The Habs are screwed (avoid banking on goaltenders for all your success)

Cam Charron
May 19 2014 03:10PM

There are a lot of people completely writing off the Montreal Canadiens with new news emerging that Carey Price has fallen victim to a mysterious disease and will miss the remainder of the Eastern Conference Finals.

I don't necessarily blame those people, but I caution those who are halfway to determining Carey Price is now the elitest of elite netminders in today's National Hockey League. His career save percentage is .917, and before this season, there was the general question as to whether or not Canada even had a goaltender capable of beating the world at the Winter Olympics.

This brings me to Peter Budaj.

Budaj's career has been decent. He has served as the backup for notable goaltenders like David Aebischer and Jose Theodore before signing onto Montreal in the summer of 2011, becoming the latest experiment in a rotating band of misfits to serve as the Habs backup. His career save percentage of .903 is better than or close to some goaltenders who have been starters for multiple seasons, including Steve Mason, Ondrej Pavelec and Nikolai Khabibulin.

The point isn't "Budaj" is a good goaltender, because Budaj's stats are close to goaltenders that simply can't hack it as legitimate starters in the NHL. He is, arguably, a little over replacement.

However, goaltenders, especially over small samples, are close to indistinguishable. If you replaced Budaj's career statistics with Carey Price's career save percentage of .917, Budaj, who has faced 7759 shots in his career, would have stopped 7113 pucks, which is 106 more than he's made with a .903 career save rate.

106 goals seems like a lot, until you realize that Budaj has played 296 games in the NHL to date. With 16344 career minutes, it takes 154 minutes, nearly two full games, for Price to be one save better than Budaj. One win is generally worth between 5.5 to 6 goals, so it would take anywhere between 14 and 15 games for Price's ability to be worth one more win than Budaj's.

And even then, there's noise. In the 2009-10 season for instance, Budaj's save percentage was actually higher than Price's. In 2011-12, they were comparable. This was aided by the fact that Budaj plays, comparatively fewer games per season than Price. He's not an excellent backup by any means, but he's serviceable, and serviceable goaltenders have a way of surprising us season-to-season. Two goaltenders nominated for the Vezina Trophy this season, Semyon Varlamov and Ben Bishop, were ranked 25th and 39th among all NHL goaltenders in the consensus draft rankings over at Yahoo. Price went 9th, well back of Pekka Rinne, Craig Anderson and Antti Niemi, three goaltenders who had mostly forgettable seasons.

Where it stings for Montreal is that they probably won't get goaltending like they got from Price in the first two rounds. Price had a save percentage of .922 through the first 11 games of the playoffs, and that's a number that you shouldn't always expect on maintaining.

Every year, one team typically makes the conference final that didn't always deserve to play there. This year, it happens to be the Habs. The Habs were 26th in the NHL in Corsi Close %, the fourth highest PDO in the league in score-close situations, 8th in the NHL in win percentage in one-goal games, and played in a division where two excellent teams from a year ago, Ottawa and Detroit, curiously went belly-up.

Montreal was already playing with house money by the time they got to Game 1 against the Rangers, and while there's a lot of "could have been" to be thrown around when and if the Canadiens lose to the Rangers, it's worth noting even with Price, there was no guarantee. Goaltenders sometimes follow up ten excellent games with ten terrible games, for no reason other than goaltenders are difficult to pin down. The numbers we use and associate with goaltender performance have proven to be close to useless when attempting to pin down the very near future. The last time Montreal came this far, they did it all on the back of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who put up a .933 save percentage through Rounds 1 and 2. In Round 3 against the Flyers, he went .884.

Generally, the Stanley Cup goes to the best team whose goalie gets hot, and all things being equal between Price and Henrik Lundqvist, well, New York is just a better team. They were 6th in the NHL in Corsi Close % this season and had their record pulled down thanks to a nine-game road trip to start the season. The Rangers were a point out of 30th in the league after their played their home opener nearly a full month into the season. But, they came back, made the playoffs rather easily and won home ice in the first round in a weak division. Lundqvist was fantastic in their second round series against the Penguins.

***UPDATE*** Seems it'll be Dustin Tokarski, not Budaj, in goal for Montreal. I'd honestly have gone with Devan Dubnyk, but it's goaltending. You won't make too many right decisions anyway, so don't try.

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There should be a Vancouver Canucks-related point to all this and there is. The Canucks are currently unlike most teams in that they don't have a long term goaltender committed. That's not a bad thing, really. While people tend to joke that Mike Gillis had Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo and now he has neither, that ignores the fact that Schneider has one more year left in his deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent, and Luongo is 35, not guaranteed to be productive for many more years and paid a lot.

For a while I've been toying with the idea that the way to go is to have several young goaltenders who come to you at a low price and for a low salary, and generally just hand the reins to one of them who establishes himself throughout the season. Nobody thought much of Ben Bishop in the early going this year, and maybe next season Anders Lindback will have a Bishop-like season. You never know how goalies are going to fare, and, honestly, the best hockey pool advice I could give to anybody is to ignore the previous season's statistics when making decisions. There really is no correlation between the average pick selection of a goaltender and his performance in a given year.

Yet a lot of teams don't do this. Tampa Bay is a good example. Ottawa is somewhat of another (but they can't really afford a high-priced goalie, so…) Anaheim is scary going into next year because by replacing Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth with Frederik Andersen and John Gibson they're cutting the amount spent on goaltenders by nearly 65%. San Jose has had some success with Niemi making below average for a starter, yet posting above average numbers.

Next season, Corey Crawford's $6-million extension kicks in, but thanks to having some useful players still on their entry-level deals, they have about a year before they go into salary cap hell (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Johnny Oduya, Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy all hit free agency the same season). The Los Angeles Kings are paying Jonathan Quick until the end of time. Quick is 16th out of 18 regular goaltenders in save percentage since he signed that deal #uhoh.

The Canucks, to my eye, could gain a real advantage if they did their best to stick with Eddie Lack, Jacob Markstrom, Joacim Eriksson and the occasional sellsword rather than look to the market to upgrade their goaltender. I feel there's some real cause-and-effect when people look to great teams and point out that the team has a great goaltender. You're not going to win a Cup if all you have is a great goaltender, and you're making it difficult on yourself to put a great team on the ice if you're using up nearly 10% of your salary space on a goaltender.

And then, when your fate rests on the success of a player like Price or Lundqvist, and said player gets hurt, then you're up the creek without a paddle, and need to bank on your backup having one of the best stretches of his career to pull it off.

I'm not counting out Peter Budaj and the Habs, but the smart money was on the Rangers before this series started. With Lundqvist's extension kicking in next year, I wonder if this is the last best chance they have to win a Cup with a roster of skaters this good.

Stats via Hockey Reference and Extra Skater

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 God
May 19 2014, 03:45PM
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Rangers are cheaters, they did this against Fleury too. Rangers are cheating to get to a Stanley Cup. Oh well, Blackhawks will beat that lame ass dirty team that loves to run into Goalies. If Rangers run into Crawford too then I think Rangers should be disqualified from the Cup. This team is nothing but a bunch of sorry ass cheaters. In the Flyers series they kept faking injuries to get power plays and pretended to be hit when they weren't. In the Penguins series they ran into Fleury, and now they do the same against Canadiens.

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#2 Privateeye
May 19 2014, 03:47PM
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You woulda gone with dubnyk..? Really though?

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#3 Rex
May 19 2014, 05:00PM
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@God

You are completely dismissive of the fact that the Habs did all that and worse to Boston, a series earlier. Hypocrit.

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#4 Lemming
May 19 2014, 05:23PM
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@Privateeye

I've never understood how Dubnyk has managed to hold down a job so long in the NHL.

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#6 Bruce Peter
May 19 2014, 05:58PM
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Well, for one Cam, Dubnyk isn't even with the Habs at the moment. It would be awkward to call a guy that you mutually agreed with to end their terrible season to call up and say "you're starting tomorrow night in the Stanley Cup Conference Finals."

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#8 PB
May 19 2014, 07:54PM
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Bishop was a pretty highly touted prospect in both St. Louis and Ottawa. He became expendable because of other goalies ahead of him and the Senators trade isn't exactly looking great now. I think you're underselling the value of goalies to provide some level of stability. Maybe it's more important with some franchises -- Luongo's arrival may have coincided with a lot of other factors, but his yeoman's work especially in his first few seasons laid the foundation for the success to come and it was a welcome relief from the horrendous goaltending we had for so long. The Leafs are another team that come to mind who would probably be better the last decade with at least marginal goaltending. And Pittsburgh should have been more successful than they have and I do think Fleury has something to do with it.

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#9 Harsh Wurds
May 19 2014, 08:19PM
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@God

We all know the Habs and Rangers don't have what it takes to win the cup this year. Look for anyone coming out of the west to win the cup, namely Chicago, or as Rask calls them SHEEAW-GO.

One thing's for sure, the Canuck aint going to be winning the cup. Such a relief to be driving around the streets of the lower mainland then to deal with those lousy speeding road jamming Canucks fans for a change. All speeding and doing dumb sh#t just to go to see their team get embarrassed at the arena.

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#10 Sir Qautorze
May 19 2014, 08:21PM
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I am a big fan of yours Cam. I love the log off podcast and I read your articles often and find them very enjoyable and often find myself nodding along in agreement. But I have noticed over the past couple weeks you keep writing off the habs because of their regular season corsi record. I've got to say that after watching the habs games through these playoffs I don't think their regular season corsi stats are a very good way to analyze them. When they made the playoffs last year they were a positive possession team and they are only older and more experienced now. Throughout the regular season fans in Montreal lamented Therrien's coaching as the cause for their cratering possession. Somehow, in these playoffs Therrien has refound the form from last year. They dominated possession against Tampa bay and held their own for long stretches against the bruins. As I write this they are crushing the corsi against the rangers and were before they started to really lose.

I don't know, maybe there is something that I am missing but I am curious if you are using any information other than regular season corsi to bet against the Canadiens. I am not saying they are a better team than the bruins, the bruins are pretty clearly the best team in the east and the habs were lucky to get past them. At the same time I think labelling the habs as the 26th worst team in the league that relied on solely on goaltending to get to the conference finals misses the mark too and kind of feels like lazy analysis.

I think Price was largely responsible for getting the habs to the playoffs and very important in beating the bruins but to say the Rangers completely outclasses them feels like lazy analysis to me. By the corsi and fenwick numbers they have been a different team in these playoffs and that has nothing to do with their goalie.

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#12 Jarod Whitecastle
May 20 2014, 03:17AM
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Price will be used as an excuse when the Habs lose. they just don't have a team deep enough to get out of the east, let alone win the whole sha-bang. If they don't or can't fill out their lack of depth next year they will be "Canucked".

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#13 NM00
May 20 2014, 10:52AM
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@Cam

Do you notice from where in the draft Varlamov & Bishop (and Bernier) came?

Not to mention Rask, Schneider, Price, Quick, Crawford, Enroth, Howard, Reimer, Lehner, Mason, Fleury, Lehtonen, Holtby, Ward, Harding...

Practically every notable goalie in the NHL under 30 aside from Bobrovsky or Halak.

This isn't an invitation for you to talk about black swans again.

Just keep it in the back of your mind and see if the trend continues in the future...

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#14 The Benevolent Orca
May 20 2014, 12:52PM
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God wrote:

Rangers are cheaters, they did this against Fleury too. Rangers are cheating to get to a Stanley Cup. Oh well, Blackhawks will beat that lame ass dirty team that loves to run into Goalies. If Rangers run into Crawford too then I think Rangers should be disqualified from the Cup. This team is nothing but a bunch of sorry ass cheaters. In the Flyers series they kept faking injuries to get power plays and pretended to be hit when they weren't. In the Penguins series they ran into Fleury, and now they do the same against Canadiens.

I don't think the Rangers are playing any differently than any other team in the league. Rask was run several times by a couple different Canadiens.

That being said, I do think they need to figure out this charging the goalie thing that seems to be getting worse around eh league. It happens far too often around the league. The notion of accidentally on purpose needs to dealt with.

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#15 The Benevolent Orca
May 20 2014, 12:56PM
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Personally I'm looking forward to the combo of Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. Two young goalies with huge potential competing and working together is great!

The way Lack bounces back after a big game is incredible. It's something that is hugely intangible.

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#16 Sir Qautorze
May 21 2014, 08:52AM
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@Cam Charron

I respect your opinion but I encourage you to look at the extra skater info for the habs games this playoffs I think they might surprise you.

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#17 Fan of hockey not of cheaters like the New York Rangers
May 25 2014, 10:59AM
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The Benevolent Orca wrote:

I don't think the Rangers are playing any differently than any other team in the league. Rask was run several times by a couple different Canadiens.

That being said, I do think they need to figure out this charging the goalie thing that seems to be getting worse around eh league. It happens far too often around the league. The notion of accidentally on purpose needs to dealt with.

ALL TRUE RANGERS HAVE DONE THIS EXACT SAME GOALIE INJURY WITH THE SAME PLAYER NYR #20 Chris Kreider FOUR 4 TIMES TO FOUR 4 DIFFERENT NHL GOALIES AND INJURED THEM ALL IN 100 GAMES OR LESS WHY ISNT HE SUSPENDED NOW THEY SUSPEND BRANDON PRUST FOR ANOTHER HIT AND THEY SAY THAT DEREK STEPAN IS INJURED BUT PLAYED WELL OVER 17 MINUTES OF ICE TIME IN GAME 3 THREE AFTER THE HIT IN NEW YORK AND WAS SWEARING LOUDLY AT THE MONTREAL CANADIENS SO HOW CAN HE HAVE A BROKEN JAW? HOW? ANOTHER WAY FOR NEW YORK RANGERS TO CHEAT SO THEY CAN REMOVE THE HUSTLE OF PRUST NOW CANT THE NEW YORK RANGERS WIN WITHOUT CHEATING? AND WHY ISNT #20 Chris Kreider SUSPENDED FOR INJURYING CAREY PRICE THEN YOU HAD THE NEW YORK RANGERS GM GENERAL MANAGER GLEN SATHER AND THE NEW YORK RANGERS ASSISTANT COACHES GET CAUGHT CHEATING AGAIN BY SPYING ON MONTREAL CANADIENS GAME PLANS WHO DOES THAT? THEY SAY GLEN SATHER WAS LOOKING AT HIS CELL PHONE WHICH IS LIES HE WAS ZOOMING IN WITH HIS CAMERA ON HIS PHONE ZOOMING INTO THE GAME PLAN DURING THE MONTREAL CANADIENS PRACTICE TIME THIS IS ALL UNSPORTSMAN LIKE AND THE NEW YORK RANGERS SHOULD BE DISQUALIFIED FROM THE PLAY OFFS THEY HAVE COMPLETELY AND UTTERELY CHEATED ON THREE 3 COUNTS ALREADY! NEW YORK RANGERS IF YOU CANT BE REAL MEN AND WIN WITH HONOR THEN HOW PROUD OF YOURSELVES WILL THAT MAKE YOU IF YOU EVEN GO TO THE END AND WIN? NEW YORK RANGERSA BUNCH OF COWARDS NO RESPECT FOR OTHERS AT ALL BE TRUE MEN COWARDS AND PLAY REAL HOCKEY OR DONT PLAY PERIOD!! WHAT A BUNCH OF EVIDENT CHEATERS AND NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING TO POINT THIS OUT AND ORDER A DISQUALIFICATION!!!!!!!

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#18 Love hockey hate cheaters like the New York Rangers CHEATERS!
May 25 2014, 11:04AM
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The Benevolent Orca wrote:

I don't think the Rangers are playing any differently than any other team in the league. Rask was run several times by a couple different Canadiens.

That being said, I do think they need to figure out this charging the goalie thing that seems to be getting worse around eh league. It happens far too often around the league. The notion of accidentally on purpose needs to dealt with.

ALL TRUE RANGERS HAVE DONE THIS EXACT SAME GOALIE INJURY WITH THE SAME PLAYER NYR #20 Chris Kreider FOUR 4 TIMES TO FOUR 4 DIFFERENT NHL GOALIES AND INJURED THEM ALL IN 100 GAMES OR LESS WHY ISNT HE SUSPENDED NOW THEY SUSPEND BRANDON PRUST FOR ANOTHER HIT AND THEY SAY THAT DEREK STEPAN IS INJURED BUT PLAYED WELL OVER 17 MINUTES OF ICE TIME IN GAME 3 THREE AFTER THE HIT IN NEW YORK AND WAS SWEARING LOUDLY AT THE MONTREAL CANADIENS SO HOW CAN HE HAVE A BROKEN JAW? HOW? ANOTHER WAY FOR NEW YORK RANGERS TO CHEAT SO THEY CAN REMOVE THE HUSTLE OF PRUST NOW CANT THE NEW YORK RANGERS WIN WITHOUT CHEATING? AND WHY ISNT #20 Chris Kreider SUSPENDED FOR INJURYING CAREY PRICE THEN YOU HAD THE NEW YORK RANGERS GM GENERAL MANAGER GLEN SATHER AND THE NEW YORK RANGERS ASSISTANT COACHES GET CAUGHT CHEATING AGAIN BY SPYING ON MONTREAL CANADIENS GAME PLANS WHO DOES THAT? THEY SAY GLEN SATHER WAS LOOKING AT HIS CELL PHONE WHICH IS LIES HE WAS ZOOMING IN WITH HIS CAMERA ON HIS PHONE ZOOMING INTO THE GAME PLAN DURING THE MONTREAL CANADIENS PRACTICE TIME THIS IS ALL UNSPORTSMAN LIKE AND THE NEW YORK RANGERS SHOULD BE DISQUALIFIED FROM THE PLAY OFFS THEY HAVE COMPLETELY AND UTTERELY CHEATED ON THREE 3 COUNTS ALREADY! NEW YORK RANGERS IF YOU CANT BE REAL MEN AND WIN WITH HONOR THEN HOW PROUD OF YOURSELVES WILL THAT MAKE YOU IF YOU EVEN GO TO THE END AND WIN? NEW YORK RANGERS A BUNCH OF COWARDS NO RESPECT FOR OTHERS AT ALL BE TRUE MEN COWARDS AND PLAY REAL HOCKEY OR DONT PLAY PERIOD!! WHAT A BUNCH OF EVIDENT CHEATERS AND NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING TO POINT THIS OUT AND ORDER A DISQUALIFICATION!!!!!!!

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#19 Love hockey hate cheaters like the New York Rangers are CHEATERS !!!
May 25 2014, 11:06AM
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God wrote:

Rangers are cheaters, they did this against Fleury too. Rangers are cheating to get to a Stanley Cup. Oh well, Blackhawks will beat that lame ass dirty team that loves to run into Goalies. If Rangers run into Crawford too then I think Rangers should be disqualified from the Cup. This team is nothing but a bunch of sorry ass cheaters. In the Flyers series they kept faking injuries to get power plays and pretended to be hit when they weren't. In the Penguins series they ran into Fleury, and now they do the same against Canadiens.

ALL TRUE RANGERS HAVE DONE THIS EXACT SAME GOALIE INJURY WITH THE SAME PLAYER NYR #20 Chris Kreider FOUR 4 TIMES TO FOUR 4 DIFFERENT NHL GOALIES AND INJURED THEM ALL IN 100 GAMES OR LESS WHY ISNT HE SUSPENDED NOW THEY SUSPEND BRANDON PRUST FOR ANOTHER HIT AND THEY SAY THAT DEREK STEPAN IS INJURED BUT PLAYED WELL OVER 17 MINUTES OF ICE TIME IN GAME 3 THREE AFTER THE HIT IN NEW YORK AND WAS SWEARING LOUDLY AT THE MONTREAL CANADIENS SO HOW CAN HE HAVE A BROKEN JAW? HOW? ANOTHER WAY FOR NEW YORK RANGERS TO CHEAT SO THEY CAN REMOVE THE HUSTLE OF PRUST NOW CANT THE NEW YORK RANGERS WIN WITHOUT CHEATING? AND WHY ISNT #20 Chris Kreider SUSPENDED FOR INJURYING CAREY PRICE THEN YOU HAD THE NEW YORK RANGERS GM GENERAL MANAGER GLEN SATHER AND THE NEW YORK RANGERS ASSISTANT COACHES GET CAUGHT CHEATING AGAIN BY SPYING ON MONTREAL CANADIENS GAME PLANS WHO DOES THAT? THEY SAY GLEN SATHER WAS LOOKING AT HIS CELL PHONE WHICH IS LIES HE WAS ZOOMING IN WITH HIS CAMERA ON HIS PHONE ZOOMING INTO THE GAME PLAN DURING THE MONTREAL CANADIENS PRACTICE TIME THIS IS ALL UNSPORTSMAN LIKE AND THE NEW YORK RANGERS SHOULD BE DISQUALIFIED FROM THE PLAY OFFS THEY HAVE COMPLETELY AND UTTERELY CHEATED ON THREE 3 COUNTS ALREADY! NEW YORK RANGERS IF YOU CANT BE REAL MEN AND WIN WITH HONOR THEN HOW PROUD OF YOURSELVES WILL THAT MAKE YOU IF YOU EVEN GO TO THE END AND WIN? NEW YORK RANGERS A BUNCH OF COWARDS NO RESPECT FOR OTHERS AT ALL BE TRUE MEN COWARDS AND PLAY REAL HOCKEY OR DONT PLAY PERIOD!! WHAT A BUNCH OF EVIDENT CHEATERS AND NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING TO POINT THIS OUT AND ORDER A DISQUALIFICATION!!!!!!!

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