Friday, December 29, 2006

Fitzpatrick Not An All-Star, But Neither Is The Voting System

Rory Fitzpatrick is not an All-Star, except in his own household. He'll be the first to agree on that. Not even the most Walter Mitty in him could elevate him to such status. In fact, he's barely more of an All-Star than I am, and I haven't laced up a pair of hockey skates since Fitzpatrick himself was a grade schooler.

Yet Vancouver Canucks defenseman Fitzpatrick, who hasn't even registered a point in 23 games this season, is among the top five vote-getters at his position for the 2007 NHL All-Star game. The top two will get an automatic berth on the roster.

The reason Fitzpatrick is on the cusp of being an accidental All-Star is largely the result of a ballot box-stuffing campaign spearheaded by a Web site, www.voteforrory.com. On the site, the answer to the question, "Why Rory?" is this: Good question. Everyone has their reasons for voting, but the general consensus is that Rory is the perfect representative for all the players who work hard "behind the scenes" and never get any recognition.

As for the notion that the All-Star game should be a showcase for the game's best players, the site has this reply: Depends on how you view it. Myself and many others view the All-Star game as an exhibition for the fans. That said, the fans want to see Rory Fitzpatrick...simple as that!

Well, some fans do, anyway. Those who have unashamedly voted multiple times for the journeyman, who is now with his fifth NHL team.

I have nothing against Fitzpatrick, who is probably a great guy, as most NHL players tend to be. And I have no problem with wanting to recognize the "players who work hard 'behind the scenes' and never get any recognition."

I do, though, find myself uncomfortable with a voting system that can place so many ballots into relatively few hands.

I went to the NHL.com site and casted my ballot, and I must admit that I voted for some players based on reputation, not really certain whether they were having All-Star-type seasons or not. And I had my own write-in candidate: Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek. The ballot only allows one write-in per conference, or else I would have voted for Detroit forward Dan Cleary, too. But without sounding too altruistic, my write-ins, while Detroiters, are also based on actual game performances. Hasek leads the league in GAA, and Cleary -- now with 17 goals after last night's hat trick -- has been the surprise scoring sensation of the Western Conference.

Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, clearly has no place on the team, hard-working guy or not. Nice guy or not. Underdog or not. And a system that would place him among the Nick Lidstroms and Chris Prongers of the world is broken, as far as I'm concerned.

I do, though, think that voteforrory.com's answer to whether the game should feature the best, most talented players is a good one.

"Myself and many others view the All-Star game as an exhibition for the fans."

Right philosophy, just wrong implementation of it. Yes, the game is an exhibition for the fans, but for all the fans who vote, not only for the fans who choose to while away time clicking Fitzpatrick's name.

I'll admit to vascillating on the subject of All-Star voting. At various times I've been sympathetic to the "it's for the fans" argument, and at other times I've been more hardline -- believing the game should be almost entirely populated with genuinely deserving players, based on current performance.

At least the reserves for the team aren't fan-chosen. So if the campaign to elevate Fitzpatrick to #2 fails, he won't make the team. And all will be right with my world. But just the fact that Fitzpatrick could even come this close to being voted in as a starter rankles me.

What's the solution? Well, the league could start by limiting email addresses to one ballot each. Yes, that could be gotten around, but at least it would be a filter. Phone voting could be limited to one ballot per phone number. And so on.

Last night, on ESPN News, Barry Melrose tackled the Fitzpatrick Issue.

"I would hope that if Rory gets in, he would step aside and say thanks, but acknowledge that someone like Nicky Lidstrom should be in instead," Melrose said of the campaign.

"But," Melrose added, "the game is for the fans' favorite players. Not necessarily the best."

All-Star games, in every sport, have been populated by undeserving players -- dudes who've been voted in based on past glory. But at least they've had some glory. Rory Fitzpatrick is a nice guy, and a lunch bucket fellow who may be the hardest working player in hockey for all I know.

But he's not an All-Star. And a system that would make him one isn't cute. It's broken.

2 comments:

gercohen said...

cohenFind complete updated coverage of the Rory Fitzpatrick campaign here

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