The Knighthawks are gone; long live the Knighthawks

We all know that the NLL is expanding this coming season, with the Philadelphia Wings and San Diego Seals beginning play in a few months. Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz has said that these two were the first in a number of expansion teams planned for the next few years, and the next of these was named on Thursday, sort of. The NLL has seen its share of strange relocation situations, and here’s one more. We kind of have two new teams and one relocating team, but the total number of teams in the league only went up by one.

In two separate announcements separated by about four hours, the league announced that (I’ll need to word this carefully) current Rochester Knighthawks owner Curt Styres will be the owner of a new NLL franchise in Halifax. In addition, Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bandits, will be the owners of an expansion franchise in Rochester which will be called the Knighthawks and retain the history of the brand. Both teams will begin play in the 2019-2020 season. The current Knighthawks will continue to be owned and operated by Styres during the upcoming 2018-2019 season.

The simplest way to look at it is that Styres sold the Knighthawks to the Pegulas and is buying an expansion franchise in Halifax. But there’s one sentence in the Halifax press release that makes the situation more complicated than that: “The Halifax franchise will begin play during the 2019-20 season at Scotiabank Centre, with many of the players on the current Knighthawks’ roster.” What? Usually when you buy a sports franchise, you get the team name and brand as well as its employees and players. In this case, the Pegulas are buying a franchise and getting everything but the players. Meanwhile Styres is buying a new franchise but bringing his players with him. On the other hand (and coast), the Vancouver team was sold this summer and the players are the only thing the new owners are keeping.

The Knighthawks will be an expansion franchise and will have five Championships. Meanwhile the brand new Halifax team will be a team full of players who have been playing together for many years. This league is weird.

Dhane and Sid Smith. No relation.

I said on an Addicted to Lacrosse episode last season that I didn’t like the idea of multiple ownership because of the possibility of trades and deals that make one team better at the expense of the other – trades that would never happen if the teams were owned by different people. I gave the possibility of the Bandits, doing well at the box office, trading an exciting player like Dhane Smith to the Knighthawks, who are struggling a little more at the gate, for very little return. This could increase Rochester’s attendance more than it would decrease Buffalo’s, thus increasing the overall revenue for the two clubs. This is unfair to the Bandits but if the overall picture is better, a single owner might not care. Two separate owners would.

I’ve kind of changed my mind on that, because the league approves all trades, and so it has sufficient oversight that such an obvious move would likely not be allowed. But now we have a similar situation: an owner making deals for a team that will be his own competition a year from now. Is Styres taking Rochester’s future draft picks with him? If during the upcoming season he trades a player away for a draft pick, does he take that pick with him to Halifax, or is he leaving it for the Pegulas?

More importantly, if he trades a future draft pick away for a player, whose pick is that? In a normal world, Styres might trade the Knighthawks’ first round picks in 2020 and 2021 for, say, Corey Small. A bit expensive but not outrageous. But Styres won’t be the GM of Rochester in 2020 or 2021, and he’ll likely take Small with him to Halifax, so the Knighthawks give up two first round picks for a one season rental of Corey Small. That’s a little steep.

Styres doesn’t take control of the Halifax team until after the 2019 season ends, so would Styres – while still GM of the Knighthawks – be allowed to trade Halifax’s first round picks for Small? In that case, the Knighthawks get a full season of Corey Small for nothing, which they are probably OK with. But that would mean that Styres has two sets of draft picks to play with for a year*. Does that seem right to you? The league will have to watch any deals that Styres makes this season very carefully – not because he will make deals that are unfair (he seems to me to be a man of integrity), but the league needs to make sure that none of these deals even appears to be unfair.

* Update: I’m incorrect here. As Steve Bermel points out, any draft picks acquired or traded away by Styres move with the team to Halifax. If Styres trades away Rochester’s picks in 2020 and 2021, those move with the team so Halifax will not have picks those years while the new Rochester franchise will.

If I had to hire a GM to build me a winning NLL team from scratch, the only person I’d put ahead of Curt Styres is Derek Keenan. But perhaps Styres isn’t interested in starting over and (warning: total speculation ahead) told the league that the Halifax deal was contingent on him being able to take the roster with him. The league wants the Halifax team but doesn’t want to lose a great owner and lacrosse mind like Styres, so they allowed it. The Pegulas are famously indifferent to the comings and goings of the Bandits, so I doubt they cared.

The Halifax team is rumoured to be known as the Privateers (a trademark has been registered by the NLL). Privateers were basically pirates under another name, which makes sense since Curt Styres is stealing the Knighthawks roster and taking it with him. Another way to look at it is that Styres is taking his team to Halifax, but the Pegulas are stealing the Knighthawks name from him. What’s another name for people who steal stuff? Bandits.

 

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The perfect NLL forward

If you could have the perfect box lacrosse forward, what would he be like? Would you want the small wiry guy with ankle-breaking speed and agility to get around defenders? Would you want the guy with the accurate 110 mph shot who fires the ball between defenders? Or would you want the big strong bull-in-a-china-shop type who plows through defenders? Ideally, you’d want someone who could do all of those things. Obviously a player that’s the best at all of those things doesn’t exist. So let’s create him.

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The Stealth and Doug Locker’s luck

If you’re a regular reader of this blog – first of all, thanks! – and secondly, you’ve probably already heard about the NLL changes in Vancouver. The Stealth franchise was sold to the Vancouver Canucks ownership group, who immediately announced that the team would be renamed, rebranded, and moved to the Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. Just a few days later, they announced that they had hired local boys Dan Richardson and Chris Gill to be the new GM and head coach respectively. I didn’t actually see an announcement that Doug Locker or Jamie Batley had been fired, but I guess we can assume that. With all the changes to the team, it’s almost like we have three expansion teams coming next season, with the minor difference that one of the three already has players.

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Illegal equipment: Do the crime, do the time

It’s not unusual for a player to be given a penalty that fans of his team disagree with. In fact, it’s unusual if they don’t. But this past weekend, Shawn Evans was given a penalty that a lot of people disagreed with, and not just Bandits fans. That’s because it had nothing to do with anything that happened on the floor.

Evans is one of the growing number of pasty-legged NLL players who have taken a liking to wearing leggings during games. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Swarm/Bandits game in Buffalo, Evans was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty for wearing leggings with the Nike swoosh on them. The NLL is sponsored by New Balance, and there is a rule in the rule book that specifically talks about using clothing and equipment from someone other than the league sponsor:

26.3 SPONSORSHIP EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS – Only
NLL sponsored equipment shall be worn unless prior
approval by the League and only authorized Official NLL
Suppliers’ logos/marks must be displayed on the
player’s uniform and/or equipment, which also includes
the shaft and head of the stick.

Any player or goalie in violation with this rule shall be
assessed a delay of game penalty immediately. Should
the player or goalie be unable to comply immediately
after the signal of the penalty, the in-home shall serve
the penalty. The player who was assessed the penalty
shall not be permitted on the floor until the penalty
expires.

Any player who has been found to have marked up,
blocked, or misrepresented any logos or marks shall be
reported to the League office and is subject to a fine.

It’s a little weird that he was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty rather than the “delay of game” penalty stipulated in the rule, but whatever.

There was a lot of talk on twitter about this being a “bush league” move. There were two main problems that people had with this:

  1. Nothing that happened on the floor was affected so Evans didn’t deserve a penalty at all, and
  2. Such a violation shouldn’t result in a penalty anyway, i.e. something that affects game play – a fine would be more appropriate.

I also saw people using the hashtag “#GrowTheGame”, though I’m not sure why.

#1 is nonsensical. The coach swearing at the ref doesn’t affect the play on the floor either, but it’s a penalty nonetheless. Same with a player given a penalty who slams the door of the penalty box or bangs his stick against the glass in anger – both will get you an additional two minutes for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

The remainder of this article covers #2. In my opinion, the penalty was deserved and entirely appropriate.

Do the crime, do the time

The penalty was deserved for two reasons. The first is simple: Evans broke the rule so he deserves the penalty. Every player in the league knows about this rule (and if they don’t, well that’s too damn bad because it’s in the rule book). Evans knew full well what he was doing. He’s probably gotten away with it in previous games, so he gambled that he’d get away with it again, and this time he lost. That’s not a negative judgement of Evans; all players do that all the time. A large percentage of the penalties called are for things that other players have done in the same game and gotten away with.

Shawn Evans (Photo: James P. McCoy, Buffalo News)

This is not some obscure rule that nobody remembers; others have been given this penalty in the past. You may remember Colin Doyle wearing Nike shoes during a game a couple of years ago. The opposing coach pointed this out to the ref late in the fourth quarter (I’m sure the timing was deliberate – even if he knew about it the entire game, what coach wouldn’t wait until then?) and after his penalty, Doyle had to go back to the locker room and borrow someone else’s shoes (which were a couple of sizes too small). He assisted on the winning OT goal so it worked out for Doyle, even if he had sore feet.

Follow the money

Secondly, it makes sense that the league wants to prevent players from wearing non-sponsored equipment. Full disclosure: I know nothing of the deal between New Balance and the NLL so this paragraph is all speculation but it’s logical. New Balance is providing all 180+ NLL players with equipment and clothing, and there may be money provided to the league as well. Even the hosts of NLL ReLax have worn New Balance hoodies during the show, and I doubt that’s coincidence. In exchange, the deal likely states that the league will air their ads during games, mention their sponsorship here and there, and make sure that players don’t wear clothing or use equipment featuring logos of New Balance competitors. (Again, I don’t know the details of the deal but if New Balance doesn’t have that kind of clause included, they’re nuts.) The rule does say that league approval for exceptions is possible, likely for those players who have personal endorsement contracts with other companies.

The last thing the league wants is for New Balance to say “players are wearing stuff with Nike or Under Armour logos and you’re not doing anything about it, so we’re out” and pull their sponsorship. If you’re worried about growing the game, that’s exactly what the league is doing by making sure their sponsors are happy.

Update: Under Armour is also a sponsor of the NLL.

Make it count

Should a violation of this rule affect the games themselves, or should the league simply fine players who wear the wrong company’s equipment? Let’s say they decide that directly affecting the outcomes of games is not appropriate, so no penalties or suspensions or anything like that will occur. Players will be fined for violations of the rule, and maybe fines will increase for multiple violations.

In that case, what’s to stop Nike from contacting Shawn Evans and saying “wear our stuff, and we’ll pay whatever fines you get”? Evans can wear what he wants to wear, so he’s happy. Nike gets publicity and their logo is visible on one of the league’s best players, and it probably costs them less than sponsoring the entire league (and it kind of looks bad for New Balance), so they’re happy. The NLL fines Evans over and over and the fines get paid, but guess who’s not happy? New Balance is not happy. Again, the league is not preventing Evans from wearing their competitor’s clothing. But if he knows he won’t get a penalty or a suspension, what incentive does Evans have to comply with the rule? And what if a dozen or more players make the same deal with Nike?

Perhaps the league could increase the fines until the other companies would refuse to pay them. I saw a tweet suggesting fining players $10,000. I guess if a rookie player making $8,000 a year could get fined $10,000 for wearing the wrong equipment, he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t. But if he makes a mistake, he’s not going to just say “Oops, my bad”, pay a fine of more than a year’s salary, and move on. He’ll retire to avoid the fine and we’ll never see him again. Should this kind of mistake cost a lacrosse player his career? That amount seems unreasonable considering what the players make. Still, a huge company like Nike might look at that as a drop in the bucket anyway.

Even if Nike doesn’t want to pay the fines, some of the owners might. If Cody Jamieson wants to wear Nike and he gets fined, Curt Styres may decide that keeping Cody happy is worth a few bucks – it’s the cost of doing business. (Shawn Evans is a bad example here because the Pegula family haven’t shown nearly the interest in the Bandits as other NLL owners do in their teams.)

It’s in the NLL’s best interest to make sure the players abide by this rule. To do that, they have to make a point of enforcing it and they have to make the punishment matter to the players. Affecting the actual game itself is the best way to do that. A player may be willing to pay the fines himself, but he’s less likely to be willing to negatively affect his team.

By enforcing this rule and making it count, the NLL is making sure their players honour the contract they have with their sponsors. That way the sponsor wants to stay with them, and future sponsors will also know that the league doesn’t take this lightly.

If a company is willing to give your league money, pissing them off is not the way to grow the game.

Various musings lacking statistical correlation: Week 14

Once again, it’s time for an article with a few random thoughts short things I wanted to talk about but haven’t had the chance. For various reasons, I haven’t blogged much recently and our most recent episode of Addicted to Lacrosse was cancelled due to a couple of schedule conflicts, so I’ve got a mini-backlog of stuff. I’ll make ’em quick.

Deep

We did talk about Steve Fryer’s excellent game on the last A2L but I wanted to get back to this because I think his play will have a huge impact on the Mammoth. There’s more here than just “our backup goalie played a great game, good on ya Steve”. I think confidence is a huge factor in sports. Obviously hard work and talent are critical but having confidence in yourself and in your teammates is just as important. I’ve said this before on the show, but if you see a player who’s playing with confidence, he may be a little more aggressive and take a few more risks because he knows that if they don’t work out, he and his teammates can recover. A player without confidence is just the opposite: more likely to play it safe. Sometimes you’ll see a top scorer who’s having a rough game – sometimes they can play through it but other times they have lost confidence and appear “snakebitten”. At that point, they’re more likely to pass to a teammate even if they have a clear shot. If I’m a coach (or a fan!) and it’s near the end of a close game, I want my best players out there saying “Give me the ball”, not “Yeah, you should probably give someone else the ball cause I’m having an off night”.

Steve Fryer (left)

Playing in front of Dillon Ward, arguably the best goaltender in the league, will give anyone confidence. I’m sure the team all had some confidence that Fryer could get it done if called upon. But now they know that Fryer can get it done because they’ve seen it happen, and that cannot be overstated in my opinion. Now the Mammoth hit the floor thinking “To beat us, you guys have to get by one of the best defenses in the league, then face Dillon Ward and if he’s having an off-night, you have to face Steve Fryer. Regardless of who’s back there, we got this.” That makes the Mammoth dangerous.

That said, Tyler Carlson did the same thing for the Rush back in February so unfortunately for Colorado, the Rush are equally dangerous. Speaking of dangerous…

Dangerous

A few weeks ago, I tweeted about how weird it was that Dan Dawson was a healthy scratch for the second straight week. Then he got traded because they weren’t going to play him. Who would ever have predicted that Dan Freaking Dawson would ever get traded because he was riding the pine? Even more weird is that the Knighthawks got better after the trade. Is this a case of addition by subtraction? In my opinion, yes.

That’s not to say that Dawson couldn’t get it done on the floor. He may not be what he once was, but even if he’s 3/4 of what he once was, 75% of former Dan Dawson is still damn good. And it’s not to say that he isn’t a good locker room guy, in fact I’ve never heard anything but the exact opposite about Dawson. By all accounts, he’s a great leader, a great locker room guy, a great teammate, and a pretty decent lacrosse player as well. But his style of play wasn’t fitting with the new-look Knighthawks and they decided not to adapt their style to fit Dawson in. Cody Jamieson is looking like the old Cody Jamieson again and Cory Vitarelli is Cory Vitarelli, but everything else is different. Joe Resetarits is having an outstanding season, and 24-year-old players Jackson, Shanks, Currier, Fannell, and Withers are all having great seasons as well. With that many young players playing this well (and Jamieson’s only 30 and Resetarits 28), there was no real need for Dawson so why not get a couple of draft picks for him?

But once again, it’s a confidence thing. If you’re a 24-year-old lacrosse player from Ontario, you grew up watching Dan Dawson in the NLL (and likely in the summer as well), so playing with him on the Knighthawks is an honour and a privilege. But when your coach tells you “you guys are good enough that we don’t need Dan Dawson“, imagine what that does to your confidence.

The East is so tight that it’s hard to predict, but even if the Knighthawks don’t progress far into the playoffs this season, their offense is young and talented enough that they are set for a few years to come.

Definition

OK, I said I’d be quick and thus far I haven’t been. Here’s a quick one.

I’ve talked many times in the past about the bad video quality coming out of Rochester. Well, I am happy to give credit where it’s due. The Twitter game of the week from Rochester this past weekend was beautiful. The video was high definition and not jaggy (yes, that is a real computer graphics term) at all, you could read the names on the jerseys, and the ball didn’t look like a big white square being thrown around. The video quality was better than that coming from Colorado the same night, and Colorado is generally pretty good. I don’t know if that’s a permanent upgrade to the arena’s hardware or a temporary thing just for the Twitter game, but I really hope it’s the former. It would be nice to be able to add Rochester to the list of NLL arenas with great video quality.

Devastating

Maybe “devastating” is too strong a word to describe the impact of Tom Schreiber’s injury on the Rock offense, but not by much. Plus I needed a d-word for the heading.

As others have pointed out, the Rock averaged 15 goals per game with Schreiber this season while without him, they’re averaging just nine. He may or may not be returning soon but with the trade deadline looming next week, Jamie Dawick may decide to play it safe and make a move. One of the most popular rumours seems to be bringing Dan Dawson in from Saskatchewan, which makes some sense since Dawson is an Ontario boy – in fact he’s from Oakville, where the Rock train. (Note that he’s from Oakville. I don’t know where he currently lives.) This could be good for the Rock, in that they’d get a solid righty forward to take Schreiber’s place while he’s out. It does make the Rock a little right-heavy when Schreiber returns, but Dawson is also good enough and versatile enough that they could change his role a little. It probably means that Phil Caputo would return to defense and Dan Lintner, already a healthy scratch for half the Rock’s games so far, would never be seen in a Rock uniform again. It could also be good for Saskatchewan, in that the Rock are kind of desperate so Dawson may fetch a higher price than the two draft picks they gave up for him just two weeks ago. Maybe they’d receive Dan Lintner as well which would probably be good for Lintner’s career since he might actually see the floor.

Also potentially in play is another Ontario boy, Corey Small. The Stealth forward has already announced that he’ll be returning to Ontario to play in the MSL this coming summer, after several years with the Victoria Shamrocks of the WLA. Even if Small hasn’t requested a trade from the Stealth, he probably wouldn’t say no to one given his family situation. He’s a lefty so replacing Schreiber with Small would require a few more changes to the system, but I’m sure the Rock coaching staff would welcome that extra work.

The question is what goes back the other way in either of these cases? The Rush don’t need anything, and they already own Toronto’s first round pick this year and next in the Adam Jones deal. The Rock do have a second and fourth in this year’s draft, which is what Dawson was worth two weeks ago.

Small was worth two first round picks when he arrived in Vancouver three years ago, but would he still fetch that much? After an MVP-candidate season last year, quite possibly. But the Rock have to hope not unless the Stealth are happy with 2020 and 2021 first round picks. Those won’t help the Stealth if they’re trying to rebuild now. The Stealth might be interested in young BC boys like Challen Rogers or Reid Reinholdt. Is Small worth Reinholdt plus a second round pick? As a Rock fan, I’d be OK with that but what do I know? I’m no GM. Doug Locker might be thinking Rogers and Reinholdt for Small. Personally, I think giving up Rogers would be too much, but does Dawick need offense enough to overpay?

Dammit Graeme, shut up

So much for making ’em quick. That might be my longest article of the season.

Open letter to NLL broadcasters: get it right

This article isn’t the 2018 version of the NLL Pronunciation Guide, though that’s coming soon. This article is my rant on why my Pronunciation Guide is necessary. The long and the short of it is: it is absolutely necessary, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be.

When you are an announcer for a sports team, you are to some extent the public face of that organization. We as fans don’t often hear the Kroenkes or Dan Carey or Pat Coyle speak, but if you watch Mammoth games on NLLTV, you’re going to hear Teddy Jenner and Jamie Shewchuk. They represent the Mammoth and also the league. The league and each organization owes it to the fans to make sure the information it’s giving through the broadcasts is as accurate as possible, and they owe it to their players to show them the respect they deserve. Pronouncing someone’s name incorrectly in this kind of case is not only disrespectful but it’s unprofessional: it shows that you didn’t make the effort in advance to make sure you got it right, and what kind of league has announcers who don’t know who the players are?

There are lots of people with unusual or uncommon names – uncommon in North America, anyway. I’m one of them. For someone not of the same descent, pronunciation of names like Nik Bilic or Riley Loewen is not obvious. We can’t assume that all announcers will just know how to pronounce them but that’s no excuse. It’s part of their job. If you’re an announcer and it’s not part of your preparation, it damn well should be.

In Saskatchewan last Friday, the announcers messed up names all night. Note that this was more than just a case of pronouncing names incorrectly. Yes, they pronounced Brownell badly all night but we also heard about Dhane Schmidt and Dhane Jones. Jordan Dunston. Bandits goaltender Zach Harris. Pat Sanders. At one point, Teddy Jenner tweeted that they referred to the Bandits as the Stallions. There is a Bantam AA hockey team called the Saskatoon Stallions*, perhaps that’s where the confusion began.

"Go on, say BILL-ick one more time" (NLL photo)

The odd error like that we can forgive. Hell, seasoned lacrosse people still occasionally slip and talk about going to Edmonton to take on the Rush. Many people, myself included, said “Black Hawks” instead of “Black Wolves” many times the first season they existed. It happens. But when the errors are constant or you’re getting that many names wrong in a single game, it’s obvious that you didn’t prepare. That is unacceptable. People frequently use the term “bush league” to describe the NLL, and this doesn’t help.

In Buffalo, play-by-play man John Gurtler is known for getting names wrong as well (including Bandits players). On a recent broadcast, he even said himself that he regularly “butchers” (his word) names. So this is a problem you know about and yet it still happens? Sorry, but “yeah, I get names wrong a lot” is not a defense, it’s simply a statement of the problem. It’s great that you’ve recognized that there is a problem, now go and fix it. Study the names and make the effort to get them right.

If I had a nickel for every time I’d heard Chris Driscoll say Logan SHUSH, I could afford to fly Logan out to Rochester for a chat with him.

Not all NLL announcers have this problem. Guys like Stephen Stamp, the Calgary duo of Farhall and Ballantine, the Vancouver duo of Elliott and Challoner, and the aforementioned Jenner don’t need the guide because they either know the players already (Stamper regularly helps me update the guide if I get things wrong) or because they do the work to make sure they get it right. Former Rush announcers John Fraser and Casey Guerin explicitly thanked me for creating the guide and used it regularly. The new Rush guys haven’t mentioned it.


The league itself does have a pronunciation guide. I have a copy of the 2013 one; here are a few of the entries:

  • Dan MacRae MICK-ray
  • Peter McFetridge MICK-fet-ridge
  • Joe Resetarits Res-UH-tare-its
  • Brodie MacDonald BRO-dee MICK-donald
  • Mitch Belisle BUH-lie-uhl
  • Nik Bilic BILL-ick
  • Kiel Matisz KYLE MA-tease

These are all wrong. Most of these are close but have the emphasis incorrect, but “BILL-ick” is just wrong. Most of the entries in the guide are correct, so the announcers who get those ones wrong are at fault. But It’s also hard to fault them for all the mistakes when the league has provided them faulty information. This was five years ago so maybe they’ve cleaned it up and the 2018 guide is bang-on. I don’t know.

In the end, people have weird names, and so the league needs to have a complete and accurate guide on how to pronounce them. Every season, someone from the league needs to talk to each new player and make sure they get the correct pronunciation of their name. Every broadcaster in the league MUST have a copy of this guide, updated as new players come in, and they MUST learn it. If they don’t, there MUST be consequences; the league needs to take this seriously. The individual broadcasters are to blame for their own mistakes but in the end it’s a league problem, and the league must solve it rather than leaving it up to me.

* – As an interesting side note, the Stallions currently have players with such prominent lacrosse names as Toth, Berg, Sorensen, and Hodgson.

NLL expansion and talent

With all the talk about NLL expansion over the last month or two, the same question has come up a number of times: Is there enough of a player talent pool to support the 16, 18, or even 30 teams that Commissioner Sakiewicz has talked about recently? The simple answer is no.

There are undoubtedly NLL-level lacrosse players out there who are not playing in the NLL. But if we double the size of the league, there simply aren’t enough of them to keep the overall skill level where it is now. Adding that many new players will clearly water down the talent level of the league.

But that’s OK. In my opinion, that’s the price we pay for expansion and growth of the league.

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