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Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Wild GM Fletcher: 'The last two months have been ... triage'

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher held his end-of-the-season news conference today. He addressed everything from questions about the upcoming coaching search (he says John Torchetti is a very serious candidate), the perceived chemistry issues in the locker room and odds and ends regarding injuries, unrestricted free agents, the offseason, the possibility of buying out Thomas Vanek and trading Darcy Kuemper, etc.

I will have a story in tomorrow's paper on what he said regarding the coach and the team and the locker-room stuff. But here are some quick hits from the sidebar he did after the presser, and I may update this as I delve into the news conference monstrosity of a transcript if there are some other interesting things you should know quickly:

Coaching timetable

"The last two months have been, I’ve called it, triage and I meant it sincerely. Everyday you wake up and how do we win a game today to get in the playoffs. After we went 1-11-2, we plummeted from a team that was competing for home ice, not only did Colorado and Nashville catch us, but Arizona, Winnipeg, teams were like one, two points behind us. At that point whether it was right or wrong, we just had to get in. and we did. Maybe it wasn’t always pretty, but we won a lot of games initially to get in. So that was the focus. I haven’t had time to really decompress and formulate all my thoughts. As remarkable as it sounds, Torch and I have never spoken about next year or the future or his vision. I know him so well, but it was all about who should we play tonight, what about the power play, how are we going to win this game? All our thoughts have been so incredibly short-term out of necessity that I think we both needed some time to decompress here. We have a good chance to talk soon and talk about the future and his vision and how he wants to push the team forward. So the process is taking shape and next week we’ll start to have better ideas about how it will go, but I’m not in any rush."

Need an experienced coach?

"Uh, ……….. I guess. They definitely have had to have been a head coach before. Whether in the NHL, I’m not sure. If they have experience elsewhere, that might be fine, too."

Iowa coaching search

"It’s too early to say (on Torch going back). That’ll be second after. From Dec. 13 on, so first 27 games in Iowa, we won four. We were the worst team in the league offensively and we were the worst team in the league defensively. From Dec. 13 on, we were in the  10th best team in the league defensively and we played .500 hockey. We were still worst offensively. That’s me. I’m responsible for bringing the talent in. But point being, I thought Torch and Cunny did a great job down there changing the culture, putting the structure in, we defended way better. we lost 29 one-goal games, which speaks more to our inability to score goals. I can tell you how many games I saw us lose 3-2 or 2-1. We didn’t have the firepower. So that’s why I’m excited about the group going into next year, the anas, tuch, Gilmour, all these kids with the Downings, Schroeders if he’s back here and the Bertschy’s, all these guys. It could be fun. They did a great job turning that around. But we have to get through the process here and then we’ll see."

How do you get back from being always against the wall

"That’s why I said this is not a character issue. Two years ago, it was a different problem, three years ago we had some injuries, two years ago we had a tough time getting a save for awhile, I thought we were playing hard. This year we just didn’t stick with it. I think during that 1-11-2 stretch, I’d have to look, my guess is we gave up the first goal most games and then we stopped playing patient, we stopped playing the way we should, we had a lot of guys during that stretch that were struggling to score. Individual confidence was at an all-time low. The message wasn’t getting through to the players and the players weren’t able to execute what the coaches wanted. And it got away from us. when I look at our team, I think we were tied with Dallas for the most 10-plus goal scorers in the league, our defense is around top-10 offensively in the league with more good young kids coming, we have depth of skill, we have good offensive production from our back end, which I think you have to have to win, we have a good goaltender, we have guys that care and I think you can see that in games we push back. We fight. I think we probably need another player or two to help up front. But it hasn’t been the same thing every year. But it’s a good group, it’s a good team, it’s a team that had a tough stretch, but if you look at us before and you look at us after, we played at pretty high level. You back out the 1-11-2 and it’s a pretty good hockey team. Record-wise and otherwise. I’ve asked every player their thoughts and why it happened. There was no [consensus]. The year before, it was an easy one. But this year, it hasn’t been and there’s no smoking gun, it’s not the old guys don’t like the young guys or vice versa. It was what it was. We’ll keep pushing."

UFA’s back?

We’ll get through the coaching situation first and see. I liked a lot of what they did. I think Dalpe and Schroeder, our RFA’s, I believe we’re going to qualify them. They both they showed they can play up here and they’re stars when they play in the American League. The UFA guys we’ll wait. I think it’s important that we have a good feel for how we’re going to play and how the coach wants to coach and then make the bottom six as strong as possible.

Coyle/Granlund positions

They’re both [centers and wings]. I think it’s great. It was funny. I talked to Granlund about playing wing. I said, ‘How do you like playing wing?’ He says, ‘God, it’s easy. You don’t have to play defense. All you do is have the puck, you make plays, you get points, everyone thinks you’re great.’ He was laughing. He played really well on the wing. I thought he was outstanding the last three months of the year. His growth in particular, the maturity. It was funny. I was talking to Brent Flahr yesterday. He said, ‘who was the best exit interview?’ I said, ‘Granlund by far.’ I said, ‘I remember him when he came in with acne and he was just a young kid.’ He’s a man now. He’s so in tune with who he is and what he needs to do and he’s intelligent and just a really mature kid. He can play both. I think if we put him on the wing, he would score more. He’s very good defensively, so it’s going to be up to the coach. Charlie plays center, he has the puck more coming through the middle of the ice. I think he utilizes his speed more, he can make more plays. Like most young guys, he’ll probably have to keep working on faceoffs. But that’s just a matter of experience. That’s an easy fix. When he plays the wall though, I would say he and Nino are probably our two best guys on the wall, two big, strong guys who can protect the puck. When we have him at center, we need a winger like him to replace him. When he plays the wing, we need a centerman like him to replace him. It’s a great luxury, a little bit like Backes with St. Louis. … Both those kids are two of the reasons why I am optimistic about our group because those are two good hockey players that play 200 feet and are team oriented and care and compete and are good offensive players who haven’t come close to getting to where they’re going to get to, yet play well defensively and give you that flexibility. Particular with Haula’s resurgence this year, which was remarkable. Pominville 22 points in 28 games games, and Haulzy, and how well he played and Niederreiter. That’s a pretty good looking group. We just have to find a way to get the right fit with the top two lines and we have a chance to become a pretty good three line team next year

Buying out Thomas Vanek?

"I think it’s way premature on that. I thought Thomas in October and November was arguably our best forward – or certainly played as well as any body on our team. He seemed to lose confidence. But I thought he really shot the puck well and did a lot of great things early. And there’s no question he pressed after that and then got banged up. He’s a goal scorer and we need to find a way to score more goals. Our cap situation is much better this year. We’re just looking to improve our team. Whatever we need to do to improve our team, we’ll do. But I’m probably a couple weeks away (from deciding that). It’d be great if we could figure out the cap and figure out that information to see exactly how much room we have. But I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options.

Will you trade Darcy Kuemper?

"I don’t think the contract would have anything to do with it. I get along well with the agent, get along well with Darcy. We’ve signed Devan to a long term deal and Darcy is a year away from UFA. So from that standpoint, I think it would behoove us to look around and see what value we could find in him. If there’s a deal that makes sense for us and allows him to get a better opportunity, I think that would be good for both of us. But I also have no problem bringing him back. You probably are aware that we’ve had some goaltending difficulties the last few years with injuries and illnesses and crazy things. We definitely want to have two good goalies. But from Darcy’s standpoint, he’s been patient, he was a great teammate this year, so if there’s something that allows him to get in an expanded role and we can get a good asset or a good player, then I’ll definitely consider that. Otherwise, we’re very comfortable having him back and starting the year that way."

What is the status of the assistant coaches?

"I don’t want to comment on [whether they're all in the final year of their contracts] other than it’s probably important to have the head coaching situation figured out before we can determine their future. Regardless of contract, the head coach whoever it is is going to have to have some free reign in who his staff is."

Injuries besides the ones we know (Parise, Dubnyk, etc.)

"Scandella, there’s a chance he’ll need hernia surgery. We’ll find out. He’s been battling, really it goes back to the Philadelphia game in January. He went awkwardly into the boards and has kind of been dealing with a hip and abdominal issue all year. he was able to play, but I don’t think he was ever 100 percent. He’s something we’re looking into.

"Spurgeon I won’t really disclose the injury. But that kid is the toughest kid I’ve ever seen. He was probably 80 percent most of the year and played 25 minutes per night. I don’t think he’ll need surgery, but I’ll just call it upper body for now. But he’s going to need some time to get better. He wasn’t able to play for Canada – they asked for him and Scandy too. But neither guy was able to play.

"Haula is out. He’s got – it’s sort of in his hip area. I don’t know if you’d call it a hip pointer. Kind of in there. I don’t think it’s anything major. But it definitely impacted his speed, although that play he made to Brodin on that second goal the other night looked like he was shot out of a cannon. But he was good enough to play. He’ll probably need four weeks to clear everything up.

"Brodin had been battling a foot injury for a long time. He’s just not able to play. But again I think it impacted his mobility a bit there so he’s going to take some time."

Matt Dumba's season

"I’m obviously partial. I drafted Matt. He’s a 21-year-old kid. He is. Most 21-year-old kids some of them are freshman in college. … And he’s a third-year pro in the NHL. So he’s a really young guy. I thought at times this year, he was really good. At times this year, he lost his way. That’s normal for a 21-year-old. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to become a very good player. To find that skillset, to find defenseman that can score goals – that’s the one knock on this franchise since before I was here and certainly after I’ve been here is how do you score more goals, how do you get more offense. Well, he’s a goal scoring defenseman. He had 10 this year. And he didn’t play maybe half the time on the first unit. This is a guy that will score goals in the league. How many? Time will tell. He competes, he cares. A couple times this year he stepped up fighting guys outside his weight class to spark the team. Does he have to get a little better defensively? Yeah. A 21-year-old kid, I’m sure he’ll mature. I think he’s more mature at 21 than I was. Certainly. But I think we’ve got to keep that in perspective. We’ve got to push him to get better, we can’t accept that he’s at this level. We’ve got to keep pushing him to be better. But when you really look at what he did for 21, it’s pretty remarkable. I mean, most of the defenseman in Iowa were older than him."

Jason Zucker's season

"I think if anything, I think he’s way too hard on himself. I think he definitely lost his confidence. He had a great start, came into camp in great shape. Had a great summer and a great start. I thought he was going to have a monster year the way he was scoring goals early. And he lost his way. I think the longer it went that he didn’t score, I think he got away from his game a little bit. I think he started to cheat a little bit. And it was harder for him to get the puck then. When you get away from how you’re supposed to play, when you don’t play the right way, you have the puck less. The better you defend, the more you have the puck. The more you have the puck, the more you score. He lost his way, there’s no question. But he’s a good player who scored 34 goals the last two years in 120 games and I think 31 of them were even strength. So considering we’re sitting here talking about how he gets better, he scores an even strength goal every four games, never plays on the power play and he had 34 goals in two years. So I think the bar that he set this year is going to be the lowest it's set for his career. He’s going to be much better than that. And we’re still talking about a guy with 31 even strength goals in two years. He’s disappointed. But that kid works. He’ll come back better."

Parise concern

"I just met with him an hour and a half ago. Based on what he's telling me, he feels great. Maybe he met with some of you yesterday, I apologize, I didn't read any of the articles, but I'm not sure what he said to you. But he feels much better. He's made significant progress. The hope is to avoid surgery. I believe that's a decent possibility, but it still remains a week-to-week thing. He's confident that he'll be able to play next year, and certainly long-term he should be fine. He wants to be a 35, 40-goal scorer in this league again. That's awesome. I'll take 30. But he's fired up; he's ready to go. In terms of regretting having him play, he was cleared to play, he was feeling great, and then Logan Couture stuck his hip out. Zach hadn't touched the puck all shift. I don't know what term I want — I want to be careful with what term I want to use here — but it was certainly a questionable play. It was called on a penalty; a really unfortunate play for us. I'm not sure why Logan did it, but he did. That inflamed the situation literally and figuratively. It changed the dynamics of that injury, and he really was in much worse shape after that. Zach was playing very well before then, but the injury took a big turn for the worse after that hit."

Russo: Notes from Wild's exit interview day at the X

Today was breakup day for the Wild where players have their exit interviews with management, get their offseason workout plans and pack up their gear. GM Chuck Fletcher will address the media for the first time Thursday afternoon.

Here is today’s news:

For the first time, Zach Parise confirmed the Star Tribune’s report before the playoffs that he has a herniated disc pinching on his nerve. He had been playing with the injury since January and received the maximum three cortisone injections before he couldn’t play anymore.

“Rehab is going really well,” he said. “I’ve got to continue doing the rehab for a little bit and go from there. But it’s progressing really well.”

Asked if he’ll need surgery, Parise said, “It’s too early to tell, but I’m optimistic that therapy and the rehab is working really well that we’re going to be able to avoid that.”

With the amount of time it’ll take to rehab from surgery, Parise said that decision needs to come pretty soon.

“But again, I think that the way I’ve been progressing, to me, I feel like everything is going really well and ahead of where they thought I’d be,” he said. “To me, standing here today, I don’t think I’ll have to.”

Parise said it was “really scary, some of the things that I was feeling. There was a lot of pain and just some of the things that were happening, it was a little eye-opening.”

Parise had numbness and a tingling sensation in his left leg and not a lot of strength in the left foot and a ton of pain in the back and leg. The day after getting hit by San Jose’s Logan Couture, he couldn’t get out of bed.

“Able to do things to make it manageable to be able to play,” Parise said. “I think that one play, it just didn’t recover after that.”

He’s confident he’ll be ready to take part in the World Cup for the United States next September and be good to go by the start of the Wild’s season.

He’s not worried this will affect him the rest of his career. “I’ve got a great trainer and I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. So I’m not worried about next year, the start of next year, I’ll be fine.”

Asked if the injury just repairs itself without surgery, Parise said, “I’m not a doctor, but from all the people I’ve met with and talked to, in the long run, surgery or no surgery, the results have been the same. The surgery, they said, would have relieved a lot of the pain, but you’d end up in the same spot down the road.”
On missing the playoffs, Parise said, “It was brutal watching it, you want to be a part of it, you want to go play with the guys on the road and be a part of playing here in front of the fans and the excitement of playoffs. That’s why you play the whole year is to play in playoffs. When you play the whole year and miss it, it’s disappointing. I like to think that I would have helped. I don’t want to speculate anything but I like to think that I would have helped the team.”

On where team is at, Parise said, “That’s a hard question to answer. Ideally, we’ve been in that wild card spot the last four years, we’d love to move up. But that’s just not what’s happened. As far as what needs to happen moving forward, that’s a question you’d have to ask the management and stuff. That’s not really something for me to answer.”

On John Torchetti, Parise said, “I enjoyed playing for him, I really did. I thought he did a lot of good things here. It was fun. He did a good job on the bench, he was good in the locker room, so I enjoyed playing for him. He was great.”


Broken and displaced ribs ended his season prematurely, he said. He said with time, it’ll heal.

Asked if he hopes he’s back, “I hope so. I signed here not because this is where I live. I signed here because I truly love it here and I want to win here. That would be a dream come true.”

Asked if he’s worried he may be bought out of the final year of his deal, Vanek said, “I don’t know. You can ask Chuck that question. I do understand the business side of it. again, I’m not happy with my year, but at the same time, I truly still believe that I’m a 30-goal scorer in this league. I’ll worry about myself, have a good summer and be ready to go.”

As I wrote in yesterday’s Insider, Vanek is due $7.5 million next season. Buying him out would create more salary-cap breathing room by turning his $6.5 million cap hit next season into $1.5 million next season and $2.5 million the following year.

As long as he’s medically cleared by June 15 or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Final – whichever is later, a buyout is permissible. So this shouldn’t be like the last three years when the Wild couldn’t buy out Dany Heatley once and Niklas Backstrom twice because of season-ending surgeries.

It killed Vanek not to play down the stretch and into the playoffs. He said, “Like I’ve told you before, I’ve played through injuries and I’m OK, but this one was tough because you just can’t go. When it first happened, I figured something was wrong, but they just assumed it was a strain or a bruise. I played I think a couple days later [in Detroit] and it didn’t feel like a bruise or a strain. So I took four or five days off and went on the ice for about two minutes and I said I think something is wrong. That’s when we got a scan done and found out I have broken and displaced ribs. It’s one of those injuries where you feel good some days and all it needs is time and time to heal.”

On the team, Vanek said, “It’s another year where it was up and down, up and down. Consistency wasn’t quite there for the team and myself. I don’t know [why it keeps happening] because I do feel like we have good leadership. It’s tough to say. I don’t know, but it’s something we all need to improve at. Every team goes through ups and downs, but our ups and downs are a lot worse than good teams have, and that’s not a good thing.”

On why it happens, he said, “I have my own opinions, but I’ll keep those to myself. But as far as the room, I think we have a good room. It’s definitely tough.”

On Torchetti vs. Mike Yeo, Vanek said, “Two different personalities. I think Yeozie’s a very good coach and did a lot of good things here. I respected him a lot. He was good for this room. It was tough to see him go. Torch brought a different type of energy.”


He’s a restricted free agent and is a likely trade candidate around the draft, in my opinion.

“I guess wait and see what happens,” he said. “I haven’t put a ton of thought into it yet. I love the group and love the city, so I hope to be back.”

Even though you want to be a No. 1?

“Yeah, I want to play more than I played this year,” Kuemper said. “But like I said I do like it here so we’ll see what happens. But I do like it here so I hope to be a part of the group again.”

They are two of the unrestricted free agents, including Justin Fontaine, Jarret Stoll and David Jones.

Carter was scratched in the final four games.

“It was disappointing,” he said. “I think on a lot of fronts – not being able to play, the way our season ended we didn’t finish strong. It was difficult not playing and not being a part of it for sure.”

On July 1, Carter said, “I haven’t. I like it here. I’m from here and I like to play here. But things change. We’ve got time to think about, so I’ll take that time.”

On if the new coach could determine his return because he needs to know he’ll play: “I think it’s probably a two-way street. One for myself or other guys in the situation – who the coach is. And two the coach probably has guys that maybe he wants. He’s going to want to know who’s coming in too. So I think it’s a two way street. I think that’s probably the first piece of the puzzle.”

On Wild’s inconsistency, Carter said, “I think it’s difficult. I think not consistently winning is what makes that difficult. If you find ways to win games, and not bleed as bad as we did, then those kinds of things don’t happen. You don’t look for fixes, you don’t plug holes, you don’t move guys around, you let things play out. I think chemistry is important. I think it plays a big role. Our line that was probably the best line down the stretch is the line that stayed together – Pominville, Nino, and Haula. When guys get a chance to play together, you learn each other and you can really excel that way. That comes from winning and success and things like that. Hopefully that happens in the future.”

Porter, on hoping to return, said, “I’d love to. I thought I created a home here for myself with the way I played. It’s not the way we wanted to end, but on a personal level, it’s nice to come in and play every night and I know toward the end I was in and out. But in the playoffs, I felt like I made my mark. I want to be part of the solution moving forward. Hopefully that happens.”


Restricted free agent, one of three big ones with Matt Dumba and Kuemper.

On his season personally; Torch saying he needs to be better: “From my own eyes, I’m not really going to say much in front of the cameras as far as that goes. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t the way I wanted it to go, and it needs to be a lot better. I’m the first one to take full blame for that. It has nothing to do with the coaches, it has nothing to do with anything else than myself, and I need to better next year, and I can promise you that will happen.”
Ever been on a team with so many ups and downs: “This was a weird year. It seems like this team does that every single year. We have a few rollercoasters, and then we decide to play well come playoff time, and make a push. That’s the way it goes sometimes, but next year we have to make sure that we come in, and we keep that pace for all 82 games that we started with, and make sure that we try to get home ice, or whatever our goals are as a team, we have to make sure we stick to it for 82 games, and not have any of those big lulls.”
Torch emphasize different things than Yeo: “Not necessarily. It’s tough for any coach to come in halfway through the year, or three-quarters of the way through the year and try to implement a full new system. That’s really tough to do. He definitely put in a few new things system-wise. It was definitely a new voice for sure, and those all help you, so that’s why we won a few games. I don’t think there was a huge change immediately.”
How do they take the next step as a group: “Now, most of us have been together for four years. Next year will be the fifth year, or whatever it is. We should be able to take that next step as the group because we’ve been together and we know each other pretty well now. That’s huge for us, so hopefully next year we can come in, and use that camaraderie that we have and we’ve built, and keep strong for 82 games.”


I reported the other day about his right index finger. They had x-rays yesterday and it was broken. Occurred at the morning skate of Game 1.

Seen replay of Nino’s almost-goal: “I’ve seen pictures, and you see pictures and it looks like it’s in, but it’s all about angles. On the overhead you can, it’s crazy, it’s one-16th of an inch not across the line. It hurts that it could be that close and somehow not get in there. With that momentum you don’t know what happens, but I liked our chances in that game if the game continued on. It’s crazy to think it’s that close.”
With his long-term commitment, what excites him about this team: “The same thing as before: The core that’s here, you see these guys, and you look at the season [Coyle] had, and you see guys growing up, and improving, and all these experiences make them better; make us all better. That core is going to be here. They’ve done a great job building this team; Chuck has done a great job building this team. We’re going to continue to be better. We talked about it this year, but really next year, you see the advantage that home ice gives us when we play here in the playoffs. That has to be a goal of ours, to get that home ice advantage going into the playoffs so we can play here more.”
Weird goals this season; product of how teams play: “I don’t know. It was a strange year that way. That just happens sometimes. There are years that they all stay out, and there are years that they all find a way in, those bounces. Just chalk it up as one of those years, and hopefully next year the bounces are a little nicer.”
Offseason plans: “I’m not in a rush to get out of here. We have a family here, so I don’t think we’re going to leave for a couple of weeks. We will head back to Kelowna, and relax, and take it easy.”
Does uncertainty of coaching situation weigh on him: “Of course it’s something you think about. It’s such an important part of the group, and how things are going forward. But it’s not really something you can control, so I’m sure it will be figured out pretty quickly, and then you can adjust or know how it’s going to be. Any time there’s uncertainty, it always makes things a little different.”
His injury: “It was tough. It happened in pregame skate of Game 1. It’s broken. It was hard to hold my stick. There were better days, and worse days, and probably a few times it got hit pretty good, and can’t imagine that it helped things. It’s just rest now. Being that it’s the offseason, there’s no surgery. There’s that time to rest. There’s no rush to get back playing. That’s a good thing that we don’t need to do surgery on it. We did the x-ray yesterday and saw it.”
Ok with amount of work: “I like playing. That’s the most amount of games I’ve played before. Obviously last year there was a lot too in a small amount of time. The way the year was that’s how it needed to be. When you end up in a situation that we were in down the stretch, that’s why you have a starting goalie; to play those games. If you’re in a situation that you’re able to rest, and able to play the other guy more, then that’s great, but I’m fine with the situation I was in. Like I said, I enjoy playing a lot of games, so I was good with it.”


“It’s too bad Games 1 and 2 didn’t go a little better. Game 2, I thought we could have maybe gotten a little more fortunate with some bounces, I guess, but it is what it is, we have to focus on making sure we’re ready to go next year.”

Next step?: “We’ve got to find that consistency. We’ve all been through it now the last four years -- ups and downs, and we have to find it and try to get consistent throughout the year so we’re ready to go for the playoffs and it’s not a question of getting into the playoffs. We have to have that confidence going throughout the year. We’ve done a lot of good things. We’ve made the playoffs here the last four years and things are going in the right direction. It takes time. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. I feel pretty confident in this locker room.”

What does new coach need to know about this team: “I think this team never quit. You guy saw that. There were so many times that people counted us out throughout the year. We never quit. We stuck with it even in the playoffs. We went down swinging. I think somebody outside the room coming in, you definitely want them to know that we have that characteristic because that’s a huge characteristic to have.”

On missing Zach: “It’s so tough. You lose two of your top guys right before the playoffs, and it definitely put us behind a little bit. I thought other guys did step up though. But maybe it’s a different series if we have those two guys.”


In addition to Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland), Wild winger Jordan Schroeder will represent the United States in the upcoming world championships in Russia.

“I’m excited. It’s a huge honor,” Schroeder said.

Finland has requested Wild forwards Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula. Koivu and Granlund are still deciding, while Haula is unable because of what looked like a groin or hip flexor injury he played through in the playoffs.

That's it for now. I'll be back after Fletcher's availability Thursday. I'll also be on Sirius XM Radio Friday at 3:30 p.m.