Finally, hockey news I can get worked up abo...wait, what?
This isn't about hits to the head? Or hits from behind? Or the joke of a hiring—and inevitable firing—of a southern-market coach?
Well, hell. What are we talking about, then?
Ballot stuffing, you say? Oh, is this about the Montreal Canadiens?
Fans of the most storied franchise in NHL history have been accused of stuffing the All-Star Game's digital ballot box, all in an attempt to have the Eastern Conference starters sporting le bleu, blanc, et rouge.
These are the fans who rioted after their top-seeded team needed seven games to dispatch the Boston Bruins...IN THE FIRST ROUND.
Is anyone surprised? Does anyone care?
The NHL All-Star game, by all accounts, is nothing more than a publicity stunt. It's been slapped with such monikers as the "worst game" and "biggest non-event of the season." It seems to draw more ire than excitement with every passing year.
This year's contest, apparently, differs and is suddenly the beacon of all things holy in hockey.
Gone are the days of NHL benefit games, played to raise money for families of deceased or injured players. Gone are the days of the Challenge Cup and the Rendez-vous, played to determine international ascendancy.
Currently, fans are treated to a half-hearted, non-contact game with football-like scores. According to players and their generally vanilla statements, it is an "honor" to be voted into the lineup and the weekend is a "fun" break from the mire of the regular schedule.
Those responses make the uproar over voting this year all the more ridiculous and suspicious.
At last count—around 11:50pm EST—the top three forwards in Eastern Conference are all Canadiens. Votes for Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, and Alex Tanguay top 200,000 while the next closest forward, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, has yet to reach 95,000.
There are similar trends on defense with the Habs' Andrei Markov (220,912) and Mike Komisarek (201,384) leading the Capitals' Mike Green (69,641). In goal, Carey Price has a whopping 168,084 vote lead over the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury.
To be fair, Detroit Red Wings fans have shown up in full force to ensure their three candidates—forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and Henrik Zetterberg—have solid 10,000 vote leads.
The ballot-stuffing fad started last season with an unlikely candidate—Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick. The veteran blueliner finished just 23,000 votes behind four-time Norris-winner Nicklas Lidstrom after a tech-savvy fan automatically wrote-in Fitzpatrick's name over 250,000 times in just two weeks.
Not surprisingly, the NHL has taken steps to assure the validity of voting, but they haven't proven effective. Though fans still have unlimited votes, they must register to cast a ballot. To further "prevent automated spam submissions," the League also added a CAPTCHA challenge-response test.
The bigger question remains to be answered though: Why does this all matter?
That's easy: It doesn't.
It's the Canadiens centennial season, and they're already hosting both the draft and the All-Star Game. If the puck drops on January 25th and the six skaters for Eastern Conference team hail from Les Habitants, so be it.
If that c'est la vie attitude just doesn't cut it, think of it this way—there's already been enough doubt cast over the validity of the vote to make it even more of a farce than it was to begin with, an impressive feat to be sure.
Come to think of it, it might be a good idea for the rest of the Eastern Conference to start voting for the Canadiens as well. A few days of rest in January could be the difference maker in April.