Welcome to the Bell Centre in Montreal, home to the Montreal Canadiens and site of the National Hockey League’s 2009 All-Star Game!
“And now, your starting lineup for the Eastern Conference…at center, Saku Koivu, captain of the Montreal Canadiens!…at left wing, Alex Kovalev, of the Montreal Canadiens!…at right wing, Alex Tanguay, of the Montreal Canadiens!…on defense, Andrei Markov, of the Montreal Canadiens!…also on defense, Mike Komisarek, of the Montreal Canadiens!…and in goal, Carey Price, of the Montreal Canadiens!!”
And the fans go wild.
An all-Canadiens starting lineup for the East in the All-Star Game is looking more and more like a reality, unless Pittsburgh Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – the top two leading scorers in the NHL and arguably the league’s best two players – can close the gap on Montreal’s vote-hogging forwards.
Crosby, with about 320,000 votes as of Dec. 1, had pulled within 65,000 of the Habs players. Malkin, with 265,000 votes, was about 120,000 ballots behind. The voting closes at the end of December; the game is Jan. 25.
The chosen Canadiens players jumped out to such huge leads so early in the voting process, the assumption was that a fan – or maybe a few fans – had developed some kind of computer program that was electronically stuffing the ballot box for the home team which, granted, would be a pretty big bug in the system.
One person, one vote is how it’s supposed to work in a democracy – even in the NHL, which has had more than its share of banana republic moments. (Strange-but-true fact: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez have never been seen in the same room. Why not? Are they one and the same?)
So, there’s been some outcry over the potential of an all-Habs starting lineup. The whining will probably rev up into a full roar as the game nears, especially if Crosby and Malkin (and Alex Ovechkin) keep tearing it up, but remain benchwarmers for the first shift.
No, it’s not fair to those players (or whomever the most deserving Eastern players happen to be when late January rolls around). And it’s not fair that six Habs get in, squeezing out two or three or four more deserving players. We’ll give Koivu, Markov and Tanguay all-star berths, but as starters? Seems a bit much. Komisarek, Kovalev and Price probably wouldn’t even be in the running if not for the hometown advantage.
But here’s why part of me is secretly hoping Montreal’s election-rigging works.
For starters, from an atmosphere-in-the-arena point of view, can you imagine how loud, how crazy, how overwhelming it will be when the starting lineup is announced and the East is represented entirely by the bleu, blanc et rouge? Montreal fans, who need little to no reason to break into song at any moment, will be bellowing themselves hoarse. It will be a scene to remember, probably one of the top 10 moments in Bell Centre history. This is called an “ends justifying the means” argument.
Another situation that has been raised is the Rory Fitzpatrick fiasco of a couple years ago, when Canucks fans nearly voted in the journeyman defenseman despite the fact he was a regular healthy scratch in Vancouver.
The difference this time is, these six Habs are integral to Montreal’s fortunes. As mentioned, Koivu, Markov and Tanguay deserve to be in the game, period. And you can make a case for the others: Komisarek is a stay-at-home, physical force; Kovalev might not be playing up to his own lofty standards, but he’s still Montreal’s most dangerous forward; and, there’s no doubting Price’s caliber and upside.
Good things are ahead for them and, by extension, the Canadiens. Besides, it’s not like Kovalev is bumping Crosby right out of the game; he’s just bumping him out of the starting lineup.
And, finally…c’mon, folks, it’s the All-Star Game. Like the All-Star Game in every other sport, it doesn’t really matter and nobody cares too much. Go out, have fun, put on a good show for the fans and, for heaven’s sake, don’t get hurt. As a player, that’s all you really have to do.
As a fan, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy.
Which is exactly what the 20,000 home fans will be doing if their Habitants make up the starting lineup.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point column appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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