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What the Blues can learn from Hossa and the Penguins June 15, 2009

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Let’s take a short trip back in time to June 9th, 2009. Various Websites and Hockeybuzz.com Blogger Peter Tessier, break news of Dany Heatley asking to be traded out of Ottawa. While Ottawa brass has said that Heatley wouldn’t be moved around the deadline, it appears now Dany wants out no matter what the Front Office wants.

Enter the St. Louis Blues. Where the front office has said they would like to pursue a scoring winger. Who has also said they see the time drawing near to add players now and trade some of the prospect pool.

Initially fans are for it, some are against it. I was for it, till I was able to give it more thought. I came to this conclusion while watching my second favorite team play, the Pittsburgh Penguins. My conclusion was that the Blues trading for Heatley amounted to the same as the Penguins trying to re-sign Marian Hossa last summer. At the time, Pens fans were upset with their rental hero not returning. Likely rightfully so. However, not signing Hossa has given the Pens more wiggle room in the check book to secure depth for the short and near terms.

How do Heatley and Hossa compare?
Both have over 100 point total seasons.
Both are big bodied forwards who can score 40+ goals in an season.
Both have deep playoff run experience, not much, but some.
Both are game changers, able to take a game over and lead a team to a win.
Both wanted or make over $7 million a year in Salary and are over $7mil in cap hits.

Why are the Blues like the Pens?
Both have a talented young core of players who will need to be re-signed soon.
Both have some financial issues. Blues in terms of money coming in and the Pens in terms of cap space.
Both teams have built through the draft and acted accordingly to develop players internally.

Here is a brief list of the moves that may not have been possible (now or later)  if the Pens kept Hossa.
Re-signing Brook Orpik
Signing Jordan Staal to his first big contract
Trading for Bill Guerin
Re-signing Guerin, Fedotenko, and Scuderi, Goligoski
Re-signing Kris Letang or Sergi Gonchar
Signing Luca Caputi or Eric Tangradi to their first big contracts.

Most of those players played major parts of the 2009 Cup Run and the two that didnt, will factor in in to longer term offensive winger depth. In short the Penguins forking $7mil + to Hossa loses them their shut down center who can score 25-30 goals, a veteran forward to help Sid and several key depth players.

What do the Blues have to lose to get Heatley?

2009 1st Rd. Pick
NHL level player
NHL ready prospect
– Something along those lines get him here. What about after that?
Choosingbetween EJ and Colaiacovo in the 2010 off season.
David Perron potentially in a trade.
Ability to re-sign David Backes / Brad Boyes
Reduced money to offer core players like Oshie and Berglund
Reduced funds to add UFA/traded for player additions in later seasons

Is the cost in assets worth the gain in this case? Is adding a potential 100 point winger worth losing 3 young players now (prospect, NHL level player and the 1st rd pick) plus making it harder to re-sign needed depth players. Given the Blues current level of financial stability, it won’t work. There are too many questions about money coming in to the team during economic downturn. With the cap likely shrinking, teams must have young players they can count on to offer cheap production. Adding Heately right now hampers that effort.

I am not saying the Blues will win the Cup because they didn’t get Heatley because of the Pens situation. I am stating that the Pens made the better long term decision and still found short term filler. The Blues need to remain focused on the long term as the short term is starting to take care of itsself with the players we have. Could the Blues add to the mix, to help the short term. Sure, there are many capable players out there who can improve the blue line, provide scoring depth up front, and be a solid back up. Its up to the Pro Scouting Department to evaluate who is out there along with JD, Al, and Dave to figure out who will fit in a the right price. So far the Front Office has done a good job, I don’t think there is a reason to not trust them yet.

So take a chapter from Ray Shero, JD and Larry. Entertain the thought, but secure who you already have first. Once that is done, then go looking for the key piece who can be around a while.

Thought of the Day: 05-27-09 May 28, 2009

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How should the Blues play?
by beatoni12

Watching the playoffs and seeing teams advance using different styles of playing hockey got me thinking about how I want the Blues to play. Now I’m not talking about structure or defensive schemes, I’m talking about the physical side of hockey and how each team decides to use this. The last two Cup winners used completely different tactics. Anaheim tried to intimidate and probably tried harder after the whistle than during the actual play. Detroit doesn’t pay any attention to intimidation and their players almost completely shut down once the whistle blows. Both have been shown to be effective.

The Blues currently play a style closer to Anaheim’s method. They are never afraid to drop the gloves and initiate confrontation quite often. Anyone who watches playoffs understands that penalty trouble absolutely kills teams (unless you are playing the Blues this year). Detroit goes out of there way to avoid penalties and make it very hard to argue with their success this year and last. But do Blues fans want to go to this style of play? If it means winning a cup, I’m sure most fans would gladly make the trade. Personnel has a lot to do with it and I don’t see the Blues building a team that will play like that. No other team in the league would be able to be successful if they tried to play like Detroit, and Detroit wouldn’t be nearly as successful if they tried to play like the Blues or Ducks.

In my eyes, we are building the ideal team for a fan base to really embrace. Many of our rookies showed they are willing to mix it up. Crombeen threw knuckles quite often, Polak played a very punishing style, and Perron and Oshie both jumped into scrums very quickly. I don’t think that Oshie would be nearly as popular if he played a methodical puck possession style of play. I personally wouldn’t want to replace DJ King and Winchester on our 4th line with players like Maltby (who has turned into a puck possession type player).

Connecting to a team is the best part of being a fan. Most hockey fans are going to connect to a very hard working, get dirty if it has to, team. This is pro sports, so winning really is everything. But winning with the type of players and team that the Blues are building will be that much more gratifying. It doesn’t make sense but I wouldn’t trade this Blues team for the current Wings team.

So how should the Blues change their style of play ? They shouldn’t.

Blues ink McClement to 3 year / $4.35mil Contract May 27, 2009

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Andy Strickland reported this on Hockeybuzz earlier last week, however Jeremy Rutherford at the St. Louis Post Dispatch let fans know that the Blues made it official today. The Blues announced that Center Jay McClement has agreed to a 3 year deal worth more than $4 million dollars.

Per Strickland and Rutherford the deal breaks down this way:
2009-10: $1.4 million
2010-11: $1.45 million
2011-12: $1.5 million

Jeremy Rutherford quoted John Davidson on McClement:
I think he’s still improving. No. 1, he really has a defined role that he embraced last season. That was, he was the lead guy on the penalty kill, he was the lead guy on matchups, regarding the other team’s top lines. He’s maturing as a player in understanding what his strengths are, yet there’s still upside.”

High praise from one of the better guys in the NHL.

Is this a good signing? Yes it is. Why?

McClement produced 26 points while being the top forward on a Top 10 PK unit as well as being the primary Center to match up against the likes of Thronton, Datsyuk, Nash, etc. He finished a -10, which isn’t bad considering how little offense his line is expected to produce. McClement was the top face-off man for the Blues at 52.1%. I am not counting McDonald’s 58% due to the amount of face-offs he had compared to Jay. McClement was second on the Blues with 44 takeaways (Backes had 45). His 57 blocks were the most of any Blues Forward. McClement was the ONLY forward on the Blues to play more than 2:45min a night on the PK. SH TOI/G 3:50. Who was next? Yan Stastny at 2:34.

So Jay put up solid numbers and played a sound defensive game. Couldn’t someone do this without being paid over $1mil per?

Would comparable players like  Radek Bonk take $1.5mil? Would Lehtinen, Grier, Pahlsson, Madden? Sure you might be able to get Reasoner, Zigomanis, Kopecky, Yelle, Peca for the same or less. However they did not excel in the Blues system, McClement did. While that list is comprised of mainly vets, they would still  have to come in to a new environment. Why not keep you have drafted and developed?

So if you don’t go outside, why not stay inside. Could Stastny, Whitfield, or Paddock replace McClement?

In 37 Games Stastny had 9 takeaways, an average of (rounding) 0.3 a game. McClement per game rate was at 0.54. Stastny took 102 face-offs with a 45.1% winning %. Stastny had 18 blocks in 34 games for a .53 per game pace. McClement per game was at .70 per game pace. As far as offensive play, you aren’t paying either player to be offensive minded, so this shouldn’t be a major consideration. You are paying them both to back check, play the PK and shut down the other line, establish a forecheck and get pressure on the D. Scoring is like #5 on that list. 3 SHG for McClement in 08-09 (and many more opportunities)…how many for Yan? Just one.

Whitfield? If he was that good and deserving of the promotion, why did he not come up over Porter, Winchester, Regier, or Paddock earlier this year? They all have similar time in the AHL and play similar roles. Whitefield didn’t look like a fish out of water in his 3 NHL games this year, but he didn’t look much better than Stastny either. Paddock was given 16 games with the big club, not that he was bad, he just didn’t play as well as who we already had in McClement, Stastny, and Hinote.

I know there are fans out there still upset that the 2nd Round pick didn’t turn in to more of an offensive player. I know he is just a grinder. But you cannot refute that Jay found his role last year and played it well. The in house options aren’t as good and the guys on the outside will cost more than Jay. McClement was the best option to fill the shut down Center role. Why did Ryan Jonhson not get this contract? Age and lack of offensive upside. You can say Jay is streaky and not offensively gifted, but he has produced as much in one year as a “checking center” than RJ did from 05 to 07 (2 seasons) and played the same defensive game. Not keeping RJ likely turned Jay in to what he is now, which is fine with me.

Thought of the Day: 05-25-09 May 26, 2009

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Just got home from seeing Night at the Museum 2 (good movie by the way) and watched the 2008 Draft Special on NHL Network.

They did spend some time going over the Blues and their #4 pick. Some interesting things seemed to have come up at the draft that I am not sure were talked about much.

The #2 and #4 Pick:
It sounded like Larry Pleau wasn’t sure that LA was going to draft Doughty. Sounded like they were very interested in him, with good reason after his solid rookie campaign.

Anaheim and the #28 Pick:
Anaheim dealt their #28 pick to Phoenix to pick up #35 and #39.
Based on what they showed with Burke mic’d up…
Blues offered #33 and #87
NYI offered #36 and #60
NJD offered #55 and #57
PHO offered #35 and #39

At #28 Phoenix drafted Viktor Tikhonov.

Detroit and the #30 pick:
Detroit took several offers for the 30th pick.  The Devils offered a similar set of picks and the Blues offered the same, #33 and #87. Ken Holland (mic’d up) said they could add the 65th to it and maybe give the Blues back a 4th or 5th rounder. Holland sounded like he would deal, if their player wasn’t there, which ended up being Thomas McCollum.

#33 turned in to Phil McRae, #87 turned in to Ian Schultz, and #65 turned in to Jori Lehtera.

Assuming these deals had gone down…would the Blues have taken Tikhanov or McCollum at #28? Would they have taken McCollum at 30 and passed on Jake Allen at #34 to hope for McRae instead? Are Tikhanov and McCollumn better than Allen, McRae, Schutlz, and Lehtera?

McCollum is ranked #4 in the Red Wings system by Hockeys Future and rated an 8.0D and Tikhanov is rated an 8.0C and #1 in the Coyotes system. Allen and McRae are rated 7.5C and 7.0C, ranked 6 and 7 in the Blues system. There is not a large difference. Add in a large guy like Schultz and an offensive upside guy Lehtra, I think the Blues did better not making the deals.

While it would have been nice to keep adding 1st Rounders to the coffers, Allen and McRae taken early in the 2nd are pretty comparable to the late 1st Round guys.  So not being able to trade up a few picks wasn’t the end of the world. Keep in mind that the Blues could have offered #33 and #34 to move up to get Tikhanov or McCollum and had a better offer than Phoenix.

With the Blues possibly trading down this year, look for similar scenarios. The Blues may not land a Pronger on draft day, they could add 3-4 additional 2nd to 4th round picks by dealing down. The Islanders have three 2nd round picks this summer, keep an eye open for that.

Blues Thought of the Day: 05-24-09 May 25, 2009

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Been a while, work is crazy and the baby is becoming more mobile and too smart for my own good.

As always JR at the St. Louis Post Dispatch had a good Thursday afternoon Hockey Chat a couple weeks ago. Several fans questioned Eric Brewer and his potential return to the Blues line up for the 09-10 season.

With the Blues Playoff push and appearance to cap off the 08-09 Season, expectations are sure to ramp up for the 09-10 campaign. There are obvious and serious questions surrounding the Blues blue line patrol. The 08-09 group was one of the least effective in terms offensive production in the league, not just of the 16 playoff teams. With so much of the NHL game revolving around mobility, transition, and the 5 man offense, can expectations realistically raise when there are issues with the defensemen?

Eric Brewer and his $4mil plus contract factor deeply in to this situation. With the return of Erik Johnson and the potential ascension of Alex Pietrangelo to the big show, the offensive effectiveness looks to turn around. However, at the same time how much can the Blues count on one kid returning from a major knee injury and another kid just really getting his feet wet? Without the addition of Johnson, Pietrangelo, and Brewer, the Blues defensemen figure to be lack luster in terms of offensive production.

Is Eric Brewer the “x-factor”?  Is he the cog that will make this wheel turn? Will he return from a very serious and potentially career threatening back injury and be as good or better than before?

For the Blues, who are still financially unsettled, the simple answer is “yes, he has to”…but why?

1. Money
While fans (this one included) would love to dabble in the Bouwmeester sweepstakes, that is just not a good business move at this point. It really pains me to say this, being on the Bouwmeester bandwagon for a quite a while. However, the Blues do not have the money…right now…to play the FA game. They gambled with Kariya which has worked, but no where to the degree hoped for. Right now the Blues just cannot afford the gamble.

Could the Blues make the play for the second tier type? Someone like Bergeron, Siedenberg, Leopold, Oduya, or Komisarek? There is that possibility, except that to make it feasible the Blues likely have to move out  Jay McKee’s $4mil contract. Not the easiest task when another team could get the afore mentioned Free Agents for likely less than McKee’s $4mil tag.

2. Lack of Replacement
The Blues blue line depth, or lack there of, was exposed. The loss of Johnson and Brewer, the lack of development of Steve Wagner, and the inability of 4th Overall pick Alex Pietrangelo to stick to the NHL roster opened up this glaring hole. A hole filled in by “fillers” like Mike Weaver, Tyson Strachan, Jeff Woywitka, and Wagner. Those four combined to produce 31 points (3 goals) in 175 games, which is roughly a 15 (14.5) point pace per 82 games. Not exactly what you would expect from a playoff team. I will give Woywitka some credit, he had 18 of the 31 points.

What do all the numbers mean? It means that beyond Colaiacovo and to a lesser extent Polak, there was little offensive production from the blue liners. While Brewer might have only been good for 5 or so goals and 25ish points, that’s still an improvement over the numbers put up by the likes of Weaver.

3. Who He Replaced
Yes, Eric Brewer was the principal return in the Pronger to Oilers trade. As many times as that horse has been beat (rest his soul), he is still holding some water. No matter how many fans say “it doesn’t matter”, it still does. Brewer is replacing a lot of production and a big name. Could Blues fan really expect Brewer to play anything close to the Hall of Fame level Pronger has? Not while being fair. However, Brewer has to be expected to contribute. Like it or not, he has been the #1 blue line patroller since the trade and the Blues need him to be as close to that level as possible.

I am pulling for Brewer. I hope his back is as close to 100% as possible and he can be a capable top 4 defensemen. For that matter, the Blues are pulling for him too. They really don’t have a choice.

Blues Thought of the Day: 05-06-09 May 7, 2009

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There are several teams (especially in the West) that have been bottom half / bottom 5 of their conference for a while who have stored up some good young players. The three closest to the Blues are Chicago, Edmonton, and Phoenix.

Last year (07-08) those three teams all competed for the 8 spot for quite a while with young teams. After that push how did those teams follow up in the off-season?

Chicago:
Signed Huet, Campbell, and Matt Walker.
Let Rene Bourque, Williams, and Perreault go.

Edmonton:
Traded Pitkanen for Cole.
Traded Torres for Brule.
Traded Stoll and Greene for Visnovsky.

Phoenix:
Traded Ballard, Boyton + for Jokinen.
Did not re-sign Vrbata.

Chicago upgraded, Edmonton sidegraded, and Phoenix traded away depth on the blue line for a forward (looked good at the time but didn’t replace the loss of depth = downgrade).

In my opinion the Blues are sitting between Chicago and Edmonton. The forward proved they can score. I know people complain about the scoring, but this team had two 30 goal scorers, two 20 goal scorers (would have been 3 if Andy played all year) and 6 players totaling 10-19 goals. That’s a total of 10 players scoring 10 or more goals (that’s basically the first 3 lines).

Where did the Blues struggle? Puck movement and transition. Hard for your forwards to score when you’re working twice as hard to just get it out of your end and through the neutral zone. Yes EJ is coming back and Petro should be here, but the Blues are one upgrade from take a Chicago like step.

My take is that the Blues need to take that chance and pursue Bouwmeester or a trade for an impact defenseman.

Thoughts?

Thought of the Day: 04-29-09 April 30, 2009

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Once again the San Jose Sharks have flopped out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A Coaching change was made, key veteran additions were made, and sadly San Jose met the same outcome. Is it possible that it is not the periphery, but rather the core?

The question is, should San Jose entertain moving Marleau or Thornton? Both are capable #1 Centers, who have large contracts, but are not entirely unmanageable.

So where would those two go? Who needs a #1 Center and has the roster/cap space? One comes to mind.
Columbus

So playing “computer chair GM” – what could a deal look like?
Columbus: Brassard, Torres, Chimera, 09 1st | San Jose: Thornton + 09 2nd or 3rd

Playing around with the cap figures:
San Jose is shedding Grier ($1.775 mil), Roenick ($1.1 mil), Moen ($912k) – totaling about $3.8mil. Adding Brassard ($1.246mil), Torres ($2.25mil), and Chimera ($1.875mil) would total approximately $5.3mil. Thornton dropping off would make the net loss of ($7.2mil – $5.3mil) about $1.9mil. Columbus would be taking on a net gain of approximately ($7.2mil – $3.8mil) $3.4 mil. The $3.4mil is easily made up allowing Malhotra ($1.2mil) and Williams ($2.2mil) to leave via free agency.

This would allow San Jose to replenish their depth/role players at a very similar price and free up money to purse another forward via free agency. Perhaps Gionta, Skyora, Sullivan, or Kozlov. This also gives Columbus a legit #1 Center to play with Nash and take any undo pressure off Filatov.

As a Blues fan I’m very glad we don’t have a question about our Centers…yet. If Columbus wants to improve and take the next step with their team next year, they need creator for Nash. That would certainly keep Columbus close to St. Louis and just under Detroit and Chicago.

Question to Blues fans: Would that make you fear Columbus? Having a legit, threatening scoring duo?

Question to Sharks/Blue Jackets fans: Feelings on the deal? Do Sharks fans really want Thornton gone? Are Jackets fans willing to accept a “big trade” to make their team better?

Blues Thought of the Day – 04-26-09 April 26, 2009

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One of the Blues offseason goals is to shore up the back up goaltending for 09-10. Media coverage of the Blues seems to point to an UFA/Trade pick up rather than keeping Bishop in St. Louis or using Holt. If the Blues were to bring in a former starter like Khabibulin, Fernandez, Biron, Roloson, Gerber, Anderson, Clemmensen, or Kolzig, will it be a positive or a negative.

Positive:
Experience in Regular Season and Playoffs.
Proven ability (especially in the case of Khabubulin, late season play by Roloson)
Someone to push Mason.
Injury coverage.

Negatives:
After giving the #1 job to Mason, he flourished. Will he regress if he is put in a position where he could be the odd man out?
What is the potential message to future additions? Will a prospective free agent want to sign here knowing its possible that their play may not be rewarded the next year?
There is a Potential to tie up $8-$10 mil in goaltending.

While I would love to add a proven goalie, what is really wrong with Mason? His play all year was solid, he just lacked goal support through the first half of the season. My personal pick would be Anderson, Valiquette, or Conklin. Anderson may not get a chance to start in Florida due to Vokoun and his contract and NYR/DET need to find ways to save money. All three have been back ups before to clear #1s and would be capable back ups.

Your thoughts?

Wrapping Up the Series April 25, 2009

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The story is known around the league. A team left for dead at the halfway point by bloggers, journalists, and insiders alike. A team depleted by injuries mid way through their rebuild. Fans are talking Tavares vs. Hedman and if the Western Conference cellar dwellers will play as bad as the East to get a shot at the Canadian Sniper or the Swedish Pronger.

Enter the Manny Legace Meltdown, Chris Mason ascension, and the Monday Matinee Miracle in Beantown. Some how, some way this Blues teams finds a way to climb from 15th to 6th place. So when an inexperienced Blues team beats Colorado to draw the Vancouver Canucks in Round 1, the bloggers, journalists, and insiders alike write off the Blues. Blues fans know better. This team wasn’t just happy to eek in, they were hungry and eager to keep moving on.

The Blues were the ultimate “Rudy” team. The Blues were hardworking, students of the game, and every player willing to step up his game to help his teammates. Could the feel good story of the year who did everything right in the second half beat the Montreal Monster and the Twins? Blues fans were confident they would get close and see what fate held.

What happened between April 15th and April 21st was not expected.

Now to be fair, these were not blowouts. Even the 3-0 game was not out of hand. These games were all close checking, hard hitting, down to the wire games. This might be the “closest” sweep of a series in the NHL in a very long time. I agree with Peter Tessier when he says that the Cancucks looked dominate in only about four periods in the series. From Game 2 on, the play was pretty balanced.

The series ultimately boiled down to missed opportunities and hot goalies.

To end the regular season the Blues finished with 8th Ranked power play (20.5%) and the 3rd Ranked penalty kill (83.8%).  This was the Blues secret weapon, their kryptonite that would beat back the Canucks superior even strength play. If the Blues were to have a real shot at taking Vancouver over seven games, the special teams had to be in top form. In the four games the Blues power play clicked at a 4.2% clip and the penalty kill played at a 77.8% kill rate. With both sets of special teams units far from special and were no secret weapon. Perhaps the largest miss opportunity was the power play converting once out of 24 attempts. For the sake of argument let’s convert the Blues Playoff power play chances at their regular season rate. The Blues had 24 chances at a 20.5% clip, which would have turned in to 4.92 additional goals (rounded to 5). How much of a difference would have 5 goals made? A lot since the series differential was 5 for to 11 against (or a minus 6 for the Blues).

From novice casual fans to the face painting diehards, we all know that the goalie is a teams best penalty killer. The missed opportunities above ended up as missed opportunities because of the play of Roberto Luongo. As frustrating as it was to watch, Luongo really did play very well in every game. In games 3 and 4 he seemed beatable, but came up with the big saves when needed.

On the other end of the ice was Chris Mason. Cast out from Nashville in the offseason, Mason was brought in to challenge Manny Legace and give the Blues a capable back up.  The Meltdown that was Manny Legace is well documented, what came out of said breakdown was Mason’s amazing effort that carried in to the Playoffs. Mason was as good as could be expected. He made big save after big save that was required of him. There was the occasional “softy” let in, however how much of an impact would those “softies” had if the power play was better than 4%?

For those who are statistically inclined, here is a break down of each game in the series. Combining Mason’s and Luongo’s stats.
Game | Total SOG | Total Saves | Combined Save %
1 – 57 – 54 – .947
2 – 56 – 54 – .964
3 – 52 – 47 – .904
4 – 85 – 80 – .941
TOTAL: 250 – 235 – .940
* SOG Differential – 131 (Blues) to 121 (Canucks) –  +10 Blues for series, 2.5 SOG a game.

The two goalies combined to stop 94% of all shots in the series. With the shot differential less than 3 shots a game, it shows how even this series really was. Save for the execution of the Canucks compared to the execution of the Blues.

The Canucks are moving on, resting till Round 2. The Blues are moving on to front office meetings on pro scouting, draft scouting, and making player personnel decisions. While some fans see this four game sweep as a negative, I would disagree. This series (and the second half run) provided invaluable experience for Backes, Boyes, Oshie, Perron, Berlgund, McClement, Polak and others that will make up the core of this team long-term.

Thank you St. Louis Blues for an amazing season. Take your beatings, move on and get better.