The NHL has reached the tipping point with All-Star Game fan voting. It needs to be scrapped. Now.
With the league insisting all 30 teams be represented, the game is already watered-down. With only six open spots available on each 21-man roster, allowing fans to determine the starters is akin to letting ice cubes melt in an already weak drink.
A few years back, the NHL got a glimpse of the future when a fan-based Internet campaign almost got journeyman defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick voted in. Conspiracy theorists suggest the NHL manipulated the results to ensure Fitzpatrick didn’t make the grade. The player himself was publicly uncomfortable with the possibility.
This season the problem was taken to new heights. Eleven players – all either Canadiens or Penguins, including the yet-to-play-a-game-this-season Sergei Gonchar – surpassed Jaromir Jagr’s 2000 record of 1,020,736 fan votes. And just four teams – Anaheim (three players), Chicago (three), Montreal (four) and Pittsburgh (two) – are represented in the starting lineups for the Jan. 25 event.
Crosby led all vote-getters, topping 1.7 million votes. Malkin nearly matched him. The four Habs averaged about 1.4 million votes each. None of the other players with one million-plus votes were named reserves. The Hawks and Ducks starters averaged just 747,000 votes each, but took all the spots in the West.
In the old days, chad-punching homers voting with their hearts rather than their heads were the problem. Now the NHL has to fend off computer-hacker homers to ensure roster legitimacy. Luckily, most of the starters are legitimate all-stars, but some are debateable; some laughable.
Jonathan Toews will be good, maybe great. But he’s not yet Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa or Patrick Marleau. Scott Niedermayer is a Hall of Famer, but Duncan Keith and Brian Rafalski are more deserving this year.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere has a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup on his resume. But he’s had better seasons when he wasn’t named an all-star and is being outperformed by others, especially rookie Steve Mason. Mason, at least, will be in the Young Stars Game, but it would have been fun to see the wunderkind in the skills competition and the big game.
In the East, forwards Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom (another Young Star) and Alexander Semin lost the numbers game. But Alex Kovalev – having another predictably pedestrian season – will be there. And while I respect Mike Komisarek’s game, the dynamic Mike Green is more All-Star Weekend-worthy than any shutdown guy, anytime.
Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett Jr. defended the voting process.
“There is obviously some suspicion that something nefarious was going on (but) I don’t think so at all,” he told NHL.com, before saying there are 7.5 million “huge hockey fans” in Quebec.
But even Gillett admitted something doesn’t quite smell right.
“There were players that were perhaps not selected to the starting lineup that you might say, ‘Hmmm,’ ” he said.
Let’s just be happy the enthusiastic stuffers weren’t Thrashers and Predators fans.
With that in mind, I offer a solution: Have NHL players, coaches and GMs vote on who should represent the best hockey league in the world at its All-Star Game. Then open the starting-lineup voting to fans a couple of weeks prior to the game.
Make the announcement an in-game event. Make a big deal of it. Keep the starters secret and give them prizes of some kind (Alex Ovechkin. Come on over! You’ve won your very own Segway. Sidney Crosby, you get your own apartment!). Make it fun. With some spontaneity and humor, it could be the NHL’s Golden Globe Awards.
Because, really, who cares who starts the All-Star Game, as long as the best players are there? And since the 30-team rule already makes that difficult, the NHL shouldn’t let electronic ballot-stuffers make it impossible.
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