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Yzerman Case Study Undermines GM Of The Year Award

The GM of the Year award is a new NHL award.  It first came into existence in 2010.  This award is problem for the same reasons the coach of the year award is a problem but those reasons are much stronger for GMs.  It is very hard to determine the impact of a coach or a GM in a short period of time.  There is a tendency to give the awards to teams that improve by a significant margin and it is often hard to link that improvement to the coach of GM getting an award.

Last season Mike Gillis of Vancouver won the GM of the Year Award by barely beating out Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The case for Yzerman was that Tampa Bay improved significantly from 80 to 103 points.  Yzerman is a likeable guy who earned a lot of good will in his Hall of Fame playing career and by GMing the 2010 gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Team.

Tampa’s improvement was largely predictable.  There was a dysfunctionally run team as the Oren Koules and Len Barrie ownership regime ended and Jeff Vinik took over and brought in some stability.  The team had significant talent in Steve Stamkos, Martin St Louis, Vincent LeCavalier and others.  It was clear that this team was on the rise as long as it was competently run.  That isn’t an endorsement of Steve Yzerman as a GM except to say that he is competent and that is a significant improvement over Brian Lawton who wasn’t.

The problem is Yzerman inadvertently took it all apart with a bad move the next summer.  He chose 42 year old Dwayne Roloson as his number one goalie.  Roloson had been a good goalie in the past and backstopped Tampa during their 2011 run to the semifinals.  The problem was he had little left for the future.

Another candidate to be Tampa’s starting goalie was Mike Smith.  Smith was developing into a top goalie who some considered for the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team before running into concussion problems.  He spent several years trying to return to form but he had not been the same goalie.  Tampa Bay chose to let him go as a free agent.

Smith wound up in Phoenix and returned to his earlier form there.  He has been one of the biggest stories of the playoffs so far and likely narrowly missed out in a Vezina Trophy nomination. 

Tampa Bay struggled under poor goaltending and missed the playoffs this season.  That poor goaltending is a direct result of Steve Yzerman’s decisions.  Yzerman screwed up Tampa’s goaltending this season and likely will attempt to fix it this summer.

There is no costlier mistake for a GM than giving up a top player for nothing or next to nothing.  There is no better move than adding such a player.  Don Maloney schooled Steve Yzerman, who looked like an inexperienced GM.  The 2010 GM of the Year schooled the almost winner in 2011. 

In that one move Yzerman undid all the good he did in the 2010/11 season and then some.  It will take some work for him to try to fix the problem.  This case clearly shows that GM of the Year is hard to judge.  A GM who looks like he is doing a good job can and has undone it all in one mistake.  As a result it is hard to take this award seriously.  One year is too short a time frame to judge a good GM.  A GM takes several years to build a franchise.  I expect that in a few years we will see several cases of GMs who built top teams and were never seriously considered as GM of the Year in any single year.  Steve Yzerman is an example of a player who almost won this award and in one mistake has reduced his team to a non-playoff squad.

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PuckStopsHere's avatar


You are wrong in your assessment of Mike Smith’s past.  He was a very good goalie in the first half of the 2008/09 season.  I have him on my all star team that year.  Post concussion that season (and while playing during the concussion which he initially didnt tell people about) his numbers dropped. Thus people who only look at the numbers of his whole season cannot see how good he was in the first half of the year since the numbers also include his second half.

Mike Smith was a well-respected young goalie.  Tampa traded Brad Richards to bring him in.  He was developing into a star.  People thought he might be on the Canadian Olympic Team.  Then injuries slowed him and he didn’t get there.  Anyone who was paying attention knew that if he got healthy he would likely get back to those levels and maybe exceed them since he has more experience now.  Steve Yzerman didn’t see it and he made the biggest mistake any GM has made in the the past year.  That a GM of the Year candidate could undermine an entire season like that in one move shows the silliness of having such an award.  The problem with evaluating people on such a small timeframe is that the winners of the award may not have any resemblance to top GMs and top GMs may never win the award.  It might be more equivalent to the NHL not having a Hart Trophy and only giving out player of the month awards instead.  We would see some people who are not so great winning awards and others who are great never winning such an award.  But GM of the Year is even worse because at least for a player of the month we have an idea how to evaluate things and pick somebody like that.  We don’t know how to evaluate a GM on a yearly basis and pick the GM of the most improved team even when the improvement may be shortlived or for some reason that has nothing to do with the GM in question.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/04/12 at 09:09 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

TPSH: Mike Smith had a half-season of above-average goaltending and then couldn’t get his act together for three years, going to a team that needed to take a chance on a guy who nobody was sure would ever find his game again because he was willing to sign for the starter’s spot and the team is in such bad financial shape that the league runs them and the city they’re in hates them.

J.J. - Please stop throwing away context to favor your arguments by dropping such tripe as to mislead people into believing that Mike Smith was the lynchpin of a deal for Brad Richards which also included Jeff Halpern and Jussi Jokinen.

Mike Smith’s career up until he ended up in Tampa was one of unrealized promise. After battling through 2.5 years of concussion issues, Yzerman took a shot at keeping him on the Lightning, but could not bring the same promise of the starter spot that Phoenix could offer him. There is so much horrible hindsight bias in your argument, I’m not sure if you’re just trying to challenge yourself to defend it reasonably.  The argument that Mike Smith would have played the exact same way in Tampa as he did in Phoenix is by far my favorite part.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 05/04/12 at 09:39 PM ET


This conversation is too funny.  I agree with Kartman, Yzerman gets too free a pass for how he handles his goalie situation coming into this season.  Mike Smith played very well for TBay in the playoffs last year…should have at least offered him something to stick around knowing that a 42 year old starter without a good insurance policy (of which Garon was not) is not a great idea.  Roloson’s career stats actually aren’t all that impressive.  Further, Yzerman didn’t bother to re-sign the top goalie in his prospect system last year, Cedrick Desjardins…who has been a top AHL goalie for the past 2 years now.

Posted by jason from BC on 05/04/12 at 10:39 PM ET


I do have a problem with a GM of the Year award, because our best ideas of which GMs are good or bad is determined more by looking at several years rather than just one season. I agree with PSH on that.

Aside from that, it seems harsh to rip Yzerman for letting Smith go when he hadn’t posted a decent SV% in years, and had only put up average numbers twice since his career began in 2007.

912, 901, 916, 900, 899… And he was supposed to guess that Smith would post a .930? Hell, his SV% in the AHL was .914, as it was in the OHL, too. It would have been a bet against the house for Yzerman to hope that Smith would put up far better number this year than he ever had in lesser leagues.

We’re into that success matrix that Paul DePodesta spoke about:

—————————- Good Outcome———Bad Outcome
Good Process  Deserved sucess——Bad Break
Bad Process—Dumb Luck—————- Poetic Justice

Just because a move works out for Team A, doesn’t mean it was a good idea, and just because that player had a big year somewhere else, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad idea for Team B to let him go. Maybe if Smith was Tampa property he’d have had the big year in 2012. I dunno. Who does? But, coming off of two consecutive years where Nik Khabibulin was better, it would have been a bad process to rely on Smith.


Posted by Hockey Project from Regina, SK on 05/04/12 at 11:15 PM ET


PSH:  It is called talent evaluation.  I want to have players who are going to play well in the games to come.  What happened in the past can be a nice guide to things but you must look at a much bigger picture than Yzerman did or than you do in your apologetics.

EVERYBODY is every going to go with the guy who was successful in the IMMEDIATE PAST over the guy who failed completely in the immediate past.

The big picture is that MIKE.  SMITH.  WAS.  A.  FAILURE.  IN.  TAMPA.  BAY.

Dwayne Roloson helped get the team to the CONFERENCE.  FINALS.

You will never win this argument unless, like an assh*le with no concept of hindsight, you try to make the point AFTER the fact.  You have the benefit of knowing that Roloson was a bust and Smith was a revelation.  STEVE YZERMAN DIDN’T HAVE THAT BENEFIT A YEAR AGO.  Please, read some words and TRY TO COMPREHEND.

I’m sure that if you could guarantee that Smith would have been as successful this year in TB as he was in Phoenix, Yzerman would admit that he would take Smith.

He’s a very smart man, not a retard with a blog who doesn’t watch hockey and doesn’t understand that time is linear.

Posted by Garth on 05/05/12 at 12:27 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Garth (misunderstanding what a big picture is) writes:  The big picture is that MIKE.  SMITH.  WAS.  A.  FAILURE.  IN.  TAMPA.  BAY.

Dwayne Roloson helped get the team to the CONFERENCE.  FINALS.

Important facts left out of this so called big picture are that Mike Smith was initially a success in Tampa Bay until he had concussion issues.  It was reasonabkle to imagine a healthy Mike Smith could be a big success again.

Dwayne Roloson was turning 42.  It was a huge gamble to have no legitimate other option when he is that old.  There is a high probability that he will get hurt or slow down at that age.  In fact that is exactly what happened.

Mike Smith was a great insurance policy that Tampa could have pursued.  His value was low after a couple bad injured years.  That is the kind of guy who was worth betting on.

The moral of this story that Garth will likely not learn is that something is not the big picture when you leave out significant details because they do not support your argument du jour.  That is at best a small picture.  No amount of capital letters can fix that.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/05/12 at 12:35 AM ET


So half a season of play long before Yzerman was ever in Tampa should have made him think he should keep smith? At age 29 a guy isn’t likely to all the sudden become a stud goalie or even a player at any other position. Rarely do you see players jump in production like that. Also you must not be very familiar with Tampa or who they have in the minor league system if you think they let go of their best player. Last I checked Stamkos is the Lightnings best player. Yes, taking a risk on a 42/43 year old goalie is a big risk. Smith was made an offer he turned it down. The goalie market wasn’t all that stellar last season. Briz got a huge offer and basically scare everyone away from goalies, hence Volkun taking little money to come to Washington (which he didn’t play very well there).

Also if you look who Tampa has in the minors you will see that there isn’t anyone that is ready to make a jump to the NHL. Sadly previous managment did a piss poor job of drafting minus a few early picks (which are harder to miss on). We might see a few guys from some of Lawton’s drafts, but he hindered Tampa with bunch of horrid front loaded contracts. To base Yzerman after two seasons is a bit premature on all accounts. A few seasons down the road look back and see where we are and how his draft picks are turning out. Drafting well is how good teams stay successful. You plug a few holes here and there with free agency and trades. Bottom line is yes Yzerman made a mistake with Roloson, but he did what most hockey people would have done (most people picked Phoenix to crash and burn with him in net, and some even said they were out of their mind going into the season with smith and Lebarbra in net).

Posted by Random on 05/05/12 at 01:00 AM ET


“Mike Smith was a great insurance policy that Tampa could have pursued.  His value was low after a couple bad injured years.  That is the kind of guy who was worth betting on.”

I wouldn’t have bet the bank on a 29 year old goalie with a long history of inconsistent play (which he displayed that season and lost his job) to somehow be a saving grace if Roloson fails. Those are the kind of players you don’t bet on. Sure they make a nice story if they somehow turn it around, but that doesn’t happen often. A few good games at the end of the season and in the playoffs do not erase almost 4 years of inconsistent play in Tampa (he was the king of soft goals here, some were even from center ice)

*On Cedric Desardins* He was not expected to return till November at the earliest, and I had read he would not sign unless he got a one way contract. That would basically mean you go into the season with a 42 year old goalie and an AHL goalie (probably Tokarski), which at the time still wasn’t showing signs that he was close to making any jump the NHL.

Posted by Random on 05/05/12 at 01:08 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I would rather bet the bank on Mike Smith than Mathieu Garon.  Yzerman screwed that up.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/05/12 at 01:10 AM ET


PSH, you’re ignoring every argument that actually proves you wrong and continuing to spout the same nonsense. Right now, you’re giving off the impression that you are indeed Cartman.

Mike Smith was offered a deal to stay in Tampa. He refused because he wanted to be a starter. You’ve said many times that he would’ve been a good backup option for Yzerman. Yzerman felt the same. Mike Smith did not.

OK, let’s just say that Mike Smith was a slightly above average goaltender before he had concussion issues in 2009 which is what his numbers show. After one half season of good play, he was terrible and continued to have injury problems. At some point you have to start to wonder if he’ll ever play a full season and if he does, will he ever return to his previous form, let alone get better. Every indication over 2 years (more than a third of his career in GP) was that no, he wasn’t a legitimate starting goalie. Deciding he is your #1 guy would be a huge gamble at that point, one that Yzerman was unwilling to make, so he offered him the backup job. Smith didn’t want it.

No one saw the season Mike Smith just had coming. No one. Not Yzerman. Not any of the GMs. Not any of the analysts. Not you. Hell, not even Maloney could’ve guessed that he would be this good or he would’ve tried to sign him to more than 2 years.

Posted by Guy Incognitus on 05/05/12 at 02:53 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Mike Smith was offered a deal to stay in Tampa.

He wasn’t offered a good enough deal or treated well enough when he was in Tampa or he might have stayed.

No one saw the season Mike Smith just had coming. No one. Not Yzerman. Not any of the GMs

This is false.  Don Maloney saw it.  I saw it.  Lots of people saw it.  It is true Steve Yzerman didn’t.  That is why he is being called out here. 

It is amazing that Tampa Bay badly needs a goalie.  Tampa Bay had the goalie who would solve this problem last year and let him walk away for nothing and many people have come here to shrug and say that isn’t Steve Yzerman’s fault.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/05/12 at 02:59 AM ET


I don’t think it’s Yzerman’s fault he stuck with an old goalie who’d shown no signs of slowing down until this season and refused to overpay to keep a guy who wanted to leave to become a starter elsewhere. I like judging moves with the information we had at the time it was made, not with hindsight.

I doubt Maloney even saw this coming. I don’t think St. Louis saw Elliott having the season that he did, either. I thought Yzerman made the right move, and I don’t think this one move that worked out in its worst case shouldn’t necessarily outweight all the good moves he made—trading for Roloson last season, trading for Brewer, getting Stamkos locked up to a very reasonable deal, getting Hedman on a very good deal (at least, I think it’s fair for next season, and he’ll get much better, too). I’m sure there are a few more.

Tampa Bay also went from an above-average possession team to a poor one. Tampa’s shot differential this season was -3.3 per game, compared to +3.1 last season. That’s a 6.4-shot swing right there, or a 45 goal swing at .915 goaltending (.54 per game) and 52 goals at .900 (.64 per game). And wouldn’t you know, their goal differential per game went from +0.09 to -0.56, a swing of .63. I wouldn’t pin that on the GM—it’s not like we saw this coming, and it only makes sense to give an inexperienced coach a chance to work through this.

Goaltending wasn’t the only issue in Tampa this season.

Posted by Ralph on 05/05/12 at 03:00 AM ET


That is, foresaw Smith turning into an elite netminder, at least for a season.

And who are the many people who saw this coming? I thought Tampa’s goaltending was everyone’s favorite punching bag until Roloson, an even bigger joke than the Capitals’, it seemed.

Posted by Ralph on 05/05/12 at 03:02 AM ET


PSH: “This is false.  Don Maloney saw it.  I saw it.  Lots of people saw it.  It is true Steve Yzerman didn’t.  That is why he is being called out here.”

Again you skipped part of an argument because it wouldn’t support your view. If Maloney thought Smith was a franchise goalie, he would’ve signed him for more than 2 years.

And it’s so easy to say you saw it coming now that it’s already happened. Point me to a blog post you made saying it was a terrible move. Point me to where you said Smith would have a Vezina calibre season with Phoenix. Nevermind, here’s what you said at the start of the season, when you predicted Phoenix to finish 4th in the Pacific and 10th in the conference:

“Jason LaBarbera and Mike Smith should share the goaltending.  Both have shown signs that they can do a good job as number one goalies and both have given us reasons to doubt that they can be solid starting goalies.”

Here’s another gem from the same post:

“I stand by the statement that Quick is a solid but unspectacular goalie.  He isn’t a serious candidate to win the Vezina Trophy this year.”

You didn’t put Smith in your All-UFA team and chose Giguere and Vokoun instead.

Isn’t hindsight wonderful?

Posted by Guy Incognitus on 05/05/12 at 03:30 AM ET


“It is great that he had a good playoff run but we cannot count on it being repeatable.”

So he should’ve counted on Smith’s pre-concussion performance being repeatable? Come on. Let it go PSH. This was probably your dumbest post ever and now you’re reaching for anything you can grab to save it. It’s ok. Everybody has a bad day on the job. We forgive you. But let it go.

Posted by Derek from US on 05/05/12 at 08:40 AM ET


This is false.  Don Maloney saw it.  I saw it.  Lots of people saw it.  It is true Steve Yzerman didn’t.  That is why he is being called out here. 

No, Sean Burke saw it and Maloney signed him because he trusted Burke.

You say you saw it but I have to see you link to any blog you wrote explaining, before the beginning of this season, what a colossal mistake the runner-up for GM Of The Year made in not retaining his underperforming backup.

Tampa Bay didn’t offer him enough?  Who would offer a backup the kind of money that Smith got?

Tampa Bay HAD a starter who brought them to the conference finals.  Phoenix HAD a whole in their lineup that was left by their star goaltender.

I would rather bet the bank on Mike Smith than Mathieu Garon.  Yzerman screwed that up.

Well that’s great, except that nobody bet the bank on Garon.

It was reasonabkle to imagine a healthy Mike Smith could be a big success again.

Yeah, because everyone knows that it’s incredibly easy to recover from a concussion and that every single person who gets a concussion always returns and is better than they were before.


The moral of this story that Garth will likely not learn is that something is not the big picture when you leave out significant details because they do not support your argument du jour.  That is at best a small picture.  No amount of capital letters can fix that.

I question whether you even understand what a picture is.

Roloson saved their season, which was going down because of Smith’s play.  Smith was not a guarantee to even be an NHL lever goaltender anymore.

Big picture?  The big picture is that when you’re a successful team who makes it to the conference finals on the back of excellent goaltending, you don’t choose the guy who failed, you choose the guy who brought you there.

If Ty Conklin is signed by an NHL team and has a good year next season will you try to tear down Ken Holland for not offering him $2M+ to stay in Detroit?  Or will you understand that, based on his play this year, Detroit will absolutely not be bringing Conklin back?

Where’s the article tearing down Bryan Murray for lrading Brian Elliott last year?  Or Greg Sherman for not overpaying Brian Elliott to stay in Colorado because of his sterling stats from 201-11?  Surely Sherman should’ve seen past Elliott’s 3.34 GAA and sub .900 save percentage to see that he would obviously have had the year he had this year, right?

Posted by Garth on 05/05/12 at 12:37 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

When I say I saw Mike Smith had value that Tampa Bay didn’t see in him, I am not suggesting I thought he would post a .930 saves percentage this year.  I am saying that I clearly saw that if healthy he could be a very good starting goalie and I clearly saw Dwayne Roloson’s age meant that Tampa needed to keep somebody like him around.  That I clearly foresaw and I fault Steve Yzerman for not seeing the same thing.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/05/12 at 01:18 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

So the choice for Yzerman at the time, with all of the information available to him was to commit to Mike Smith as the starter, paying him likely at least what Phoenix offered him (as a baseline guess), or to Keep Dwayne Roloson around for another season.

I know it’s very difficult for somebody who actually has the gift of hindsight to say that he had the foresight to see this coming, despite no evidence over the last year to prove that this person ever actually had this foresight, but just try to put yourself back into last summer’s mindset.

The “expert” around here thought that Smith would be fighting with Jason Labarbera for the starter’s spot in a team expected to either miss the playoffs or enter as a low seed. 

Meanwhile, this is what the “expert” had to say about Tampa’s chances as it pertains to goaltending.

Dwayne Roloson is the player with whom age is the biggest concern.  At age 41 he is likely to decline though he has posted solid seasons recently.  If he cannot repeat his 2010/11 season, Tampa could fall a bit in the standings, but they have too good an offence to fall very far.

So he did foresee a drop in play for Roloson, but hedged his bets by saying that “IF” he can’t keep up his previous performance, it shouldn’t drop them too far in the standings thanks to their offense.

Looking back before those decisions were even made, it’s been pointed out that Dwayne Roloson led the Lightning to the Eastern Conference finals. The idea that all Steve Yzerman had to do was commit to Mike Smith being named the starter over that goalie for the next season (or offered him enough money/years on the deal over what Phoenix offered in order to get him to stay) and he could have solidified his spot as a non-failure of a GM.

Let’s get this out of the way: Steve Yzerman made a mistake handling the Lightning’s goaltending situation this season. Among a long list of reasons, this feels like the primary one that the Lightning missed the playoffs. 

But, to tie that solely to the idea that the crux of the screwup was his refusal to put his backup in front of his Conference Finals goaltender on nothing more than a hunch that Roloson’s time had run out and Mike Smith’s had come (in July, mind you), is hindsight confirmation at its very worse.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 05/05/12 at 03:36 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar


Your attempt to read an incomplete set of tea leaves is humorous.  There is always a lot more to any story than you have readily available to you.  Unfortunately, I cannot always tell you everything I know.  Let me give you enough of an extra tea leaf that I feel comfortable with that you should see how far in left field you are so far with your guesses as to what is going on.

I have consulted for more than one NHL team.  One such team is Phoenix when Matt Hulsizer was attempting to purchase them ...

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 05/05/12 at 04:38 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar


Your attempt to appeal to secretive authority and insider information to “win” an internet discussion is far more humorous than anything I could have written.

I haven’t made a guess as to what is going on, so your attempt to show me how far off-base that is is firing a cannonball at a straw target.  You’re not interested in the target, you’re just interested in showing off your cannon.

Well done.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 05/05/12 at 05:10 PM ET

John W.'s avatar

You are wrong in your assessment of Mike Smith’s past.  He was a very good goalie in the first half of the 2008/09 season.

Riiiight, so because he had a good half of a season 3 years ago the fact that he was going to have a Vezina caliber season after 2 bad seasons was so obvious?  Please.  Smith was given every opportunity last season to be the guy in Tampa, and couldn’t do it.  Steve Mason had a Vezina caliber full season in the same 2008/2009 season, and the Blue Jackets have stuck with him ever since (until probably next year) just based on that 1 season, and look how that’s turned out.  How was anyone supposed to know that Smith wasn’t going to be another Mason, and that keeping him around for several more seasons wasn’t going to hurt the Bolts?

Mike Smith was a well-respected young goalie.  Tampa traded Brad Richards to bring him in.

That’s a comical statement.  Tampa didn’t trade Richards away to get Smith, they traded Richards away because they knew they couldn’t keep him.  Yes they got Smith in return, but let’s not pretend the point of the trade was to get Mike Smith.

Keep trying, if you type out enough thoughts one might finally make sense.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 05/05/12 at 06:04 PM ET


The Richards to Dallas trade was a total salary dump move, they just tried to get something positive out of it to make is less of a dump. Smith was still raw at that point, but they tough he had some potential. In his prime no GM would give up Brad Richards to get an unproven goalie.

Posted by Radom on 05/05/12 at 11:21 PM ET


That I clearly foresaw and I fault Steve Yzerman for not seeing the same thing.

No you didn’t cleary see anything or else you would’ve said something when Phoenix signed him.


Stop pretending that you’ve been continually espousing Smith’s virtues to anyone who will listen, yet nobody has been heeding your words.

You’re judging something with the benefit of hindsight that wasn’t available when the managerial decisions were made.

Posted by Garth on 05/06/12 at 11:03 PM ET


So every GM shouldn’t win the GM of the year award because Erik Karlson went 15th back in 2008. Talent evaluation?

Posted by Nick on 05/07/12 at 09:53 PM ET


One of the most misinformed, ass backward, captain hindsight, illogical , pointless, articles I have ever read. The only reason I am taking the time to respond, is to congratulate you on the gross incompetence of this article. The overwhelming amount of criticism you have received should clue you in on how embarrassingly wrong you are in this entire article…. and I don’t know you, yet I am embarrassed for you.

Posted by joe s. on 06/02/12 at 04:30 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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