No Cigar: Eight Years Out

Robin Brownlee
September 28 2013 01:09PM

When I picked the Edmonton Oilers to make the playoffs last season I was playing a hunch despite plenty of evidence I'd be wrong. I was, of course, as the Oilers made it seven straight years out of the post-season.

Picking the Oilers to miss the playoffs in 2013-14 is no such matter. It is, despite my sense there has been more optimism about Edmonton's chances from pundits around the NHL, not to mention long-suffering fans in the City of Champions, going with the odds instead of against them.

No matter which way you lean, of course, it's all crystal ball stuff. Taking hope and want – two emotions that are the very essence of fandom – out of the equation as "objective observers" should, doesn't mean you'll be right, as I proved last season, when I mistakenly thought the Oilers might excel in a 48-game sprint instead of an 82-game marathon.

Do I think the Oilers will push the playoff pace this season after fading down the stretch last season? Yes. Do I think the Oilers, with a new head coach in Dallas Eakins and a roster that's seen significant turnover – for the better – are improved? Yes.

Do I see a playoff spot? No, for two reasons – a tough schedule and injuries, and how they'll intersect at the beginning of this season. This is a team that's been dealt some tough cards on both fronts. Close, but no cigar.

THE INJURIES

Despite a 5-2-1 pre-season, one which wrapped up with a 4-0 loss to the Dallas Stars in Oklahoma City Friday, Edmonton's much discussed lack of depth at centre, a black hole made darker by the ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the loss of Sam Gagner to a broken jaw, can't be overstated.

With RNH and Gagner out, Taylor Hall, making the switch from left wing as a fill-in, is the team's top center. Behind him, Mark Arcobello, Boyd Gordon and, it appears, Will Acton. Anybody who thinks that group is good enough (assuming GM Craig MacTavish doesn't bolster it), is leaning far too heavily on hope and want and ignoring the obvious.

While I think the Oilers have wisely been taking a pessimistic approach to the return of RNH, pegging it at the end of October, I suspect he'll be back closer to Oct. 1 than Nov. 1. I've said it before and I'm saying it again. Let's split it right down the middle and say he'll be back Oct. 15.

Even if that's the case, that'll put RNH out for the first seven games of the season. I don't think it's a stretch or looking for an unduly negative angle to suggest it could take him the rest of October, a total of 14 games, to get back into game shape and get his timing back.

Compound that with Gagner, the team's No. 2 centre, being out until the end of November, which translates to 27 games (plus additional time to knock off the rust), and I don't see Edmonton's paper-thin collection of men in the middle being nearly good enough against real NHL line-ups – something they saw little of during the pre-season.

THE SCHEDULE

Even if the Oilers had a full line-up that wasn't punched full of holes down the middle by injuries, the schedule-maker, as Jason Gregor has already pointed out, didn’t do them any favors.

The Oilers play at Rexall Place just six times in their first 19 games, a stretch that sees them make a six-game swing to the east in October and a four-game trip in November.

That's 13 of 19 games where opposing coaches get the last line change and the upper hand in match-ups up front and in defensive pairings against Hall, David Perron, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov. Those are match-ups, it goes without saying, already made easier by the absence of RNH and Gagner.

Take a look at the schedule and tell me how many points you see the Oilers getting out of those first 19 games, even if Nugent-Hopkins gets back after, say, seven games. Do they get 10, 12, 15? More?

MAKE IT EIGHT

What I see is a team undermanned by injuries in concert with a very tough schedule having to play from back in a re-aligned Pacific Division pack from the end of November on. How far back? I don’t know, but the start the Oilers are facing takes away much of any margin for error they have.

I expect the line-up MacTavish has assembled to improve as the season wears on, even though there's questions about the bottom six forwards and the defense, which looks better and marginally deeper on paper, but has yet to prove it on the ice against real NHL line-ups.

That said, even if the Oilers can stay relatively healthy after they get RNH and Gagner back and after living out of a suitcase for most of those first 19 games, has this team improved enough to charge from behind and earn a playoff spot after folding with the money on the table last spring?

I don't see it.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#101 BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull
September 28 2013, 07:25PM
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My three questions entering the season

1. Can Ryan Smyth keep up with the play of the 2013 game? Playing him with two of the fastest Hall and Hemsky seems counterproductive.

2. Can Mr. Dubnyk steal 10 or so games for a young and fragile team going on the road for much of Oct. and Nov?

3. Why has the management of the Oilers refused to address the centerman and functional toughness in the bottom 6? Can't wait to see a tired Acton-Brown-Big Mac take on Thorton-Marleau-Pavelski

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#102 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 07:32PM
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nunyour wrote:

There's not to many 3 for 1 anymore.would you do a yak for lucic ?

No.Hell no.

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#103 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 07:34PM
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BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull wrote:

My three questions entering the season

1. Can Ryan Smyth keep up with the play of the 2013 game? Playing him with two of the fastest Hall and Hemsky seems counterproductive.

2. Can Mr. Dubnyk steal 10 or so games for a young and fragile team going on the road for much of Oct. and Nov?

3. Why has the management of the Oilers refused to address the centerman and functional toughness in the bottom 6? Can't wait to see a tired Acton-Brown-Big Mac take on Thorton-Marleau-Pavelski

1)No 2)No 3)No answer to that.Shakes head in wonder as to why it has not been addressed.

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#104 Oilcruzer
September 28 2013, 07:36PM
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nunyour wrote:

There's not to many 3 for 1 anymore.would you do a yak for lucic ?

That had to be a troll post. Yak for Lucic? Straight up?

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#105 Oilcruzer
September 28 2013, 07:46PM
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DSF wrote:

Ottawa.

(a little amazed no one caught this)

DSF - owch. Not drinking the Canuck-oolaid either then? FYI I'm an Oiler season ticket holder who lives in the lower mainland. I've watched the tide shift after the 'Nucks lost to the Kings. People are walking zombies again, resigned to the fact the 'Nucks were one goal short of their cup.

I feel their pain. But I don't own it. Nor do I dwell in it.

(thinking about that now though, if I had 40 years of virginity and was almost there but foiled at the bedroom door, I might burn a few vehicles as well.)

The question of whether we bet who wins first, Ottawa vs Edmonton, is kind of a sucker bet for me given Ottawa is close.

And it is more likely that neither will win it this year. Then it's a nothing bet.

Let's come up with something that we can bet on for this year - hell it's for charity.

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#106 TeddyTurnbuckle
September 28 2013, 08:07PM
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Strange feeling going into this season. I feel there is a chance to make the playoffs if the team gets heathy and addresses toughness but on the other hand I could see us picking in the lottery again if a couple more key guys go down.

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#107 Zamboni Driver
September 28 2013, 08:40PM
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@nunyour

No.

Also neither would Boston.

In a hundred years.

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#108 bigslick
September 28 2013, 08:51PM
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pkam wrote:

I don't understand the reason why it is so bad that we'll be on the road 13 of the 1st 19 games. Assume we are going to lose all the 19 games, would you rather lose 13 road games and 6 home games, or 13 home games and 6 road games. I'll take the 13 road game and 6 home games. I think having more home games later when RNH and Gagner both in the lineup is in favor of us.

If RNH is going to miss a month and Gagner is going to miss 2 months, I'll rather it happens early than late. If we are going to miss the playoff by a few points, I'll rather we are out in March and fight our way back and miss, rather than we are in the playoff in March but hit the injury bugs then fail to protect the spot and miss by a few point.

Even We miss the playoff, it is more exciting and I feel better in the 1st case. And in case we make the playoff, would you rather having a healthir squad and winning into the playoff, or a depleted squad and surving to stay in the playoff?

And with the injury to our 2 top centres now instead of later, it is more likely that MacT will do something to help our centre depth than if we are healthy. It is also easier to get help via trade or waiver now than near the trade deadline.

It does not look good, but it can be worse.

And all the East match ups. Only 2 tough West teams; Van and LA.

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#109 TM8Trent
September 28 2013, 09:13PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

MacIntyre and lack of grit throughout the top nine are two separate issues.

One player, no matter how tough, can't make up for a group of forwards that lacks a chip on its collective shoulder -- a willingness to battle for every puck, to be first into the corners etc etc. Teams can be gritty and tough with the gloves on. This one is not.

The need to employ a designated tough guy like MacIntyre is a sign you haven't built your roster the right way. It's a Plan B.

Every team has players who aren't "gritty" and the Oilers are no different. But who is and who isn't? This is who is in that category for Oilers forwards in the top 9: Hall, Yakupov, Joensuu, Smyth, Gordon, Perron. Sure, they're not Boston, LA or SJ, but this is a group that does play with grit. They're also maturing..

Who might we consider less than intimidating and not overly "gritty"? Eberle (who finishes his checks), Gagner (who drops the gloves every so often), Hemsky (who certainly goes into the tough areas. RNH (also goes to the tough areas).

This is not necessarily a group of forwards lacking grit. Do they have the size and the ability to intimidate other teams? No of course not. Their team has been built to intimidate with speed and skill, like Chicago. Actually having the Hawks beat the Bruins last year reinforced for me that you can win with a team like that. Who do you take, Kane or Lucic? You take Kane.

Mac was brought in to try and curb goons like Kassian's behavior, and whether or not having a nuclear deterrent like Mac can really make a difference is certainly debatable.

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#110 David S
September 28 2013, 10:01PM
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YFC Prez wrote:

All I ever drink is Kool- Aid.

Hall looks way better than I expected at C. If he excels there this team could have the best 1-2 punch down the middle they have seen in a very long time once RNH returns. Move gags to the wing and they have a reliable "just in case" skilled C .

I doubt this season is as bad as the last 5 ,but I get the pessimism . Oilers are not looking at overwhelmingly stellar odds to see playoffs.

That being said. When the talk shifts to trading away Eberle or Yakupov for a top nine gritty forward, that is a major knee jerk reaction to a problem we don't know the full severity of yet. I would be more interested in watching the waiver wire the next couple of days now that teams are finalizing their rosters.

If the day ever comes when Eberle, Yakupov or any of the young stars are traded the oilers better be getting a stellar return.

For now I just really want to see what the oilers have. Pre-season doesn't always make for the most accurate predictions. I'm just not ready to write off the post season yet.

Except Hall is not going to be a full-time C. He's said over and over and OVER that this is a part time gig and he much prefers to be on the wing.

I'd bet a serious amount of cash he's back to where he belongs as soon as humanly possible.

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#111 6 ring circus
September 28 2013, 10:33PM
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Why didn't Mac T trade for Colborne ? A young 6 foot 5 center would have been a good pickup for a 4th rounder.

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#112 Crackenbury
September 28 2013, 11:11PM
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There better be another deal for a center in the works, because Colburne is exactly what the Oilers could have used on the fourth line. I would have easily given up an unconditional 3rd round pick for him and beat the Flames offer.

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#113 15w40
September 28 2013, 11:12PM
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@6 ring circus

Yes - especially when they are not flush with centres and have none of his stature.

I know he doesn't play really heavy but they could have used him in the system.

That being said, Eakins has coached him a lot and you gotta think that MacT would have talked to him about it and maybe got the thumbs down.

That or there was some serious sleeping at the switch going on........

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#114 Walter Sobchak
September 28 2013, 11:29PM
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Maverick007 wrote:

Its better to lose them in the beginning so you have time to make them up. If you can. At least theres a chance this way then the other way.

Not this year it's not, the beginning schedule might be the easiest, , there are no games in February, so the remainder have to made up in a condensed schedule both prior to and after. There are no easy games this year.

Not to sound like a downer here but next to a lock out shorten season this is about the worst year for the Oilers to have any injuries, the compressed schedule will only make it that much harder for the Oilers to compete.

Management should have figured that injuries during an Olympic year would be death, not having centers in place prior to camp is a Tambellini style fail.

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#115 Crackenbury
September 28 2013, 11:35PM
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@15w40

Good point about Eakins. He must think Acton is the better option. I'd be putting my money on the 6'5" former first rounder with offensive upside. The Oilers either have another deal in the works or Eakins sees some warts on Colborne from the time he spent coaching him. The Flames sure didn't give up much to get a former first rounder.

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#116 Tokenhill
September 28 2013, 11:59PM
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Did anyone see Cogliano's sweet goal tonight?

Hey, you know what? We do need a center/winger...who can play....who has decent hands...who has speed...oh wait....yea about that...

well done tambo! Getting rid of useful players. Lets just hope that Cog does not come back and haunt us.

the hockey god always favours the team that gets rid of useful players for cute little magic beans in various flavours right? RIGHT???

I mean surely....the past 7....

*triple facepalm*

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#117 The Oilers Shot Clock
September 29 2013, 01:19AM
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Tokenhill wrote:

Did anyone see Cogliano's sweet goal tonight?

Hey, you know what? We do need a center/winger...who can play....who has decent hands...who has speed...oh wait....yea about that...

well done tambo! Getting rid of useful players. Lets just hope that Cog does not come back and haunt us.

the hockey god always favours the team that gets rid of useful players for cute little magic beans in various flavours right? RIGHT???

I mean surely....the past 7....

*triple facepalm*

He was run out of town by media and fans atleast a year before he was sent packing. A second rounder was great value ( Marc Roy). If your going to go that far back don't stop there. Brodziak and Glencross are just as irrelevant to this regime and much better players.

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#118 @Oilanderp
September 29 2013, 02:46AM
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Without injuries, if you squinted right you could see the Oilers making the playoffs. With these two injuries to start?

When frogs grow beards. Not the chance of a flying fig in a flamethrower.

Odds are beaten all the time. I just wouldn't bet on it.

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#119 They're $hittie
September 29 2013, 06:33AM
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6 ring circus wrote:

Why didn't Mac T trade for Colborne ? A young 6 foot 5 center would have been a good pickup for a 4th rounder.

Or why didnt we just claim Luke Adam, A 6'2" Center who has actually done more than Colbourn at the NHL level. Either would have been smart.

Because Actons dad is the number 2. Might as well make him captain while your at it.

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#120 madjam
September 29 2013, 06:35AM
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Crackenbury wrote:

Good point about Eakins. He must think Acton is the better option. I'd be putting my money on the 6'5" former first rounder with offensive upside. The Oilers either have another deal in the works or Eakins sees some warts on Colborne from the time he spent coaching him. The Flames sure didn't give up much to get a former first rounder.

Flames have about $13M in cap space and they get first choice over us on waiver wire . Expect Burke and Feaster to be busy adding pieces to Flames . That's something Tams and MacT. seem to have missed over the years , being so tight to the cap and contract numbers .

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#121 15w40
September 29 2013, 06:42AM
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Colborne could've been a back door deal between Burke & Nonis too. Might not have been common knowledge he was available.

Story from maple leafs is he needs to be in the top 6 & it wasn't going to happen there. Oilers could have really used him in their current situation

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#122 Spydyr
September 29 2013, 06:45AM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Or why didnt we just claim Luke Adam, A 6'2" Center who has actually done more than Colbourn at the NHL level. Either would have been smart.

Because Actons dad is the number 2. Might as well make him captain while your at it.

Nepotism on the Oilers? That can't be.

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#123 Crackenbury
September 29 2013, 07:13AM
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@madjam

The waiver list has nothing to do with trading for Colborne and Colborne's cap hit is $600,000. It was also common knowledge Toronto was open to moving him.

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#124 madjam
September 29 2013, 07:43AM
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Crackenbury wrote:

The waiver list has nothing to do with trading for Colborne and Colborne's cap hit is $600,000. It was also common knowledge Toronto was open to moving him.

On the contrary . Burke and Feaster realized if he hit waivers , he'd likely get taken by one of the five that could snap him up before the Flames . Thus , an astute move that benefitted both Flames and Leafs .That's what you get with seasoned GMs .

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#125 15w40
September 29 2013, 08:05AM
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@madjam

The only way the Oilers don't take a run at Colborne is either they didn't know about it or Eakins flat out said "don't bother".

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#126 a lg dubl dubl
September 29 2013, 08:10AM
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So Ference is Captain eh

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#127 Crackenbury
September 29 2013, 08:12AM
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@madjam

No kidding! Burke, Feaster and 28 other teams. The point is he was available. Every team in the league would rather trade a player than put them on waivers. I'm guessing that even includes Toronto! There's nothing astute about it. Toronto made it known he was available and the Oilers either neglected or failed in an attempt to get him.

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#128 Crackenbury
September 29 2013, 08:15AM
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@15w40

I'd go with the Eakins angle. Hell, even I knew he was potentially available yesterday morning. The leafs were going to be over the cap if they didn't make some moves.

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#129 Avatarget
September 29 2013, 11:03AM
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Bucknuck wrote:

Quick, you are an enigma to me.

I thought for sure you were a troll about a year ago, but you keep saying smart things with enough regularity that I no longer hold hold that opinion. Pessimist and Lowe hater - definitely, troll... not so much. You also make me laugh once in while, which is always a good thing.

Now, to reply to your pessimistic view that the team will do worse than 25th. I do not believe that is true. When considering injuries I believe that the forward core is about the same as it was (better when RNH and Gagner return). Goaltending is about the same, and the D is much improved.

Ference > Whitney, and Schultz will be better because he's not a rookie, and Smid and Petry are better players than they showed last year. Belov and Larsen are better than our 6, 7 last year, and the callups are better if there are injuries. It can't be worse than last year... it just can't.*

*if it is you will find me sobbing in a corner somewhere during the playoffs.

The problem is that you are comparing this years Oilers to last years Oilers. The Oilers don't have to beat the Oilers. They have to beat the other teams in the conference and their division. Comparing them to LA, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim etc leaves me more pessimistic about their chances to qualify for the post season. Are they better than last year? Probably but that and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee come playoff time.

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#130 Mike
September 29 2013, 07:34PM
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BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull wrote:

My three questions entering the season

1. Can Ryan Smyth keep up with the play of the 2013 game? Playing him with two of the fastest Hall and Hemsky seems counterproductive.

2. Can Mr. Dubnyk steal 10 or so games for a young and fragile team going on the road for much of Oct. and Nov?

3. Why has the management of the Oilers refused to address the centerman and functional toughness in the bottom 6? Can't wait to see a tired Acton-Brown-Big Mac take on Thorton-Marleau-Pavelski

Re: Ryan Smyth - my recollection of the last couple of years is that he starts strong but runs out of gas after a month or two.

Assuming that he is the same this season, my hope is that they ride him hard in October while we are undermanned. Once we get healthy, he can rest up.

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