Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There has been much attention paid to the this year's NHL All-Star Game, especially regarding the players selected as starters for Sunday's matchup in Montreal.
All told, just four teams represent the 12 starting spots in this weekend's battle between the Eastern and Western Conference, a clear indication that fan voters in Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Anaheim participated in some serious ballot box-stuffing.
But, what is ballot stuffing other than a concerted effort by a fan base to vote in their hometown heroes? The advent of internet voting has made it increasingly simple for fans to organize in order to get their favorite players onto the All-Star roster, and it also allows folks to vote from home without even attending an NHL game. It still comes down to what city votes more, and that is a result of fan interest and nothing more.
It's amusing to hear people complain about the players voted in by the fans, as if it's a big surprise that folks would cast a ballot in favor of their hometown favorites over a more deserving player from another city.
Montreal has possibly the world's most rabid hockey fans, and followers of the Canadiens turned that passion into four of the six starting spots on this year's Eastern Conference squad. Habs forward Alexei Kovalev, defensemen Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek, as well as goaltender Carey Price will certainly get the biggest ovations from the home crowd when the introductions take place Sunday at the Bell Centre.
So what if Kovalev is not in the top-50 in the NHL in scoring this year? Canadiens fans were determined to get him into the starting lineup, and did so.
Alex Ovechkin had to wait to be named as a reserve.
Penguins fans were able to vote in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby as starters for the East, while Washington's Alex Ovechkin, arguably the greatest player in the world, had to wait to be named as a reserve. Ovechkin should be a starter, but Malkin and Crosby are the top-two scorers in the league, so it makes sense that Pittsburgh fans vote for their dynamic duo.
In the West, Chicago fans voted in forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews as well as defenseman Brian Campbell. The remaining three players are from Anaheim, as forward Ryan Getzlaf, blueliner Scott Niedermayer and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere were all deemed worthy by Ducks fans.
Clearly, as a result of this year's voting, a handful of deserving players will be left out of the All-Star festivities, but that doesn't mean the league will or should take selection power away from the people. If anything, the NHL may want to eliminate the rule that every team needs to be represented at the All-Star Game by at least one player.
After all, the lack of defense and physical play tells us that the All-Star Game is more of an exhibition for the fans and not much at all about winning. The fans who vote the most do so to make the game more enjoyable for themselves, and that usually involves seeing their local favorites on the ice.
Of the 12 starters selected, just three (Kovalev, Komisarek, Giguere) have less than All-Star-worthy stats this season. That does mean three other deserving players will ultimately be watching the game from home rather than being participants in Montreal, but if hockey players can bounce back from a puck to the face, then it's safe to say they will recover from a bruised ego.
Also, since results were reported for weeks leading up to the official end of voting, there was plenty of time for other cities to counteract ballot- stuffing measures in places like Montreal. Apparently, the leads built up in the opening weeks was too much to overcome.
The only recourse for fans who feel their hometown players were snubbed this year is to follow the lead of Anaheim, Chicago, Montreal and Pittsburgh by voting early and often next season. Hopefully that will happen, and next year's All-Star starters will paint a picture that is more representative of the league as a whole.
It's no secret that giving fans the right to vote for All-Star games isn't the best way to ensure that the worthiest players get to take part in the exhibition. But, taking away the vote would only make people less interested in an event that is supposed to be a celebration of hockey.
The All-Star voting process is far from a perfect system, but it's primary goal is to maximize fan involvement, a fact that was certainly not lost by fans in the cities mentioned above. Now's the time for the rest of the league to catch up.