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top-shelf-1

Head Shots and DPS

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Big news from DC yesterday, with the NFL's health and safety guy contradicting the league's prior stance and affirming before a congressional panel that there's a link between head trauma in football and CTE. Reminded me of Lake's comment in his post in the Boston GDT about fighting (versus head shots) leading to CTE:

 

Oh, and for anyone who takes the concussion and CTE issue seriously, how can you countenance fighting in any instance as acceptable, especially staged ones?

 

I, for one, don't countenance fighting anymore, staged or otherwise. It's a "part of the game" that needs to be permanently and finally forbidden.

 

You'll notice I said I don't countenance it "anymore." I won't pretend that I've always felt this way. I grew up a Flyers fan, after all--and I'm talking Schultzie, Kelly, Dupont, Saleski. The Broad Street Bullies.

 

But I did GROW UP. And I think if the League doesn't too, and quick, it'll be forced to. Unfortunately, if the first two years of Stephane Qiuntal's tenure as Director of Player Safety are any indication, the latter seems more likely.

 

I believe Gary Bettman - a lawyer by training, it is important to note - has instructed Quintal to avoid head shot discipline in all but the most egregious cases, and think he's done so for two reasons: (1) to avoid adverse publicity for the League in general, and (2) because the more discipline is meted out, the more the NHL creates its own documentation of the issue, making it really hard for the League to pretend it's a non-issue. I think the Department of Player Safety has shifted, since Brendan Shanahan's excellent work to reduce head shots, from a proactive approach to a reactive one, watching for commentator/public outcry over specific hits, and only acting when it's clear that the League had better get out in front of the most severe, and quick.

 

I've posted before about Matt Niskanen's hit on Jeff Skinner in the 2014 pre-season. It concussed Skinner and, I believe, was ignored because the last thing the league wanted was headlines about a former Rookie of the Year being concussed in a meaningless game, just prior to the beginning of the season--and at the height of concussion lawsuits being filed against the league by former players. Niskanen's hit was a clear case of elbowing that resulted in a head shot and injury, but Quintal, who had just taken over DPS, totally ignored it. Ryan Kennedy, writing in The Hockey News, called for Niskanen's suspension. Liles' clotheslining of Kucherov last week was another example. At least this time, Quintal held a hearing.

 

Thanks to yesterday's testimony on Capitol Hill, there's no longer any doubt: The NHL is at a crossroads. It can either do the right thing unilaterally and institute a zero-tolerance policy for head shots - whether in game flow or punches thrown during fights - or the lawsuits will force it to outlaw them. 

 

Why Bettman, a lawyer, cannot see the positive PR and respect that would accrue to hockey for taking the lead on this issue - instead of trying to dodge it and to keep fans of "old time hockey" happy - is beyond inexplicable. There is no reason anyone, no matter what they do for a living, should have to risk losing cognizance - at best, or being permanently disabled at worst - in doing their job. Let alone doing one that is meant to entertain us. 

 

Mr. Bettman, man up. It's time to act.

Edited by top-shelf-1

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Top, we agree on a lot here. But I don't think the league is suppressing discipline in order to defer attention due to potential liability.  Given all of the video and reporting these days, the evidence for head trauma is already out there for anyone that wants to pursue it. If the NHL doesn't do anything about it, it doesn't hide anything, all it does is open them up to more liability imo.

 

We still disagree on the Liles hit, too.  Here's the rule and I suspect that it was part (iii) in particular that was the main point in Liles avoiding suspension. 

 

Rule 48.1: illegal check to the head. Let’s review the rule:

Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered: 

(i)  Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward. 

(ii)  Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable. 

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

 

Here's a still shot at the moment of contact.   Kucherov is significantly bent over as a result of the pressure immediately prior from the other Bruin [part (iii) above]. And the initial contact is with the forearm, not the elbow from what I can tell. I think Liles threw his arm out to impede Kucherov's progress and Kucherov, who was coming through at speed, dipped down at the last second after the contact from Accari(?).  But I appreciate that different people are going to interpret it differently.  

 

Liles-640x411.jpg

 

 

 

But that's just one case.  It will be interesting to see how long it is before the NHL treats fighting like all of the other major sports.  I don't see how they can help but end up there at some point or another.  Oh, and how can refs still allow a punch to the head as long as the gloves are still on?  I remember someone throwing one at the end of one of our games this year. Not only wasn't there a penalty, no one even mentioned it.  I remember that the opponent was a pretty big name player, and it was against one of our better players as well. Maybe Ovechkin on Skinner or Stempniak? Anyone else remember the specifics?

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I can see how you and others would interpret it that way, and I don't disagree that its a call open to dipsute. For me the bottom line is that the elbow was extended and made contact to the head, so the hit is ipso facto an illegal (elbowing) hit to the head. We do agree that LiIes went after him; I think Liles saw that he left a gap that Kucherov was about to get through and lunged in an attempt to cut him off. If he'd kept his elbow in, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because he never would have touched him. Regardless, Liles is a clean player generally, and I do agree that probably had an influence as well.

 

What most bothers me is that there is no explanation of the non-discipline. Shanny did an exemplary job of explaining rulings, both when there was supplementary discipline and when there was not. The fact that Quintal is not doing the latter anymore is another indication to me that the League is trying to create as little of its own paper trail as possible, because it seems determined to litigate, rather than settle, these suits.

 

On top of which, I'll admit, I generally regard Bettman as a donkey - and I'm talking Democrat. The "World Cup of Hockey" is yet another example. It risks a stretch-drive injury fest next year, due to the added play. Even if it's a series of All-Star Game quality matches (i.e., nobody risks anything), it's still like adding a month to the season. It's just incredible to me that it's even taking place. 

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I can see how you and others would interpret it that way, and I don't disagree that its a call open to dipsute. For me the bottom line is that the elbow was extended and made contact to the head, so the hit is ipso facto an illegal (elbowing) hit to the head. We do agree that LiIes went after him; I think Liles saw that he left a gap that Kucherov was about to get through and lunged in an attempt to cut him off. If he'd kept his elbow in, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because he never would have touched him. Regardless, Liles is a clean player generally, and I do agree that probably had an influence as well.

 

What most bothers me is that there is no explanation of the non-discipline. Shanny did an exemplary job of explaining rulings, both when there was supplementary discipline and when there was not. The fact that Quintal is not doing the latter anymore is another indication to me that the League is trying to create as little of its own paper trail as possible, because it seems determined to litigate, rather than settle, these suits.

 

On top of which, I'll admit, I generally regard Bettman as a donkey - and I'm talking Democrat. The "World Cup of Hockey" is yet another example. It risks a stretch-drive injury fest next year, due to the added play. Even if it's a series of All-Star Game quality matches (i.e., nobody risks anything), it's still like adding a month to the season. It's just incredible to me that it's even taking place. 

 

Fair enough top.  You don't happen to remember the gloved punch I mentioned, do you? There was a scrum right at the end of the game and an opposing player gave one of ours a short straight right to the face.  Like I said, it might have been Washington, but I'm not sure.

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Fair enough top.  You don't happen to remember the gloved punch I mentioned, do you? There was a scrum right at the end of the game and an opposing player gave one of ours a short straight right to the face.  Like I said, it might have been Washington, but I'm not sure.

No, I don't remember it. But if it was recent and it was Washington, it was probably Orpik. That criminal...

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Eliminate fighting and make any contact with the head a penalty. Allow the officials more leeway on reviewing contact that involve the upper body. I don't love this idea, but I see it as a legal necessity going forward. Buttman (as a lawyer) should get this, but I've never thought he was a good commissioner, and I certainly don't know about his lawyering. He seems to require crisis to govern (hence all the lockouts). Is he going to wait until the NHL get to the NFL level of crisis on the head trauma issue before initiating change? I can't see the union fighting him on this one.

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A loosely related (and much less important) question that originally arose from my late introduction to hockey and comparing it to other sports:

 

If you're going to really regulate fighting, do you have to revisit what constitutes whatever hockey's equivalent is to unsportsmanlike conduct on the ice?  I already mentioned the gloved punch to the head which is still often allowed.  What about a face wash? Can you still allow that to go unpenalized?  It's clearly an act of provocation.  I hear that sweaty hockey gloves are really nasty (some of you guys who've actually played the sport?).  

 

No other sport allows even taunting to any degree, let alone any of the physical contact that goes on after the whistle blows in hockey.  I don't want the NHL to ever get nearly as strict as the NFL is regarding celebrations and taunting. But will the NHL have to reign in some of the physical stuff that happens after play has stopped if they do regulate fighting?

 

I suspect that even raising the question will offend some hockey traditionalists.  But as top pointed out, I'm glad to push some buttons here (just kidding top :P)

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A loosely related (and much less important) question that originally arose from my late introduction to hockey and comparing it to other sports:

 

If you're going to really regulate fighting, do you have to revisit what constitutes whatever hockey's equivalent is to unsportsmanlike conduct on the ice?  I already mentioned the gloved punch to the head which is still often allowed.  What about a face wash? Can you still allow that to go unpenalized?  It's clearly an act of provocation.  I hear that sweaty hockey gloves are really nasty (some of you guys who've actually played the sport?).  

 

No other sport allows even taunting to any degree, let alone any of the physical contact that goes on after the whistle blows in hockey.  I don't want the NHL to ever get nearly as strict as the NFL is regarding celebrations and taunting. But will the NHL have to reign in some of the physical stuff that happens after play has stopped if they do regulate fighting?

 

I suspect that even raising the question will offend some hockey traditionalists.  But as top pointed out, I'm glad to push some buttons here (just kidding top :P)

Oh yeah, gloves are nasty. (Mine, at least.) Unsportsmanlike totally covers face washes. The problem is it's almost never called.

 

I will say this, I used to think Don Cherry was just an old-time hockey guy who wants fighting in the game, but the fact is he's been way out in front on this issue for years. When I started playing all the upper body gear was made with formed cardboard inserts - no plastic. Only pants and shinguards had high-impact plastic to protect thighs, tailbones, shins -- from pucks more than body contact. As soon as plastic arrived above the waist, guys felt invincible and checked in ways they never would have with the old gear, because they'd have separated their shoulders doing it.

 

Hockey is not football. It's played at much higher speeds by much more agile individuals on a pitch that is completely, three-dimensionally encased in hard surfaces. That's why the introduction of gear with football-grade plastic above the waist was a mistake, something Cherry's been saying for a long time - and it leads to hotter heads, because it enables ridiculous hits. 

 

I know Cherry has also suggested head shots would go away if there were no helmets, because before them, guys simply respected that, hey, that's the guy's noggin. Off limits. But I don't believe he supports actually ending their use. Bill Masterton's death is a perfect example of why they're necessary. If you fall backwards on the ice and hit the back of your head, you might die. At minimum you will be concussed, because the force of all your body weight being above your head, along with the literally super-human speed provided by skates, plus the lever effect (your feet are one end of the lever; your head is the other. And if your feet are going up, your head is coming down) is synergistic and tremendous. And ice is extremely hard.

Edited by top-shelf-1

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I'm an "old time hockey" guy that appreciates the roll of fighting in hockey. The instigator rule has done away with a lot of it. The head injury legal issue is a game changer and I can't believe the league isn't getting out in front of it.

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I'm an "old time hockey" guy that appreciates the roll of fighting in hockey. The instigator rule has done away with a lot of it. The head injury legal issue is a game changer and I can't believe the league isn't getting out in front of it.

Yup.

 

I appreciate the role that fighting played too, but I do think (and by your prior post you agree) that you can't get out in front of hits targeting the head without also outlawing bare-knuckled fighting.

 

Maybe Rodney Dangerfield (or Henny Youngman; there seems to be some dispute) had the answer all those years ago: Slide a boxing ring out to center ice prior to puck drop and let players that want to engage in a staged fight go three rounds. Then play the game. People would literally go to a boxing match--and hockey game would break out!

Edited by top-shelf-1

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I don't see how a commissioner could sit in front of Congress or a jury and testify that their sport is doing all it can to minimize head trauma while they allow players to punch each other in the head.

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I don't see how a commissioner could sit in front of Congress or a jury and testify that their sport is doing all it can to minimize head trauma while they allow players to punch each other in the head.

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I don't see how a commissioner could sit in front of Congress or a jury and testify that their sport is doing all it can to minimize head trauma while they allow players to punch each other in the head.

 

Yeah, that seems like a

 

nobrainer.jpg

 

(pun intended) :grin:

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Oh yeah, gloves are nasty. (Mine, at least.) Unsportsmanlike totally covers face washes. The problem is it's almost never called.

 

I will say this, I used to think Don Cherry was just an old-time hockey guy who wants fighting in the game, but the fact is he's been way out in front on this issue for years. When I started playing all the upper body gear was made with formed cardboard inserts - no plastic. Only pants and shinguards had high-impact plastic to protect thighs, tailbones, shins -- from pucks more than body contact. As soon as plastic arrived above the waist, guys felt invincible and checked in ways they never would have with the old gear, because they'd have separated their shoulders doing it.

 

Hockey is not football. It's played at much higher speeds by much more agile individuals on a pitch that is completely, three-dimensionally encased in hard surfaces. That's why the introduction of gear with football-grade plastic above the waist was a mistake, something Cherry's been saying for a long time - and it leads to hotter heads, because it enables ridiculous hits. 

 

I know Cherry has also suggested head shots would go away if there were no helmets, because before them, guys simply respected that, hey, that's the guy's noggin. Off limits. But I don't believe he supports actually ending their use. Bill Masterton's death is a perfect example of why they're necessary. If you fall backwards on the ice and hit the back of your head, you might die. At minimum you will be concussed, because the force of all your body weight being above your head, along with the literally super-human speed provided by skates, plus the lever effect (your feet are one end of the lever; your head is the other. And if your feet are going up, your head is coming down) is synergistic and tremendous. And ice is extremely hard.

 

Good perspective from someone who's played the sport.

 

It's a basic human truth that people will exploit unintended conequences of any action. In this case, hard-plastic inserts are intended to protect the player from the bumps, bruises and worse, but the unintended consequences of placing those inserts leads to players checking with more force and aggression.

 

That said, I wonder what one can do about upper-body padding. Going back to formed cardboard is probably not an option anymore. Maybe low-density polyethylene with foam backing?

 

Playing without helmets should be off the table - too many things can happen to players who don't wear them. Even though the Bill Masterton death was 40+ years ago, there's no point in courting the possibility of it happening again in an unproven effort to stop illegal hits to the head. To me, the fact that not every check in today's game leads to a concussion means that helmets are doing what the league intended when they were made mandatory in the 1979-80 season.

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How do you put in rules to without a doubt protect the head without accidentally removing hitting as a whole? 

 

If a guy bends over, takes a shot to the noggin that wasn't malicious and that starts getting called will players in turn just stop hitting because they have in most cases no idea what the other player is going to do at any given time?

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How do you put in rules to without a doubt protect the head without accidentally removing hitting as a whole? 

 

If a guy bends over, takes a shot to the noggin that wasn't malicious and that starts getting called will players in turn just stop hitting because they have in most cases no idea what the other player is going to do at any given time?

Same as high sticking. Any stick contact to the head is a penalty (with the exception of a follow through on a shot that never comes into play). What it will do more than anything is make players more responsible in keeping their elbows down. Football is going through the same thing with contact. It is an inevitability.

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How do you put in rules to without a doubt protect the head without accidentally removing hitting as a whole? 

 

If a guy bends over, takes a shot to the noggin that wasn't malicious and that starts getting called will players in turn just stop hitting because they have in most cases no idea what the other player is going to do at any given time?

 

I don't think you can.  Players move so fast I think you have to keep in the provision that doesn't penalize for what otherwise would have been a legal hit if the opponent didn't make a unexpected change in elevation.  But make the penalties for "avoidable" hits to the head more severe and actually impose them.   Oh, and as mentioned, treat fighting the same way all of the other sports do.

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If you go way back on this site to years past, I've been pretty early on the decrease and even no fighting train. Also predicted when the first NFL lawsuits were filed that fighting would be gone fairly soon. Also, having seen what happened to Tanabe, and more recently Skinner, I have no tolerance at all for head shots.

 

Staged fights lend an air of WWE to the NHL. Like a side show. Just purely there to throw raw meat to the fans. Look, fights are exciting. Heck the MMA is huge business. But if hockey wants to be legit, that has to go. And spare me the pathetic arguments about self policing. There are tons of players who never fight. Guys like Sean Avery went around cheap shot'ting people all day long and rarely fought.

 

In the NFL if you hit the head, especially the quarterback, it is a penalty. Period. I see no reason why it can't be in the NHL also. I don't think we're going to have a run of guys throwing their melons in harm's way to draw that penalty.

 

Here's the obvious analogy that I have not heard anyone raise: high sticking. It doesn't matter what the receiving player did. If your stick hits the head, it's a penalty (ok except shot follow through), but you get the point. If you hit the head it's a penalty. If you target  the head it's a 5 minute major and a game misconduct, and subject to further discipline. Stop the head shots.

Edited by remkin

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. . .

In the NFL if you hit the head, especially the quarterback, it is a penalty. Period. I see no reason why it can't be in the NHL also. I don't think we're going to have a run of guys throwing their melons in harm's way to draw that penalty.

 

Here's the obvious analogy that I have not heard anyone raise: high sticking. It doesn't matter what the receiving player did. If your stick hits the head, it's a penalty (ok except shot follow through), but you get the point. If you hit the head it's a penalty. If you target  the head it's a 5 minute major and a game misconduct, and subject to further discipline. Stop the head shots.

 

Someone did bring up high sticking, maybe Kajun? But I'd bring you back to legend's post:

 

How do you put in rules to without a doubt protect the head without accidentally removing hitting as a whole? 

 

If a guy bends over, takes a shot to the noggin that wasn't malicious and that starts getting called will players in turn just stop hitting because they have in most cases no idea what the other player is going to do at any given time?

 

Imo pro hockey is just too fast and fluid to penalize all contact to the head regardless of what the contactee does concurrently with the contactor's actions. That would be a very slippery slope. If you look at the NFL, it's almost like you can't touch the QB at all these days because of the threat of a penalty. How could that possibly work in a sport like hockey that's much faster and has continuous contact? 

 

Let's look at an example: OT, Stanley Cup game 7.  Player A starts what would be a completely legal check with his shoulder to player Bs torso.  Player B loses an edge at the same time as Player A begins his check and starts to fall, bringing his head down to the level of Player A's shoulder.  Player Bs team gets a PP which could win the cup? Can you imagine the outrage that would generate? 

 

I think you've got to stick with targeting and intent.  But make it a point of focus for the refs and the leagues supplemental discipline committee.

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Let's look at an example: OT, Stanley Cup game 7.  Player A starts what would be a completely legal check with his shoulder to player Bs torso.  Player B loses an edge at the same time as Player A begins his check and starts to fall, bringing his head down to the level of Player A's shoulder.  Player Bs team gets a PP which could win the cup? Can you imagine the outrage that would generate? 

 

I think you've got to stick with targeting and intent.  But make it a point of focus for the refs and the leagues supplemental discipline committee.

Sticking with targeting and intent, and trying to determine both, days after an incident, assures head shots will persist--because some neanderthals will continue trying to get away with it. Zero-tolerance, backed by in-game video review, is the only answer. The penalty should be an immediate game misconduct and a one-year suspension (pending DPS review) for the 1st offense; and banning for life for a 2nd. Two strikes, that's it--you're gone. 

 

The example you cite, Lake, all due respect, isn't realistic. No zero-tolerance policy I'm aware of ignores chance circumstances; sh_t happens, and you have to assume it will and build in mechanisms to review the circumstances in real time (on the spot). In your example, video review would make it very clear within moments that player B lost his edge and Player A neither targeted Player B's head nor intended to make contact with it.

Edited by top-shelf-1

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 Zero-tolerance - backed by in-game video review - is the only answer.

 

I'm curious, what is "zero tolerance" in terms of what happens in the game to the offending player?

 

A game misconduct I'm assuming? 

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I'm curious, what is "zero tolerance" in terms of what happens in the game to the offending player?

 

A game misconduct I'm assuming? 

Yeah, I just realized I left that out and added it, along with what happens next. 

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Sticking with targeting and intent, and trying to determine both, days after an incident, assures head shots will persist--because some neanderthals will continue trying to get away with it. Zero-tolerance, backed by in-game video review, is the only answer. The penalty should be an immediate game misconduct and a one-year suspension (pending DPS review) for the 1st offense; and banning for life for a 2nd. Two strikes, that's it--you're gone. 

 

The example you cite, Lake, all due respect, isn't realistic. No zero-tolerance policy I'm aware of ignores chance circumstances; sh_t happens, and you have to assume it will and build in mechanisms to review the circumstances in real time (on the spot). In your example, video review would make it very clear within moments that player B lost his edge and Player A neither targeted Player B's head nor intended to make contact with it.

 

But it was mentioned in the context of high sticking, where there really isn't any exception even if there is clearly no intent or targeting, no? 

 

What you outline in your last sentence is exactly what I'm talking about in the first place so I suspect what we've got here is a difference in our use of the language around the issue.

Edited by LakeLivin

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Players don't stop using their sticks because they might get a high sticking penalty called.

 

Incidental contact, where a player might slightly put themselves in the position would be a 2 minute minor, and that's it. 2 minute minors have not stopped tripping, slashing, too many men on the ice, boarding, elbowing, roughing, or anything else for that matter.

 

Incidental contact to the head would not be so common that hitting would stop.

 

Players would just think twice before hitting near the head.

Edited by remkin

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But it was mentioned in the context of high sticking, where there really isn't any exception even if there is clearly no intent or targeting, no? 

 

What you outline in your last sentence is exactly what I'm talking about in the first place so I suspect what we've got here is a difference in our use of the language around the issue.

Yeah, that's probably what's going on.

 

BTW, there is an exception for high-sticking, which s_d described:

 

(with the exception of a follow through on a shot that never comes into play).

Edited by top-shelf-1

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