What’s next for Detroit?

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 1.08.06 PM

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center that provides free help to kids at underserved schools. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Eric Phillips.)

The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Detroit Red Wings from the NHL postseason last night. It was the second year in a row they lost in the first round to the Bolts, and also the third year in a row they lost in general.

That’s bad, and if you ask me (someone did) you’d almost rather miss the playoffs than just make it and lose in the first round every year. Fortunately, it might not be something the Wings have to worry much about next year.

After all, there’s a very distinct possibility that Pavel Datsyuk hops a jet back to Russia and never suits up for the Wings again, and we all saw early in the season how bad Detroit was in his absence. Probably that overstates things, but the Wings are barely making the postseason with a guy who can still reliably drive possession (and is just about the only guy on the team that can do so on a level that actually makes a big difference for the team). No Datsyuk, plus an extra year of miles on Zetterberg and Kronwall, and so on. Yeah, they’re developing young talent, but it’s tough to develop guys who can replace Hall of Fame talent.

And yeah, that’s the kind of doom and gloom Wings fans have gotten sick of hearing for years, but we’ve been looking at diminishing returns for years since Nick Lidstrom retired. At some point they diminish to the point the team needs to really consider its long-term future.

If you routinely draft in the mid-teens or later, you’re not usually getting  difference-making talent. NHL talent? Sure, absolutely. Reliably so. I would note that the Wings’ drafting prowess is often overstated but they do routinely get guys to the bigs, and that’s not nothing. That helps. But it doesn’t get you back to the point where you can reasonably expect to, say, compete for a Stanley Cup or even, probably, a division title.

Let’s put it this way: With all the talent on the roster, and Petr Mrazek (probably) punching well above his weight class for a good chunk of the season, they still only ended up with 93 points in a soft-as-heck division. I don’t see them getting better than that next year, that’s for sure. Yeah they can PDO their way to a better point total, but in terms of actual quality, you kind of have to feel like they’re topped out right now.

Who’s in the pipeline that’s gonna put the puck in the net next year? Anthony Mantha maybe, then who? Tough to say with any certainty. Sure, they can spend money on the free agent market, but when’s the last time the Red Wings got someone actually good via UFA? Mike Green? Yeah okay. There are certainly guys worth acquiring this summer. It’s a good UFA class for once. But that still feels like putting a bandaid on the problem, rather than addressing it directly.

I dunno. If it were up to me, and I were running just about any team in Detroit’s position, I’d start selling hard and get a few years’ worth of high picks. They’re a rich team, moving into a new building soon. Do what Toronto did and use your resources to take bad contracts and prospects from teams in dire cap positions. Let someone take the Datsyuk cap hit. And so on. You have enough young talent on hand that you don’t have to tear it all the way down, but a few years of missing the playoffs probably does everyone some good in the long run.

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All teams are bands now

the-beatles-circa-1966-650-430(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center that provides free help to kids at underserved schools. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Chris Prod.)

I have been asked to compare every NHL team to a band, so here I am doing that. I have to say it was harder than I thought.

Anaheim Ducks: Sublime. They are from California and pretty much exclusively for dirtbags.

Arizona Coyotes: Oasis. In constant danger of not being a thing any more.

Boston Bruins: The Dropkick Murphys. They’re fundamentally bad but you can’t tell anyone from Boston that.

Buffalo Sabres: Thin Lizzy. You may know them from their Bad Reputation.

Calgary Flames: Nickelback. Really bad, but their fans will swear up and down that they’re awesome and you’re wrong even though you are clearly not wrong.

Carolina Hurricanes: Rage Against the Machine. Really good when they’re good. More often not very good.

Chicago Blackhawks: AC/DC. Really only got super-big after a new guy took over, but then had a whole lot of hits in a short time.

Colorado Avalanche: Coldplay. They’re awful and the guy in charge is insufferable.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Dream Theater. Can’t imagine why literally anyone likes them.

Dallas Stars: Muse. I feel like Jamie Benn is, like, super into Muse. He thinks they’re deep, I bet.

Detroit Red Wings: Paul McCartney. Really good a long time ago, now just churning out mediocrity that everyone gushes over for reasons unknowable.

Edmonton Oilers: Kings of Leon. People swear they were good once and you’ve seen some pretty compelling evidence to that point but looking at what they are now you’re still pretty skeptical.

Florida Panthers: Ratt. Because of the throwing rats? I don’t know. This was a hard one.

Los Angeles Kings: Red Hot Chili Peppers. From California and it’s kind of embarrassing if you like them.

Minnesota Wild: The Replacements. Because the Stars left the Twin Cities and they came back, I guess?

Montreal Canadiens: The Beatles. People still talk about things that were legitimately great in the ’60s and ’70s like they’re still important today. And if a young person is like, “Yeah but I’m not 100 years old so what do I care?” people yell at them.

Nashville Predators: Diarrhea Planet. because they are from Nashville and they rule.

New Jersey Devils: Bruce Springsteen. Obviously.

New York Islanders: Billy Joel. Also obviously.

New York Rangers: Ace of Base. Their No. 1 hit was in 1994, and you’ve heard it just about enough for one lifetime.

Ottawa Senators: The Police. One super-talented guy ruined by a whole lot of garbage.

Philadelphia Flyers: Guns ‘n’ Roses. I never got why people liked them or thought they were good.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Queen. The ultimate singles band, and when the main guy goes you might as well fold up the tents.

San Jose Sharks: Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not a single No. 1 hit but man, there’s a lot to like in the catalog.

St. Louis Blues: Black Sabbath. Really heavy, really overrated.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Blue Öyster Cult. One big hit, not a lot going on since.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Bon Jovi. They retired the guy’s number and also the band is very bad.

Vancouver Canucks: Pink Floyd. You’re better off not getting involved.

Washington Capitals: Eagles. You won’t believe how spectacularly things fall apart.

Winnipeg Jets: The Beach Boys. They really shouldn’t have come back.

Thank you.

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The Sabres are moving in the right direction

Untitled(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center that provides free help to kids at underserved schools. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Cory Zaranek.)

The first thing you have to say about the Sabres and where they’re headed is that with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart alone you’re probably not going to do too badly for yourself. Just as a starting point, that’s a good nucleus around which to build.

But of course the Sabres have long been stockpiling draft picks and prospects and the like in an effort to make sure that the future is brighter than it would have been even when the Ryan Miller-led teams of the mid-to-late 2000s actually had people (i.e. Terry Pegula) thinking a Stanley Cup was a not-at-all-laughable goal.

This is what allowed them to go out and acquire Robin Lehner, Evander Kane, and Ryan O’Reilly (the latter of whom has been very good for the Sabres this year). In all, they’ve had 13 players on the NHL roster for much of the year under the age of 26. And that doesn’t include guys like Hudson Fasching, Linus Ullmark, or Casey Nelson, all of whom are likely to be pretty good. Nor does it include whomever they pick in the first round this year with one of their 11(!) picks. Nor the nine(!) more they have in 2017.

Of course, Tim Murray is a smart GM and has already said that he’s looking to make trades this summer to improve the team’s roster, dealing from a position of strength (organizational depth) to improve one of weakness (NHL depth). The team also has plenty of money to spend and relatively few free agents who need money any time soon, so bringing in a guy on relatively big money — not Steven Stamkos, but something a step below — is an option as well.

With so many players under 26, you can already bank on a bunch of them continuing to improve. You can also say goodbye to David Legwand and Carlo Colaiacovo, both of whom were brought in as veteran space-fillers and will be replaced by kids who are equal to or better than them. One imagines that Buffalo might have been one of the clubs to target Nail Yakupov via trade, who’s always played well with good players but more often been shuttled off to the third and fourth lines in Edmonton.

But the thing is, Murray could do nothing and with a healthy-all-year Lehner (who has been excellent when fit) still reasonably expect to be more competitive. This is, at long last, a well-run organization that values the right things and makes almost exclusively good decisions and you can trust in the fact that they’re going to add quality to this roster to supplement the growth of their young players. This is not and never will be an Edmonton Oilers situation. Everyone is just too smart for that.

Are they a playoff team next year? Tough to say, but it would seem difficult for them to finish with fewer than 85 points if they got a year’s worth of solid goaltending and added just a little more talent.

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Why you should always share bad hockey columns

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 3.16.18 PM(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center that provides free help to kids at underserved schools. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Gus Booth.)

One of the things you often hear about in the NHL these days, at least if you hang out on Twitter a lot (big mistake, bucko!), is that there are a lot of bad, lazy reporters out there covering the sport and holding rather lucrative jobs with a lot of influence.

This much is indisputably true. The vast majority of these guys are probably in their mid 50s to early 60s and have been covering the sport since before there was an internet to tell them how wrong they are about it (usually very). Often, these reporters have their writing passed around online and people get mad about it. They say, “Look at what this idiot wrote! He is provably wrong here!” and then sometimes they even write their own things proving that the provably wrong thing was indeed wrong.

But there is a subset of Hockey Twitter which holds the ideal that sharing such Bad Content is actually beneficial to the Bad Content Creator. Because all it does is drive pageviews and ratings or whatever, and makes them look better and more popular.

This view is dumb for a number of reasons:

  1. The world of Hockey Twitter Getting Mad is pretty small.
    I have a decent number of followers on Twitter and when I share bad columns, I have the option to look at how many people clicked through. It’s rarely more than 100. The amount this sharing actually moves anyone’s needle is minimal.
  2. Bad reporting should be called out whenever possible.
    These guys have big voices, and even if you’re sitting there like, “Dah jeez, I hope no one else looks at this,” guess what buddy: Plenty of people at it anyway!
  3. Sometimes calling it out leads to good or at least enjoyable outcomes.
    You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. (I came up with that. Don’t steal it.) And often what you need is not to get all steamed about Another Bad Column by one of the same four or five Bad Content Creators, but rather to laugh at it.

I’ll give you two good examples from one columnist who is wrong a pretty healthy percentage of the time: Steve Simmons. Remember the time Tyler Dellow went on the radio in Toronto and humiliated him and Simmons got so mad he started yelling? If not, here it is:

Remember the time Pension Plan Puppets did the legwork and figured out Simmons lied about the Phil Kessel hot dogs rumor and Keith Olbermann made fun of him on national TV? If not, here it is:

See? That’s just one bad columnist and it’s two hilarious moments because someone read the columns and shared the columns. These are ideal outcomes, of course. Most of the time you can view it as a particularly poignant reminder that baby boomers are literally the exact reason why print media is dying. It’s only very rarely that the slop these guys write gets debunked and ridiculed so hilariously.

But just like you don’t golf hoping to drop a fairway shot within three inches of the pin, when it happens, it brings you so much joy that you’ll keep booking tee times for the rest of the summer.

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Wow Brad Marchand is good it turns out?

Untitled(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center that provides free help to kids at underserved schools. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Asmae.)

Not being one to get into saying, “I told you so,” (lol) but boy it turns out that Brad Marchand is having another whopper of a season and he’s really good and I’ve been saying it for years.

The thing with saying, “Brad Marchand is good,” though, is that you can point to any number of stats you want to validate it, but he just has a large number of people who don’t like him and any time you praise him, they fall back to their one dumb defense that will always kinda-work:

“But only because he plays with Bergeron!”

Let’s get that out of the way right now, then: Patrice Bergeron is one of the best players alive. I long ago stopped trying to rank which centers were the best in the league in my head, but suffice it to say that Bergeron is one of the five best alive. Don’t think there’d be too many people to put up an argument on that front.

But the thing that arises when evaluating the wingers of elite centers is that most elite centers see their wingers change on a regular basis. For example, Sidney Crosby has played at least 100 minutes with Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist, Pascal Dupuis, and David Perron this season. Kunitz is his most regular running buddy (poor Sid!) but most other guys bounce off and on his line on a regular basis. You can do this for almost any elite center: Jonathan Toews has played the vast majority of his time in recent years with Marian Hossa, but also Patrick Kane, Artemi Panari, Andew Shaw, Tuevo Teravainen, Andrew Ladd, and even Ryan Garbutt. In all kinds of configurations.

One guy you can’t do that with is Bergeron. He’s had just 187 minutes at 5-on-5 all year without Brad Marchand (pretty much all of them because Marchand was either suspended or injured), and more than 764.5 with him. Their results are through the roof: An expected goals-for share of 55.4 percent, and the Bruins carry less than 46.1 percent when they’re off the ice. Together, they have a corsi-for of 55.4 percent as well, and the Bruins are likewise a mile below that number when they go for a rest.

So much of that has to do with Marchand’s skill it’s not funny, but those who decided four or five years ago he was trash and haven’t paid any attention to the Bruins since then aren’t going to be convinced by WOWYs alone.

Here, then is the really crazy number: This season, when Brad Marchand has been away from Bergeron and some stranger has been on his wing, Bergeron has looked… ordinary.

Bergeron without Marchand (187 minutes at 5v5)
CF%: 51.0
SF%: 49.2
GF%: 40.0
xGF%: 48.1
RelCF%: +1.64
RelSF%: -1.31
RelGF%: -12.23
RelxGF%: -0.3

Yo it’s almost like…………. Brad Marchand is good? I dunno folks, that’s just how it looks to me, your nice friend. He’s at 34 goals and 54 points in 68 games this season. How anyone still looks at that and thinks “passenger” is so far beyond me that I’d have to become a Ranger fan to understand it (haha).

At this point he’s arguably the second-best player on the Bruins (behind only Bergeron) and no lower than fourth (if you want to be really generous and include both Loui Eriksson and Tuukka Rask). I said I didn’t really rank centers any more, but I also can’t name four left wings better than Marchand. In no particular order: Jamie Benn, Taylor Hall, Alex Ovechkin, and ___________? Can’t come up with one.

This was the case before he pushed 40 goals for the season, of course, but that certainly doesn’t hurt the candidacy.

To me, Brad Marchand will always be a champian.

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Connor McDavid is good in my opinion

Untitled(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center that provides free help to kids at underserved schools. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by El C.)

Before the season started I read a thing where Peter Chiarelli was asked what he would consider a good season for Connor McDavid, who is supposed to be very good at hockey from what we all understood. I’d say that the answer Chiarelli gave — “40 points” — was some intentional sandbagging. Can’t put too much pressure on McDavid who is only a little boy!!!

And well heck, he goes and misses a huge chunk of the season with a shoulder injury, and that’s really too bad because he just reached his 40th point — the big milestone for a good year — in his 38th game. But because he missed so many games, he’s only fifth in rookie scoring, a whopping three points back of Impressive Rookie Dylan Larkin, who everyone loves.

There’s no catching Artemi Panarin, who now seems to be the odds-on favorite to win the Calder, but the fact that he missed almost half the year and is only 23 points back is bonkers. Here’s the real stat, though: He’s only nine points behind Jack Eichel, who’s second in rookie scoring. You just don’t see players who care capable of that kind of thing outside an in-his-prime Sid Crosby.

If he were scoring at the same rate he has so far for an entire season (I’d say that’s conservative because there’d be no need to get back up to speed), McDavid would end up pushing 87 points as a rookie, in a league where the average save percentage is .915. That would have to go down as one of the great rookie seasons of all time.

And for that reason, I think you gotta give him the Calder anyway. Panarin is doing all that scoring by playing on a line with the presumptive MVP (Patrick Kane) which is all well and good, and I don’t think you should necessarily hold that against him. He’s having the season he’s having and there are plenty of guys who never scored like this even when playing with Patrick Kane or any other guy who was way out in front of the league in terms of total points. But McDavid doesn’t exactly have a ton of help in Edmonton, and he’s like, “No biggie.” I think that’s a larger factor.

Health is a factor in awards voting, obviously. Crosby probably would have won two more Harts if he’d been unconcussed, and if Mark Giordano would have been able to stay healthy in recent years, he’d probably be looking at two well-deserved Norrises on his mantle. But McDavid is so far above and beyond everyone in this rookie class that it almost feels criminal to not give him the award.

He is a good nice boy. Let’s be smart about this.

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NHL teams should really have pep bands

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Cornelius Hardenbergh.)

If you go to a lot of college hockey games (and I do!!!), you are probably very familiar with the idea of a pep band. Some schools — Northeastern, Cornell, BU, Maine — do it better than others — UMass Amherst, Merrimack — but the idea is a simple one: Instead of playing canned music between whistles and between periods, a band plays live music.

And they play the music you’d expect, for the most part. Fight song-type music, the pop hits of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and today, etc. And maybe it sounds a little corny, but it’s mega-fun. For some reason, Northeastern’s pep band plays “Stacy’s Mom” and the whole student section sings every stupid word of a Fountains of Wayne song from a decade ago. Why? I don’t. But it’s great.

BU fans maybe take their little routine with the pep band a little too far, because when you hear them do the “Tequila!” thing 20 times a year, you get sick of it. And literally every pep band on earth could do with playing “Shipping Up To Boston” and “Seven-Nation Army” a little less often.

But the point is that these bands make it a lot more fun to go to a hockey game than if you just listened to Jock Jams between shifts. Listening to Jock Jams sucks, but we all still have to do it all the time; Jock Jams are, in fact, so popular that we still refer to them as Jock Jams even though there hasn’t been an official compilation of them since 2001.

And it’s a lesson NHL teams could take to heart.

NHL rinks are big and soulless, and the volume at which they play the dreadful music craved by the masses borders on headache-inducing. A pep band sorts all that out quickly, and they can still play whatever arrangements of the latest Gangnam Style-level Viral Craze is sweeping the nation. All they have to do is learn it, and it somehow still feels fresher than someone pressing play on a CD player. You know how people love organs at NHL games? It’s like that, but better.

It will, of course, never happen, because you have to give like three-quarters of a section over to some tuba players, and that’s lost revenue. But look at the above video featuring the University of Virginia pep band playing at a Capitals game. That’s way better than hearing “Shake It Off” for the hundredth time (even if “Shake It Off” is great (which it is)).

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Whither Patrik Elias’s future?

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Brendan Porto.)

There is no question at all that Patrik Elias is one of the Devils’ best players of all time. He is the only one to break 1,000 points in a Devils uniform (and in fact the only one to break 702). He won two Stanley Cups. He has the team’s single-season points record (97) as well as two more in the top 20 all-time. No Devil has scored more goals, no Devil has set up more goals.

I’ve argued this before: he’s a borderline Hockey Hall of Famer. He certainly deserves to have his number retired.

But he’s also 38, and the Devils are rebuilding (maybe?). His points per game this season came in at the lowest level since 1996-97, and his possession numbers were, umm, wanting. And so you have to wonder if this is it.

But what’s interesting is that the Devils use him in much the same way (and to much lesser effect) than the Bruins do Patrice Bergeron. Toughest assignments on the team in terms of quality of competition, and some rather unfavorable zone starts as well. So it seems that while he’s not producing in the 50-65 points range like he did for almost a decade and a half — seriously, his lowest non-lockout point total from 1998 to 2014 was 45, and that was because he only played 38 games that year — he’s still decent enough at beating back the opposition that he’s trusted in that role against the iron of the league. (This may, however, relate back to New Jersey just not having the horses to let anyone else do it for him.)

He has only one year left on his current deal, which pays him $5.5 million, and even if he wasn’t great this year — he wasn’t — that’s a lot of money to leave sitting on the table if he were to retire this summer, which he won’t.

So you get the feeling that, y’know, this coming 2015-16 season is going to be something of a victory lap for him, and it’s well-earned. It’s also well-timed. Because the Devils are about to fall on some very difficult circumstances — that is, if you don’t think they’ve done so already — in terms of roster turnover, management shifts, and basically getting the dead weight off the roster. Elias, weirdly, might be in that mix, because he’s probably seen as a veteran who can help another team, and he might be worth some picks or prospects or something. It’ll be weird to see him in another uniform (like Brodeur-on-the-Blues weird), but that’s probably what’s going to happen.

For two damn decades, only having to face the reality of a trade once in your career means you had a pretty damn good run.

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Why don’t passing statistics exist?

(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For a donation of $50 or more, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Joey.)

One of the big criticisms you often hear about “advanced” stats is that you can’t measure hockey like that because of “the flow of the game” and the speed of it and so on. One thing that those people don’t like to keep in mind about this is that we can certainly develop those statistics, and pretty easily. We just haven’t yet.

Passing stats should, in theory, be pretty easy to come up with. In much the same way that you record who’s on the ice for every hit, turnover, shot attempt, penalty, and so on, you also just track that data for passes. Along the way you also add in data like who was the passer and who was the receiver, approximate length of the pass, whether the pass was successful, and so on.

It probably takes a few extra people in the press box to do this, but it would start to tell you a lot pretty quickly: The league-wide or team or individual completion rates by pass distance, which players connect for the most passes, which passes lead directly to shot attempts, etc. This would add probably a few million data points per season to our understanding of the sport.

And look, people have tried it for individual teams. Does it necessarily tell us something to know how good any handful of Islanders are at passing? Probably not, but if things were collected at the league level, that’s a whole different story. Right now it’s hobbyists, just like the people who tracked zone entries for so long before a few got scooped up by NHL teams. But it’s all about to be moot.

That’s because all current player-tracking data we have is from observation, and when the league implements RFID chips that track players and puck alike instead, we’re not going to have to sit here and compile this data ourselves by watching the same games over and over again (assuming, that is, the league makes its tracking data public). Instead we’ll be able to more or less instantly see all the things being discussed above, for every second of every shift in every game all season long. This really is an insane new frontier and if nothing else it’s going to give us more data to evaluate the game. Maybe we’ll find out, for instance, that Tyler Bozak might not be good at driving possession or putting up points, but he’s comparably elite when distributing to Phil Kessel on passes of between 15-20 feet when transitioning through the neutral zone at 22 miles per hour. (We won’t find that out, of course, because he’s not, but in theory we could.)

That is the level of data we are about to receive (maybe). Hockey’s a fluid game? You bet it is. And maybe you can’t measure every aspect of it. But what if the NHL’s player tracking gives us something like this? Won’t the sport’s analytics movement have been worth it?

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