NHL All-Star Game: 5 Reasons Fan Balloting Is a Bad Idea
I would be willing to bet almost all of us believe that the right to vote should be universal. But we all probably know someone who is an unreasonable-enough person that we wish we could justify taking that right away from them.
That is how I feel about fan balloting.
The NHL All Star Game is a display for the fans (though not those who like hits), so you have to involve the fans in the balloting process. But there are times that make me think about pulling the rights from the fans.
Thus, the following are reasons why fan balloting is bad for the game, even though I do not advocate taking it away...
Imbalance of Fan Bases
Perhaps this is a bit overpersonalizing the issue, but I grew up in the rural Midwest. My football team is in the smallest major sports market in North America and my baseball and basketball teams were not much better off.
I always felt our lower population diminished our ability to send deserving players to the All Star Game as compared to the New Yorks, Chicagos and Los Angeleses of the world. Case in point— New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent was voted in ahead of Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Robin Yount despite hitting .167 at the time.
Sure, the Greater Milwaukee Area had less than a third the population of New York City alone. The Brewers were not the team on national television and had not been able to cultivate their smaller population as long.
I was able to adopt a team from a larger market when I had no regional loyalty to another NHL team, but I am not going to forget how it hurts the likes of Nashville and Phoenix.
During the 100th season of the Montreal Canadiens, the NHL chose to have them host the All-Star Game. Montreal fans set out to elect all six players to start the game.
Montreal may have the most fans of any team in the league. But if they do, it is not by a wide-enough margin to have the top six vote-getters over the best choices.
Unless they rigged the online voting. And that is just what they did.
Eventually, the NHL was able to throw out some votes, but four Canadiens started. Had the Habs been the league's best team, this might have been forgivable. But they were already faltering en route to an eighth seed in the East.
Nonetheless, most of their starters were probably good enough to make the roster. Not Mike Komisarek.
He is very solid in his own end, but has never reached 20 points in a season. Even disregarding the heavy lean toward offence in the All-Star Game, his one-way talents were not worthy of being considered in the top six defencemen in the Eastern Conference, much less top two.
Flash over Substance
You may be able to tell already what my major sport growing up was. I excelled at every position but catcher until I became near-sighted at a preteen age and could no longer hit.
I also learned a lot about baseball through my father, who was a coach. Naturally, it was my top sport in my formative years, and it permeates my view of other games. Thus, I follow statistics in other sports now as a baseball fan does that game.
My view was also shaped by my rural, working-class upbringing. I like players with a work ethic, and am as likely to know who leads the league in faceoffs as I am goals.
I saw guys like Ozzie Smith continue to make the MLB All-Star Game because fans around the league knew him as the guy who opened every game with an impressive gymnastics routine. He was a great player, but often not the best at his position.
Fans were voting for him because of the ostentatious display of athleticism, not because of what he did in games. Every athletic play was driven home all the more because they knew how athletic he was.
Most fans love scoring. If the average fan knew how much more important the little things are than goals, they would vote for defensive players who can still score, players like Alex Goligoski, Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler, instead of defensive liabilities who score fancy goals.
I hate the popularity contest because I am a fan of the sport, not the league. Let me see the best possible game—sans the hits that could change the fortunes of teams, if you must.
East Coast Does Not See West Coast Teams
People in the Eastern Time Zone rarely see Pacific Coast teams play. They may see them once or twice a year against their own team and a couple other times before the playoffs. Even then, they may not be able to stay up to watch those games.
Most of the population exists in the Eastern Time Zone, so players in those markets get a disproportionate amount of attention. This is what forms the East Coast bias everyone in another time zone complains about.
Even writers fall victim to this, as evidenced by the Calder Trophy last season. Logan Couture was a better player than Jeff Skinner, but he was not seen as much. On a better team he played 1:06 more per game because he could be trusted to protect a lead as often as provide one.
Even statistically, while Skinner had eight more assists, Couture had one more goal and six more game-winners. He won a whopping one more faceoff in every six, and was 15 better in plus-minus. The latter could be attributed to the better team, but it also left him with tougher defensive assignments.
Because fans cannot choose only the players they know like voters for the Calder Trophy did, their voting is based on name recognition. They know some of the players of some of the teams, but could completely overlook the tremendous skills of someone on another team, especially an up-and-coming player.
Lines Tougher To Set for Chemistry
When fans vote for players, you can get forwards that do not complement one another on the same line.
Imagine a line of Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Michael Grabner. Three shooters with no one to dish them the puck. Sure, all of them can pass, but they are too similar to take full advantage of each other's talents.
The more the league wants to honour the fans vote, the less likely one is to get around it. But even if fans vote for the right people, sometimes they end up with three shooters, three skaters, three power forwards or three scorers on the same line.
Even though your superstars need to be able to do it all, ideally you have one who excels at skating to break down the defence, a playmaker to dish the puck and a sniper to put it in the back of the net.