s more, a team that doesn’t know how they’re going to keep their top players after signing Kovalchuk, not to mention one whose chemistry has been drastically altered in a bad way by his signing.

Any way you cut it; this was just a poor, poor decision by Lou.

*****

A lot has been made of the suspensions so far this season, and I definitely agree that the disciplinary culture of the NHL needs to be looked at in a big way.

So far, here’s what the suspensions look like (from the 2010-11 NHL fines and suspensions wiki page):

Date

Name

Team

Offense

Length

9/24/10

Nick Boynton

Blackhawks

Throat-slashing gesture

1 game

10/4/10

Mike Cammalleri

Canadiens

Slashing Nino Niederreiter

1 game

10/10/10

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

Devils

Instigator penalty in last 5 minutes of game

1 game

10/12/10

James Wisniewski

Islanders

Obscene gesture to Sean Avery

2 games

10/12/10

Niklas Hjalmarsson

Blackhawks

Boarding Jason Pomminville

2 games

10/18/10

Shane Doan

Coyotes

Blindside hit to the head of Dan Sexton

3 games

10/22/10

Rick Rypien

Canucks

Grabbing a Minnesota Wild fan

6 games

10/27/10

Stephane Robidas

Stars

Automatic suspension for two game misconduct boarding penalties within 41 games

1 game

11/1/10

Daniel Briere

Flyers

Cross-check to the head of Frans Nielsen

3 games

So far this season, 20 games worth of suspensions have been handed out – two of which were automatic suspensions (Letourneau-Leblond’s instigator penalty and Robidas’s boarding call).

But other than that, what does this really tell us?

Well, for one, it tells us that the NHL is putting a greater emphasis on its image than on the safety of the players.

Of the 20 games, 9 were for incidents that had absolutely nothing to do with a hockey play.

Yes, we can all agree that Rick Rypien should have been suspended for what he did – no question about it. But James Wisniewski and Nick Boynton?

I guess I can see it to an extent, but to what extent are you bringing more attention to it by bringing down a suspension to the player?

I’ll be honest, I was watching the Isles/Rangers game when Wiz made the gesture and I barely caught it. The broadcast didn’t replay it over and over and over again – it was a one time thing that, odds are, if I hadn’t been paying attention at that exact moment I would have missed.

But the NHL is dead set on making sure that they keep their image up. They don’t want to be seen as the “rogue sport.”

But wouldn’t their efforts towards their image be better served going towards the safety of their players?

Boynton and Wisniewski just made an innocuous gesture. One that, if you weren’t paying attention right then, you would have missed (and if myself, a 28-year old man, barely caught the gesture, what are the odds that a kid is going to be paying attention to the game long enough to catch it?) and one that, at the end of the day, kids are likely seeing and hearing worse than on the playground?

I understand that you want to make sure that players know that this isn’t okay. I get it. But don’t we have anything better to do with our time?

So here’s a thought. Gestures, anything like that – automatic game misconduct, they forfeit that game’s salary and a $10,000 fine. There you have it. It’s over, done with. You don’t have to worry about the rogue fellatio gestures anymore.

But for plays that are dangerous to players, a suspension is needed.  So how about this?

A blindside hit to the head – automatic 3 game suspension. No questions asked, if you get booted from a game for a blindside hit to the head, you sit for three games, repeat offender or not. Heck, we can even make it reviewable by the league to ensure that the right call was made on the ice.

Sure, an automatic suspension isn’t going to quell the problem. It’s not going get rid of these types of dangerous hits immediately, nor will it likely do anything to stem the problem down the road – players who are going to be repeat offenders (yes, Matt Cooke I’m talking about you) are going to do it regardless of the ramifications – but what it will do is make sure that the players know that there’s no questions asked; if they do this, they will be suspended.

*****

That’s all for this time. Hope you enjoyed the first of many mid-morning musings. Feel free to discuss below and I’ll pipe in with my thoughts when I can.