The 2022-23 New Jersey Devils had the most successful regular season in franchise history, the biggest season-over-season improvement in an 82-game season, and they were eliminated in five games in the second round to the Carolina Hurricanes. It was their 12th playoff game; the Devils played 94 total games that carried some kind of value. As today is the first day of the Devils’ offseason, the process to prepare for 2023-24 begins. Experience was earned; but what should the Devils learn from this season to prepare for higher expectations next season.
Experience is a great teacher but as any great teacher will tell you, the student has to be willing to learn and understand to get the most out of it. There are many things that can hinder the learning process. Pre-existing beliefs, pride, peer pressure, and other things that do not even start with the letter ‘p’ come to mind. But those three come first as they can really keep a team from learning what they should based on what happened in the team’s first playoff appearance since 2018. This post is a summary of what I think general manager Tom Fitzgerald, head coach and Jack Adams Finalist Lindy Ruff, and the rest of the squad should takeaway from the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Playoff Games are Hockey Games and the Devils Won & Lost Through Hockey
This seems like a rather obvious statement, but playoff games in sports carry this mythos of being Important Games where players show Who They Really Are and Who Steps Up When It counts. Playoff performances can and do earn players contracts they may not live up to - hi, Ondrej Palat - and may lead to a player exiting for legitimate or not legitimate reasons. They are elevated to a point where fans claim that the regular season does not matter.
I am not disputing that playoff games are not important. Of course, they are. They are tough games with higher stakes in series against the same opponent until they are beaten or they beat you four times out of a maximum of seven. But they are still hockey games. Regulation is still three periods long and 60 minutes are played at a minimum. The rules are in place even if the refs put their whistles away late in tight games, such as Game 5 in Carolina. 18 skaters are dressed as are 2 goalies. Coaches have one timeout to use and can challenge only certain things. Home teams have the same advantages, except for a more energetic and excited home crowd. Hockey has a lot of chaos by design of the sport, but teams can and do seek match-ups, design tactics and plays for certain situations, and winning the game in the playoffs is done the same way in the regular season. Yes, playoff games matter more and the players’ salaries are all played out so you do get to see who wants it more; but they are still hockey games.
The point here is that the stuff that is done against, say, Anaheim on a Tuesday night that leads to wins can and does lead to wins against, say, Our Hated Rivals in a Game 7. This means executing passes and making good reads with the puck. This means players off the puck being options for those who have it. This means working the puck to more dangerous locations rather than bombing away anytime there is a hint of a shooting lane. This means backchecking to support the defensemen. This means communicating on defense to pick up opposing players. This means being disciplined and following the rules, or at least what the ref will allow. This means goalies have to make some tough stops and position themselves well to make tough stops look easy. A lot of What It Takes to Win in the Playoffs is a lot of what it takes to win in general. And it comes down to doing well in hockey.
That is the simplest way I can describe the two playoff series the Devils played in this year.
When the Devils opened up their series against Our Hated Rivals, they got away from these successful strategies in their first two games. They got crushed. When the Devils started to get back into form and play their way, they flipped the script of the series and not only came back to defeat Our Hated Rivals, but did so with back-to-back 4-0 wins in critical Game 5 and Game 7 situations. Our Hated Rivals had no answer to this, several players effectively quit within those games, and Gerard Gallant is now a free agent because of it. There was no massive bit of nonsense or controversy that threw off OHR. The Devils played their preferred way of hockey as they have in the regular season and it was superior to Our Hated Rivals. The Devils had their game plan and executed it better than Our Hated Rivals. Simple as, really.
Likewise, Carolina did the same to the Devils in their five-game series. Despite the Devils beating them twice in the regular season and taking them to a shootout in a third game, the Hurricanes owned the puck more often, forced the Devils back more often, and attempted way more shots. The Devils got results in part of Carolina’s goaltenders not being good in those games and Carolina skaters having some bad games and/or making big mistakes. In the playoff series, Frederik Andersen was not as bad, most of the Hurricanes played solid to great games, and the Hurricanes executed their gameplans and tactics and philosophies on and off the puck from the regular season to great success. Carolina is built around an aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck, a man-to-man defensive coverage, and a philosophy of just throw anything and everything towards the net and react accordingly. That was apparent in those Devils-Canes regular season games regardless of the score, that was apparent in a lot of Hurricanes games this season, and the Devils struggled mightily against it in four out of five games in this series. The one win was a result of Andersen (and later Pytor Kochetkov) having an awful afternoon, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei among other Canes having miserable days, and the Devils going up by 3 early to throw off Carolina’s gameplan. When Carolina got back to their regular season form, the Canes crushed it in Game 4. Close as Game 5 was, Carolina did a lot more to break the tie - and they did.
It is easy to look at what ESPN or TNT or The Athletic or whatever outlet or medium shows off and see that was the cause for the defeat. Jesperi Kotkaniemi turning into Asuka and hitting Nico Hischier with a jumping hip/butt attack was replayed endlessly in the Carolina series. What was not shown was that, while that hit happened, the Devils were pushing forward for a zone exit, got that exit, got denied in the defensive zone by the Canes, and Carolina rushed back for the umpteenth time in that period of Game 2. THAT was the problem of that series. That was hockey. Not Hischier getting taking down from a big hit, which ultimately had no impact on the game but made for a nice narrative about one team being soft/not ready/etc. and the other being tough/willing/etc. I get it would be a more interesting story to tell than just Carolina having a better gameplan and a team committed to that plan and a team executing to that plan. Or, in other words, Carolina was better at playing hockey than the Devils.
Ultimately, the lesson of this essay within an essay is that for the Devils to continue to succeed, they need to focus on what matters in hockey. That does not change just because it was a playoff game that ended the Devils season. They got a lot of it right, but as the Carolina series showed, improvements are still needed.
Play to Your Strengths but Do Have Some Backup Plans When Struggles Happen
One of the concerns I kept seeing going into the playoffs was whether the Devils’ style of play would work in the playoffs. It is tempting to say it did not given that they were eliminated. I would say that temptation would be 1,000% wrong.
For one, the Devils’ style of play pretty much wrecked Our Hated Rivals and was a foundational reason why the Devils came back to win the series in seven games. Again, Gallant had no answer for the Devils return to transitional dominance outside of “Please, Igor, save us once more.” He is no longer the coach in Manhattan. That is not a coincidence.
For another, Carolina’s style of play was similar to the Devils. While less reliant on the rush and more reliant on a forecheck, the Canes played fast, attacking, and supportive hockey. When they did get space to play into, they took it quickly and made the Devils suffer a lot. When the Devils got lost in their own end, they often made the Devils pay for it. When a shift was denied or a run of play did not go Carolina’s way, they remained steadfast (Game 3 excepted) and pushed back in their style. They did not beat up or grind down or dump-and-chase the Devils. They did to the Devils what the Devils did to Our Hated Rivals, only with a different approach and philosophy.
Jack Adams Finalist and head coach Lindy Ruff got a lot right about his team and put in tactics that played to their strengths. And he motivated those players to stick to those plans for the most part this season, which helped keep them coming back to win games and ultimately win 52 games. Their main gameplan worked great. It did not against a Carolina team who set the tempo - a high one - and applied a lot more pressure to a Devils team that did not have much of a response to it.
What needs to improve for next season is having some backup plans. Maybe some reverses for breakouts if the strong side is not there. Maybe some quicker, shorter passes when the stretch passes are not hitting home. Maybe copy Carolina a bit and be more willing to blast away. It was not like the Devils were not crashing the net; something the Devils do have in their attacking philosophy.
During the ESPN broadcast, the only salient point made was by P.K. Subban and it was about the Devils’ ‘B’ Game. What do you do when your team is not able to do as they wish and the game is not going so well but not out of reach? What is your ‘B’ game? The Devils would be wise to have some plans for a ‘B’ game when the ‘A’ game or gameplan is not effective. That could be what takes them to the next level.
The Talented Team with a Great System is a Tough Opponent
Related to the ‘B’ game idea, the Devils need to be mindful of having all 18 skaters in a given game committed to their gameplan. Carolina’s strengths were multiplied by the fact that all four lines and all three defensive pairings played the same style of game. It did not matter if it was Aho’s line, Staal’s line, Kotkaniemi’s line, or Stepan’s line. They were going to forecheck. They were going to be in a 1-2-2 if given the chance to set up. They were going to fire when ready. Obviously the talent levels were different and some were more effective than others; but part of what made the Canes look so good against the Devils was that there was no mercy. No fourth line to dump-and-chase after three lines looking to carry it in. No third pairing carrying a specialist or a player not able to play as fast as the team would want.
It was also part of why the Devils crushed Our Hated Rivals in the comeback of that series and got Gallant fired. Their “Kid” line was lost. Their top scorer decided to backcheck like he was Miles Wood in the regular season. One line would do one approach and other line would do another. This would be fine if they were complimentary but the performances showed that some guys were in Manhattan, some guys were in Brooklyn, some were in the Bronx, and some were upstate looking for a golf course.
I do not doubt the mentality of the Devils. I believe everyone had the right mindset. But one of the flaws of the 2022-23 Devils was that they had a line or a pairing or a player on the ice that could not do so well in how the Devils played or keep doing what the others were doing. Sure, have some backup plans, but the Devils would be wise to take a page from the 2023 Hurricanes and the 1995 Devils and have a squad that skater #1 from #18 that fits into how they want to play.
The thing is, I think the Devils are close to that now. They just have to fill in the gaps.
For Individual Analysis, Recognize What’s a Streak and What’s Sustainable
Related to the previous points, a player or a coach having a bad playoff run will make fans want that player or coach gone. Sometimes, this makes sense. Other times, this bites the team in the end. Again, playoff games are hockey games - and sometimes you just have a bad run of luck or form amid an otherwise good season by an otherwise a good player. On the flipside, a great playoff series or playoff run by an otherwise not so good player will often see that player get paid real well and locked up by someone for a while only to find out that they were just on a hot streak and the contract is going to stink on ice in time.
There are a few Devils that come to mind from this playoffs. This will likely be its own post(s) in the future, but it must be addressed.
- Vitek Vanecek provided a decent to good level of goaltending the Devils have not had this season. He beat the expected goals model in all situations (128.81 xGA, 119 actual GA) and posted a 91.1% overall save percentage in 52 games. He got blown out of the first round and blown out of the net again in the second round. He gave up 21 goals out of 7 appearances with an obscenely bad overall save percentage of 82.5%. Vanecek was truly bad in most of those 7 appearances, but it is unlikely that Vanecek just magically turned into a pumpkin easily beaten in the net (a carved pumpkin?) after his 52nd appearance. I think he was on a cold streak.
- Jesper Bratt has received a lot of ire from the People Who Matter. The perception was that he was the issue in last summer’s negotiations and last-second contract signing to avoid arbitration. Bratt proceeded to show he was no fluke with 20 goals and 43 points in 5-on-5 (third on team) and 32 goals and 73 points total (fourth in points). In the postseason, Bratt proceeded to not produce and not contribute all that much. He had one goal, an empty netter, in the playoffs. His five assists - four primaries, including the one to set up Hamilton’s OT winner - did contribute but the expectation was goals for a team that needed it. A rising expectation as Nico Hischier and Timo Meier were at least visibly creating opportunities and helping out off the puck. Bratt got inside a lot in Game 5 but that was at the behest of Ruff noting to the press that he was not doing that enough after Game 4 - which was true in that game. I can argue that Bratt was unlucky at times as he generated a 4.21 xG and got just the ENG; but Erik Haula, of all players, managed to shoot the puck almost as much Bratt and created a touch higher xG - only to actually finish some of those shots. And his non-blocking attempt on Burns in Game 5 is going to be remembered, rightly or wrongly. I do think that Bratt had a bad playoff after a good season. But if the goal was to show he was essential, then I do not know if he hit it.
- In contrast, Michael McLeod had one of (the best?) performances in the Carolina series. He was certainly active and ended up playing over 20 minutes in Game 5. He was hammered in the run of play - most Devils did - but he was at least visibly making attempts and doing What It Takes to actual effect, such as bailing out Akira Schmid’s turnover in the third period by denying Jesper Fast an easy score. McLeod finished this postseason with two goals, six points, and whole lot of hard work. It is very easy to say, lock him up for a while. The issue: those 82 games before that had McLeod scoring just 4 goals and contribute 26 points. When he was on the ice in 5-on-5, the Devils barely broke even in CF% - which was the worst among all regular Devils. This is not to say that McLeod should be thrown away at the first chance, but more to pump the brakes after his shorty against Our Hated Rivals and showing a lot of get-up-and-go when other players were not in the Carolina series.
- As an additional contrast, look to Akira Schmid. His NHL career is as follows: 6 games as a call up in 2021-22 where he was lit up like a Christmas tree; great over 18 appearances this season albeit in inconsistent duty; the hero of the first round with two shutouts and two one-GA games; and someone yanked after Carolina beat him badly in the first two games. I agree with Jared that the Devils have to be in the goaltender business. Part of that is answering: Who is Akira Schmid really? It is tempting - especially after the first round - to say he’s the top guy and Vanecek has to play as a #1B. But is it going to viable for a season? For multiple seasons? I am tempted to think Schmid was just hot in the first round and came back down to Earth in the Carolina series. Which may be decent enough.
This is not a full list, but I wanted to highlgiht is where difficult choices will have to be made by Tom Fitzgerald and his staff. Related to that first lesson, it is important for the Devils to think more logically and less emotionally when it comes time to make those decisions. This means looking beyond the points and moments of fame and infamy. After all, the players are paid for the 82-game season and if I am going to be asked what is going to tell me more about who is good at hockey, then I am more likely to be right with 82 games worth of data than just 12.
And I will laugh if you want to tell me that Miles Wood is better than Bratt just based on those 12 games (which was absolutely not true, Wood was terrible in the OHR series)
Playoff Experience is Highly Overrated
The New Jersey Devils did not have many players with loads of playoff experience. But they had some. Ondrej Palat, Tomas Tatar, Dougie Hamilton, Erik Haula, Timo Meier, Ryan Graves, John Marino, and Brendan Smith come to mind. On the bench, there was Ryan McGill (with Las Vegas), Andrew Brunette (as a player and with Florida last season), and Lindy Ruff. Did this help the Devils in the postseason?
Not really. Hamilton’s high-scoring ways did not appear in the postseason as he was forced to defend a lot more, especially by Carolina. Palat may have finished with seven points but he was a penalty risk and a turnover machine in between the production. Haula surged in the first round and wilted in the second round (and also became a penalty risk). Among the experienced, he was among the better players. Meier did everything but score until Game 3 against Carolina. I wish he did not miss that empty net in Game 5, but he was otherwise a positive player and showed why he was worth being traded for. Although some of his penalties were not good ones to take. Tatar just wilted in general; not even helping to drive the play all that much in 5-on-5. John Marino was OK for the most part. Ryan Graves, not as much; and Brendan Smith should be lucky few goals against happened with him on the ice given his 5-on-5 on-ice xGA/60 of three. The coaching staff did well against Our Hated Rivals but struggled big-time against Rod Brind’Amour, a root cause to why the Devils lost in five to Carolina.
The best Devils in this playoff run were some of the most inexperienced. Akira Schmid is a by-definition rookie and he was the star of the first round for New Jersey. There is no playoff loss to Carolina without him. Kevin Bahl took Smith’s spot in the lineup and showed he is a better defender than him now. The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, led the team in playoff scoring by a good margin. Luke Hughes, who played all of three playoff games, demonstrated he could out-skate a Hurricanes forecheck and did well in two of those three games. He earned 25 minutes in a win-or-else Game 5. Outside of Game 5 against Carolina, Nico Hischier was an all three-zones player in the postseason as much as he was in the regular season. They were among the Devils best in this playoff run. (If you want throw McLeod in there, then OK.) The lack of playoff experience did not hinder these players whatsoever.
It is a nice story to tell about how a player or a team needs to Learn How To Win or Know What It Takes. But, again, it comes down to who is good at hockey and who performs well in games, and no amount of past experience is going to really impact that all that much.
High-Pressure Penalty Killing Opponents Were a Problem
The Devils’ power play was legitimately OK in the regular season. You would not have known that from the playoffs. Our Hated Rivals and Carolina frustrated many by just stacking the blueline and tenaciously going after puck carriers when the Devils had a man advantage. The Devils had no real answer for this and so their power play struggled to do much of anything if they did not win a faceoff and establish possession. Putting a guy in behind the pressing PKers can help but not when he cannot even get the puck. Taking extra time, passes, and touches for the breakout is a waste if the entry cannot be made or established beyond two passes in the zone.
This was something identified in past Devils seasons and even in this one despite an improved power play performance. A penalty kill comfortable with pressing up high can really ruin the Devils’ chances at doing something on offense. You know what I wrote about a ‘B’ game? The Devils power play desperately needed one in both playoff series. Specifically to beat high-pressure penalty kills. The opponent is not going to stop them given how much they undercut the Devils’ attack and create shorthanded opportunities. Opportunities that Carolina finished.
No, the Devils Don’t Need Beef, Grit, Physical Presence, Whatever.
Whenever the Devils are struggling to score, inevitably there will be the call to Take it to the Net. To get a “greasy” goal. To get to the “dirty” areas. The Devils are not a big team so clearly they must need some Big Bodies with Grit for those situations. And whenever the Devils are losing in a game, inevitably there will be laments, whines, pleas, and such for Physical Play to somehow fix this. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Let us check the facts.
First: The Devils led the NHL in high-danger chances (shot attempts in the slot and at the crease) created in the playoffs. They had 153 in 5-on-5 situations and a rate of 15.43 per 60. No other team has come close. Not Carolina, who just beat them. Not Our Hated Rivals. Not the Identity-Line-Featuring Islanders. Not the big bad B’s. Not Toronto. The Devils were great at this in the regular season and that continued in the postseason. They also scored 13 HD goals. Which is not bad. The thing about a transitional offense is that plays on the rush absolutely have someone going to the net - which is a high-danger chance. When the Devils were rushing in, they were getting to those dirty areas often. Which is how the Devils normally play. Having more guys the size of Nathan Bastian would not have somehow yielded more of these opportunities or more goals from them.
It is more apparent that protecting these spots was an issue. But, again, transitional offenses focus on getting to those areas. When Carolina or, rarely, Our Hated Rivals did this, then someone would go to the net. Even so, the Devils allowed 110 HDCAs for a rate of 11.1 per 60 minutes - the fifth lowest rate in the NHL playoffs. Again, this followed the regular season where the Devils were exceptional at allowing HDCAs relative to the rest of the NHL (10.32 HDCA/60). The 16 HDCAs make me think some better goaltending would have helped. As would some better positioning on those close-range goals. Again, more defenders the size of Ryan Graves or the grit of Brendan Smith would not necessarily make that any better.
Second: What was the big body presence of Carolina again? The biggest hit that I can recall was a quasi-legal jumping butt from Kotkaniemi on Hischier in Game 2 and a quasi-boarding on Graves by a much smaller Jesper Fast in the same game. Neither hit created a goal. Neither continued the Canes offense or set up a scoring chance. Neither did not make the Devils fail on offense. The Fast hit, I think, injured Graves but that probably was not Fast’s intension. Yes, Carolina won a lot of board battles and 50/50 pucks. That had more to do with leverage, work ethic, and positioning. They did not bully the Devils around, dump their books, and take their lunch money. They focused on the puck, swarmed it up on the forecheck and neutral zone, and quickly turned to offense if/when the defensemen made a stop. The average sized Jordan Martinook got hot and had a brilliant series against New Jersey.
And with the first round further in the past, what was the meaningful physical play in that one again?
The lesson is that it would be easy to say the Devils are not big enough or tough enough or mean enough. Except the Devils, as constructed, went to the high danger areas frequently, they get greasy goals among others, and they are in the “dirty” areas of the corners and around the net constantly. The facts show this. The wins show that it worked. The Devils need to focus on the facts in determining what the Devils were missing or fell short in. Better that than the perception based on a big yet meaningless hit from a game the Devils lost by five in. Or the bleating of hockey media or fans still stuck in 1985.
The Core Can Succeed; But It Must Be Supported Well
While Carolina showed how a full team game can flood opponents and be a mighty difficult one to beat, their core was great. The Hurricanes are primarily built around Aho, Necas (who got hot in this series), Jordan Staal, Pesce, Slavin, Skjei, and Kotkaniemi. Burns was a big add, you can expect to add Seth Jarvis to that group, and the remainder have been excellent compliments. Do the Devils have a core to succeed?
Yes. Even with the five-game series loss to Carolina, the Devils thrived when their top players were able to be top players. The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, very much showed that his game can work in the playoffs. Nico Hischier, despite a not so good last few games, was very much the all-zone player the Devils have come to lean on. While this was not a great playoff for Dougie Hamilton, he has shown he can perform as did Jonas Siegenthaler. Jesper Bratt was really the only one who was an active disappointment among the core players. And that does depend on who else you consider a core part of the Devils. An extension for Meier would confirm he is a part of it. But it was the supporting cast that was far more inconsistent for the Devils. When they excelled, it provided a big edge - namely in the first round; but it came up short in the second round, even when some did shine for a bit.
The BMW line had shining moments in the Canes series but it was not all that shiny and the less said about them in the first round (save for McLeod in Games 5 and 7) the better. Damon Severson had a good playoff as his catastrophic self did not emerge, but he also did not make a ton of difference from what, say, Luke Hughes could have done based on his few games. Marino was solid, Graves and Smith were not. Tatar’s playoff made Bratt look like Hughes. Palat was inconsistent in his performances. As was Mercer, although Mercer is young enough to improve and Palat is on the wrong side of 32. Attempts to get Jesper Boqvist or Yegor Sharangovich involved were not convincing enough to keep in games.
This is by no means a bad group - look at the record - but the Canes series showed how much of a difference it makes when Martinook can provide what, say, Necas did not. Or that if Seth Jarvis has a quiet game, it is OK because Jack Drury can pick up the slack. Or that putting out a second power play unit in OT is viable because those supporting cast members can perform the roles - and win the game. And, again, the non-core players along with some core players from Manhattan fell apart in that series and the Devils took advantage. Plus, when Meier, Hischier, and Bratt were not scoring; they were getting contributions from others scoring to take that series.
The key here is that, like with the streaks, Fitzgerald has to identify who can be good supporting players that the team is built around. We know Hughes can perform in the playoffs. We know Hischier can. We know Meier can. We kind of know and think Hamilton can. What about the rest? That is up to the GM to evaluate and make those tough decisions.
One other relevant thing: Carolina heavily invested in analytics and thinking about the game in a non-traditional manner for about a decade running now. You are seeing the fruits of those labors. The Devils have also invested in this manner; they should maintain the same course they are on in that realm.
The Expectations Are Higher Now
The challenge about exceeding expectations is that they become the new norm. I will be the first to write that I do not expect the 2023-24 Devils to earn 112 points again or win 52 games. Setting franchise records in successive seasons is a massive achievement and a highly unexpected one. I cannot foresee the 23-24 Devils winning 13 straight games or nearly sweeping all of their games in Canada, for example. That stated, the expectations will be higher. Making the playoffs will be a minimum requirement. Winning a playoff round or two is not much of a stretch goal as it was for some of the People Who Matter. The Devils’ window for championships is now open. And I would argue it opened during 2022-23.
Ultimately, this has to be kept in mind with all of the decisions to make in this offseason: Does this help or hinder the Devils from making the playoffs? I would say almost every choice has to have that in mind in some way or form. This is the result of this season and going to the second round at all. The team is capable of success. Now they must return and try again, hopefully with the right lessons learned from 2022-23.
Keep an Eye on the Playoff Winners
The Devils’ offseason has begun but the playoffs are still ongoing. The Devils would be wise to pay a little attention to who prevails in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There is a very good chance who ever goes to the Finals and wins it will lead to many other teams trying to copy the winners to hopefully find success. Some of it may be a legitimately good idea to copy, too. If it turns out to be Carolina, then the Devils need to be prepared to see a lot more aggressive 1-2-2 forechecks, man-on-man defending, and shot attempts taken first and questions asked later. It will not just be the Canes who play that way. If it turns out to be someone else, then, again, expect other teams to try to emulate part of what the winner does. And the Devils have to account for that in the coming season.
And I Hate to Say It But...
If pressure is coming and you need to just clear the puck, either make sure it goes off the glass, goes into space away from the pressure, or you just eat the pressure. Do not, do not, do not, do not put it directly over the glass.
I am sure there are other lessons being thrown out there as what the Devils should or should not do. I am sure you have your own takes on some of these. I want to know them. Maybe I will agree. Maybe I will not. Maybe Fitzgerald & Co. will learn some wrong things among some right things; or maybe they will get it all right/wrong. What is your take? What should the Devils learn from this playoff run? Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you for reading and I apologize for the later-than-usual post.