When the Prince of Wales and Campbell...oops, Eastern and Western Conferences take the ice at Bell Centre for the All Star Game on January 25th, the best player on the planet will be sitting on the bench when the puck drops.
Alex Ovechkin finished out of the money among the forwards in the Wale- oops, Eastern Conference voting. That's as much as we'll add to the chorus of "Ovie should start" sentiments.
The shame in all of this is the fabricated enthusiasm for the event perpetrated by the NHL. Their web site proudly proclaims that "Fans Have Spoken: Record Voting Numbers for Crosby, Malkin, Four Canadiens."
Record voting numbers? Well, OK...if you're standard for voting integrity is a Chicago alderman election. And in fact, maybe that is the standard for the league, which announced on that same web site that "Fans vote early AND often (emphasis theirs)."
Let's be plain about this. While the NHL states for the record that 34.7 million votes were cast for the All Star Game, the number of "fans" voting was far less. The outcome was more the triumph of technology, of automated voting programs that digitally stuffed ballot boxes, than of reawakened popularity in the event.
To be honest, we like the idea of fan voting for all-stars. Fans pay the freight in this league, and they were horribly abused in the lockout. This is their opportunity to see the players they want to see on a big stage. But if the voting lacks honesty, of what value is the event it begets? It starts to look more and more like the NFL Pro Bowl, itself a joke of a contest.
But to have the league bray about setting overall voting records or Sidney Crosby "obliterating" the top vote-getting record of Jaromir Jagr is just so much transparent nonsense. It isn't even a good "popularity" contest of the sort that has become the NFL version of the all-star event. It's numbers with no meaning. Making voting an online process is, we suppose, an effort to appeal to the tech-savvy younger fan. Fine, but then don't tap dance with a turn of phrase to suggest without saying plainly that there were 34.7 million "fans" doing the voting. Voting should be an effort, not a click (or a program). If a fan wants his or her favorite to step onto the ice as a starter, then have the fan make the effort to make that preference known. Make it mean something, even if you're going to allow fans to cast multiple ballots. We'd sooner see the league go back to punch or fill-in cards as repeat this travesty.
Ovechkin will play in the event. Someone will represent the Sharks -- perhaps a Joe Thornton or a Devin Setoguchi -- the best team so far in the West. And the Bruins will be represented, too -- maybe a Phil Kessel or a Tim Thomas -- as befits the best team in the East in the first half of the year. It doesn't do much, though, to suggest that the event has any integrity.
Shame on you, NHL.