A Dozen And Counting For Cam Barker

Jonathan Willis
March 24 2012 11:59AM

Last night, the Edmonton Oilers played the Florida Panthers. It was their 12th game in the month of March. Cam Barker did not dress; he has not dressed for any of the dozen games the team has played this month.

It’s an interesting situation. Earlier in the month, Tom Renney was asked by Gene Principe about carrying eight blueliners and his seemingly odd decision to have Andy Sutton outside the lineup on many nights. His answer to the question was illuminating:

It’s a coach’s decision. You like to base your decision on performance for sure, and that being said we’ve got to give others an opportunity to play. Andy’s secured, and that’s important to us naturally. At the same time, as I say that others aren’t, so we’ve got to make sure people have an opportunity to show what they’re capable of doing so we can make informed decisions on them.

At the time, I concluded that we would likely see Sutton, Barker and Theo Peckham rotated in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season. That hasn’t happened; instead, the coach has rotated Sutton and Peckham.

The obvious read is that the Oilers have made a decision on Barker. Barker’s last game – February 29th against St. Louis – was a disastrous outing following a string of other disastrous outings. While the coach refused to toss him under the bus (saying “He was OK”), Terry Jones rightfully called out an ugly effort and my post-game grade read like this:

Just over a minute into the game, Cam Barker made an ill-advised pinch and sent the Blues away on a two-on-one. Naturally, the Blues scored on it. He also got beat on the Nichol goal. I picked one shift to just watch him check Vladimir Sobotka, and Sobotka just effortlessly gained position on him time and again. The night was characterized by bad decisions and inefficient defensive zone coverage, at least over the first two periods. He added a bad penalty in the third. Few players do so much bad with so little ice-time.

Things were so bad that the Oilers’ official recap said things like “Cam Barker got caught up-ice on an ill-advised and unusually soft pinch,” “Barker stepped up in the neutral zone without accomplishing the stop as he'd intended” and “[t]he Oilers' momentum was squashed early on when Barker was assessed a slashing minor.” When a player gets called out three times in the take on the team's own website, it’s time to start looking out the window for horsemen.

It’s not like the St. Louis game was an isolated incident, either. Cam Barker has easily been the worst of the Oilers’ regular defensemen since the first day he stepped into the lineup. All season he has been either the very worst or close to it in terms of scoring chance plus/minus. David Staples, who looks at scoring chances a different way – trying to analyze who directly contributed to each play – came away with the same data. Barker isn’t even Marc-Andre Bergeron, creating offense while allowing chances the other way – he’s been impotent offensively, recording one point in an hour of power play time and another point in 330 minutes in other situations.

There are those who felt that the Barker gamble – on a one-year deal for a ridiculous $2.25 million after he was bought out by Minnesota – was a reasonable one. Regardless of what I say, some will continue to feel that way. However, Barker was a guy highly unlikely to turn into a top-four defenseman even when the Oilers signed him this summer. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

2010-11 was a career-killer of a season for Barker. His even-strength scoring, which has always been rather tepid, fell off a cliff into stone hands territory. The power play, which is probably going to need to be his bread and butter if he is going to stay in the league, was not a friendly place for him the way it had been in the past. Beyond that, he’s essentially a sub-average third-pairing defenseman at even-strength and has been for years – even when he was racking up the points in Chicago in 2008-09.

(emphasis added)

I took a fair bit of flak on Twitter at the time from people who felt I was being overly negative about a guy with clear offensive ability and awesome draft pedigree. The data was patently obvious, though: Barker had been carefully handed the easiest possible ice-time (lots of time in the offensive zone, lots of time against the worst possible opponents) and he’d routinely made a mess of it. This year, mostly on the third pairing, he’s done the same thing. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. The only thing that should have been a surprise was the Oilers blowing money on him in the first place and the lengths some took to defend him even after the mistake should have been obvious.

Fortunately, it appears that we’re at the end of this particular experiment. Barring a last-gasp assessment period, some intentional tanking or significant injuries, we probably won’t see much of Barker the rest of the way. With Tom Renney’s Oilers future possibly dependent on how the team plays to close out the season (they’re 5-4-3 this month, with Devan Dubnyk doing his best to save the coach’s job), I’m not expecting that to change. And with Barker’s contract up, it’s possible we won’t see the team’s worst defenseman of 2011-12 dress again as an Edmonton Oiler.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 freeze
March 24 2012, 12:03PM
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It is great to see Goatboy sit for the rest of the season. Good riddance. I hope he has invested his millions wisely.

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#2 Jeffrey Chapman
March 24 2012, 12:09PM
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This team loves reclamation projects. While I wasn't crazy about the salary, it's one year. Cut bait and move on.

Who's next in the reclamation project lineup? Steve Mason?

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#3 Walter Sobchak
March 24 2012, 12:12PM
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Please take

Peckham - Omark - Belanger - Jones - Hordichuck - Whitney - Khabibulin - Horcoff

with you when you leave please.

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#4 ItsTheBGB
March 24 2012, 12:16PM
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I sure hope I never see him dawn the Orange and Blue ever again! Good riddance.

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#5 ItsTheBGB
March 24 2012, 12:21PM
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"This season, the Oilers are on pace for 266 man games lost to injury. Against New Jersey, they were missing their top two scoring forwards, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder) and Jordan Eberle (knee), and their best three defencemen: Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and Cam Barker (all ankles)." - Mark Spector

HAHAHAHHAHA GOLDEN. Calling Barker and Whitney 2 of the 3 best defensemen. How can someone that stupid get paid to analyze hockey?

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#6 PaperDesigner
March 24 2012, 12:32PM
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Perhaps the most condemning fact is that Barker can't break the top six of the Edmonton Oilers.

When I first watched Barker play, the thing that struck me most was that he seemed to be drifting aimlessly in his own zone. Every time I looked, he seemed to be either too close to his teammates or simply ignoring who he should have been covering.

He strikes me as a player that all the way through Junior simply coasted on superior physical tools to everyone else, and thus, never learned the finer points of defense. You can survive being a half step behind in the NHL, I suppose, by being able to make up the difference with speed. But Barker isn't that player--he simply does not think the game well. The sheer distance he would have to go in order to learn to think the game, well, he would basically have to redevelop his entire mental game, which would take YEARS.

Bottom line, while I was cautiously positive on taking a chance with Barker, I pray that management has recognized it as a failed experiment.

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#7 stevezie
March 24 2012, 12:59PM
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I'll go on record as saying I loved the signing, couldn't believe we gave him that much money, and became suddenly cautious in my enthusiasm when I saw some advanced data.

Frankly, I still think the "it was a good gamble" crowd has an argument. It certainly wasn't Barker who cost this team a playoff berth, though I suppose it depends on who you think we would have got if hadn't grabbed Barker. Nobody? Good gamble. Somebody? Well... that changes things.

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#8 Jasmine
March 24 2012, 01:25PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Please take

Peckham - Omark - Belanger - Jones - Hordichuck - Whitney - Khabibulin - Horcoff

with you when you leave please.

Perhaps he should take you with him instead of the players you mentioned. Getting fed up with all the players listed that you hate. Are they supposed to play with a day care?

What did Whitney, Horcoff, Jones, Belanger do to you that you hate them? Barker should take you instead of those players.

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#9 Dog Train
March 24 2012, 01:41PM
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I think it's clear that we didn't do enough to upgrade our D last summer but I supported the Barker signing and still do (although the money was definitely stupid). He's gone in the summer so at least it wasn't a multi-year contract.

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#10 Evilas
March 24 2012, 01:49PM
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By the first couple of games it was obvious that the Barker experiment had failed. He doesn't grasp how to learn from his mistakes, and he doesn't bring what was hoped he would bring for the PP.

Peckham played a terrible game vs Florida, he simply doesn't not know how to handle the puck, it is like he is handling a live grenade.

Potter shouldn't be on this team next year, if this is a playoff team. The bottom line is that 2 bonafide NHL dmen need to be added to the roster before TC.

I have been on the Belanger triangle bandwagon most of the season, but he has been playing very well this month, so I wouldn't cast him out so readily now.

Gagner also needs to be traded for some form of asset for this team to be a playoff team. Sure he has phenomenal shoot-out skill, but as far as I have seen he is too soft, too small, too slow and not good in the D zone. His value is high now, so now is when this value needs to be utilized in helping make this a playoff team.

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#11 DerekZ
March 24 2012, 03:16PM
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He isn't now, and wasn't then, a "good gamble". Good gambles are solid players returning from injury, solid players leaving terrible teams, and players who were unlucky the previous year.

Barker was none of these, he is now and always has been terrible and he always will be. It wouldn't have mattered if they gave him $800k, it's $800k too much for a player that is garbage.

This ridiculous "draft pedigree" argument has to go away. There was no "bounce back" for Barker - he never established a level to fall from.

That $2.2 million could've gone to Stralman and Hannan or Stralman and White. They would've had a much better defense and a one-year look at an actual NHL player.

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#13 Chirp26
March 24 2012, 03:54PM
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On the plus side...will Jay Feaster get his wish??? If the idea is, ‘Burn it to the ground,’ then (Flames president) Ken (King) can find another manager to do it.”

Maybe Barker signs in Calgary!

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#14 DrDave
March 24 2012, 03:56PM
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I was very excited at first when we signed Barker. I thought this could've been the best signing that ST did during the summer. He started off the season very strong and then when he got injured he hasn't been the same player. We had an insane record with him in the line up early (not saying it was because of him) but when he was out was when we started tanking. He obviously wasn't 100% when he came back and it was clearly evident on the ice. Maybe its just a matter of recovery for Barker or maybe he just sucks?? I doubt he's back with us next year but I wish him nothing but good luck in his future.

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#15 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
March 24 2012, 04:46PM
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It's funny how many people thought Barker was playing well earlier in the season though.

Ive got to say though, you are a little to worried about katzs pocket book. If a gamble has no downside (like this signing) then its a good gamble. The problem ISN'T that they signed Barker, it's that they didnt also bring in 1-2 other proven defenders.

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#16 Smokey
March 24 2012, 04:49PM
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DerekZ wrote:

He isn't now, and wasn't then, a "good gamble". Good gambles are solid players returning from injury, solid players leaving terrible teams, and players who were unlucky the previous year.

Barker was none of these, he is now and always has been terrible and he always will be. It wouldn't have mattered if they gave him $800k, it's $800k too much for a player that is garbage.

This ridiculous "draft pedigree" argument has to go away. There was no "bounce back" for Barker - he never established a level to fall from.

That $2.2 million could've gone to Stralman and Hannan or Stralman and White. They would've had a much better defense and a one-year look at an actual NHL player.

White, and Hannah weren't coming here. Hannan's a 5-6, White is healthy scratch at times. I agree with having a better defence but maybe mention guys who may of played for us that are better then 5-7 defenders.

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#17 Smokey
March 24 2012, 04:53PM
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Evilas wrote:

By the first couple of games it was obvious that the Barker experiment had failed. He doesn't grasp how to learn from his mistakes, and he doesn't bring what was hoped he would bring for the PP.

Peckham played a terrible game vs Florida, he simply doesn't not know how to handle the puck, it is like he is handling a live grenade.

Potter shouldn't be on this team next year, if this is a playoff team. The bottom line is that 2 bonafide NHL dmen need to be added to the roster before TC.

I have been on the Belanger triangle bandwagon most of the season, but he has been playing very well this month, so I wouldn't cast him out so readily now.

Gagner also needs to be traded for some form of asset for this team to be a playoff team. Sure he has phenomenal shoot-out skill, but as far as I have seen he is too soft, too small, too slow and not good in the D zone. His value is high now, so now is when this value needs to be utilized in helping make this a playoff team.

Potter's ok as 5-7 guy, who's a PK specialist. I think Oilers need to add one vet for sure, asking this management to do more is like asking your parents for pony when you were young.

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#18 Oilers4ever
March 24 2012, 08:55PM
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I don't know why people here are bashing Whitney... When he's healthy and playing like he can he's an excellent dman... Him, Petry and Smid make the top three on this team.

People need to cut him some slack.. he wrecked his ankle... I'd like to see people here wreck their ankle and see how awesome they could skate all out like he does. Wouldn't even come close to being as good.

He will have a better season next year after a summer to strengthen himself. I wonder how many of these people were bashing him last year when he had amounted the points he had in such a short time span before being injured.

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#19 striatic
March 24 2012, 09:00PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

It's funny how many people thought Barker was playing well earlier in the season though.

Ive got to say though, you are a little to worried about katzs pocket book. If a gamble has no downside (like this signing) then its a good gamble. The problem ISN'T that they signed Barker, it's that they didnt also bring in 1-2 other proven defenders.

It was a good gamble that failed spectacularly but didn't really hurt anything other than Katz's pocketbook.

it isn't like he would have denied another UFA playing time, we saw teubert, potter, peckham get more ime than they should have.

the issue wasn't the Barker signing, which given the term is a non issue.

the issue is the moves the team didn't make in addition to the Barker signing, especially with Whitney's problematic feet a looming issue through the summer.

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#20 Saytalk
March 24 2012, 11:08PM
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Hindsight is 20/20, or at least it should be. Let's not forget that Barker had one decent season in Chicago (08-09), where he generated enough offence to make up for his defensive shortcomings. And let's also not forget that at the time he was signed, the Oilers had just completed a season where they finished in 30th place (that's dead last) for a 2nd straight year, so I really doubt that any half-decent veteran defenceman would have even considered signing here. (Ok, maybe a 36-year old Bryan McCabe would come here but he would have wanted even more than Barker's $2.25M.)

Barker was a good gamble. The one year deal meant that there was no commitment or salary cap pressure for future years. So there was nothing to lose except Katz's money. And yet Barker was young enough that he would still be an RFA after the deal, so we could resign him or trade his rights if he amounted to anything. The team badly needed NHL-calibre defencemen and there was at least an outside chance he might regain his form from the 08-09 season playing on a team with a similar style to Chicago.

So it didn't work out. Nothing lost and we all move on. I wanted us to go for Craig Rivet at the time, but it's not like he would have lasted past this season either.

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#21 knobby
March 25 2012, 12:24AM
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Was this article about how poor Barker has performed (as we all know) or was it an 'I told you so' look how right I was article?

It was an overstatement of the patently obvious.

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#22 michael
March 25 2012, 08:32AM
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Barker hopefully will not play another game in an Oilers uniform. I like the addition of Shultz for Gilbert. Gilbert has not adjusted well to his new team. Meanwhile Shultz has shown to be a steady influence in his own zone. Would you trade Whitney at the draft if you could get a top 20 pick? Whitney is a good defenceman but not a great defenceman. A 3-4 guy rather thana 1-2 guy. I would rather see us spend our cap dollars on a more durable and physical defenceman. I would trade Whitney to Toronto for Shenn in a heartbeat. Is Whitney a Carlyle player though is the question?

I guess for me I would rather see more sandpaper in our d corps than what we have had for the past few losing seasons. I want our d to be tougher to play against. At times in the past we have had McSorley,Don Jackson,Jeff Beukeboom and others.I would like to see more of that rather than what we have in Whitney,Potter and Barker. Nice to have skill but it sure hasn't paid the rent lately.

Petry and Shultz for me would be my top pairing. Tuebert and Sutton my 5-6. And a combination of FA and Murray my 3-4. Garrison is going to hit it in the FA market. Lowetide has written articles about others including the College kid from Anaheim that may be a good fit for the Oilers.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting better results".(Gregor?)

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#23 michael
March 25 2012, 09:06AM
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Barker hopefully will not play another game in an Oilers uniform. I like the addition of Shultz for Gilbert. Gilbert has not adjusted well to his new team. Meanwhile Shultz has shown to be a steady influence in his own zone. Would you trade Whitney at the draft if you could get a top 20 pick? Whitney is a good defenceman but not a great defenceman. A 3-4 guy rather thana 1-2 guy. I would rather see us spend our cap dollars on a more durable and physical defenceman. I would trade Whitney to Toronto for Shenn in a heartbeat. Is Whitney a Carlyle player though is the question?

I guess for me I would rather see more sandpaper in our d corps than what we have had for the past few losing seasons. I want our d to be tougher to play against. At times in the past we have had McSorley,Don Jackson,Jeff Beukeboom and others.I would like to see more of that rather than what we have in Whitney,Potter and Barker. Nice to have skill but it sure hasn't paid the rent lately.

Petry and Shultz for me would be my top pairing. Tuebert and Sutton my 5-6. And a combination of FA and Murray my 3-4. Garrison is going to hit it in the FA market. Lowetide has written articles about others including the College kid from Anaheim that may be a good fit for the Oilers.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting better results".(Gregor?)

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#24 DonDon
March 25 2012, 09:50AM
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#22 michael wrote:

"Petry and Shultz for me would be my top pairing. Tuebert and Sutton my 5-6. And a combination of FA and Murray my 3-4...."

Where does Smid fit in? Tuebert seems to be on a long learning curve, which isn't unusual for young Ds. Sutton is short-term insurance against injuries, and at his age you can't expect more. At this stage D is a sinkhole for the Oilers.

As the team stands today, it has some assets that have seriously declined or aren't of NHL calibre (soft to play against, too slow, over the hill, etc. etc.). Wes Mantooth came up with an interesting list: Peckham - Omark - Belanger - Jones - Hordichuck - Whitney - Khabibulin - Horcoff. Perhaps he should have added Eager and Potter, who are on the fringe.

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#25 Randall Shermer
March 25 2012, 10:15AM
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Dog Train wrote:

I think it's clear that we didn't do enough to upgrade our D last summer but I supported the Barker signing and still do (although the money was definitely stupid). He's gone in the summer so at least it wasn't a multi-year contract.

For me the money was pretty much irrelevant on a one year contract. They're well under cap.

But to have even a faint hope to compete for the playoffs the Oilers needed a sure-thing defender who could play in the top four when (not if) Whitney went down. Maybe two. They were obviously prepared to pay a good chunk of money for a UFA defender.

And the best they thought of was Barker?

It is a glaring indictment on their pro player evaluation methods. It is consistent with the scenes in Oil Change during the UFA chase that show their player evaluation is to show up unprepared with a ranked evaluation (comp shoot from the hip and use their own oh-so-expert opinion and never really look carefully at any but counting numbers.

For me, Barker is the depressing reminder that the people in charge are throwback evaluators using a formulaeic and outdated model of team building. He fits perfectly in the pattern of poor choices (O'Sullivan, Khabibulin, even arguably Vanek and Nylander) that are easily explained as choices based on counting numbers + intangibles.

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#26 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
March 25 2012, 10:57AM
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striatic wrote:

It was a good gamble that failed spectacularly but didn't really hurt anything other than Katz's pocketbook.

it isn't like he would have denied another UFA playing time, we saw teubert, potter, peckham get more ime than they should have.

the issue wasn't the Barker signing, which given the term is a non issue.

the issue is the moves the team didn't make in addition to the Barker signing, especially with Whitney's problematic feet a looming issue through the summer.

Exactly

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#27 Oilers_21
March 25 2012, 12:01PM
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If Barker had a lil more bite to his game, he'd be playing.

Jus glad for our sake, the seasons almost done and we don't have to watch his body of work... Or lack thereof.

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