By Allan Muir
A friend of mine changed his personal profile on his Twitter account this afternoon. It used to read, “Proud member of the PHWA.”
Now, the line is blank.
He’s probably not alone in making that kind of change. I’m guessing there aren’t too many folks bragging about being a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association today.
It hasn’t been a very good month for the group* that, among its other duties, votes on the Hart, Calder, Norris, Selke, Lady Byng and Masterton trophies that are handed out to the NHL’s top players each season. Considering what those awards mean to a player’s legacy, it’s a hefty responsibility.
Too bad not everyone sees it that way.
When the winners of the 2013 awards were revealed during the Stanley Cup Final, so were the names and totals for every player who received a vote. And when folks starting scanning those lists, there were more than a few names that raised questions and eyebrows. You, like Francois Beachemin and Pascal Dupuis for Hart, or Shane Doan for Lady Byng or Dennis Seidenberg for Norris or Dougie Hamilton for the Calder.
Some were pretty tough to justify, but those were homer votes mostly. But others suggested that the voter might not be taking the task too seriously.
That was an embarrassment to the group, but nothing compared to the shame storm that fell on it today when the NHL announced its First and Second All-Star teams…and Alex Ovechkin was on both of ‘em.
Yep, OV was honored, justifiably, as the league’s top right wing. But he also was placed on enough ballots to come in second at left wing … a position he hadn’t played all year.
This shouldn’t have happened for so many reasons. First, voters were told explicitly how to handle Ovechkin.
“If you intend to vote for Alex Ovechkin in your All-Star ballot, please note that he has been playing RIGHT WING this season,” PHWA president Kevin Allen wrote in an email to all voters.
Pretty clear, right?
And if that didn’t do the trick, there’s always the fact that his position change was one of the major storylines of the season. Unless you spent the year learning how to do the Harlem Shake, you couldn’t possibly have missed that he had switched sides.
Ah, but the incompetence didn’t end there. Having clearly laid out the rules, the PHWA executive compounded the problem by not disqualifying those votes. With the credibility of the organization on the line, that should have been the most obvious course of action. Instead, it chose to set itself up as a punchline, and tarred the reputation of every voter, by letting them all stand.
At this point, the only way to claw back some of that integrity is to make changes to the voting process. Transparency was on the agenda at the group’s meeting on draft weekend, but whatever came from that has not been announced. The irony of that should be noted.
Whatever happened then, it should be clear by this point that there’s no more room for debate. Every vote has to be made public so that the writer is accountable for his choices. Don’t want to be put in that position? Don’t vote. Or better yet, don’t vote stupidly. Those are pretty much the only options.
There are other discussions that the association needs to have as well, including standards for admission and for voting. (It’s worth noting that not every member is allowed a voice in all awards.) Uncomfortable topics, sure, but not probably not as uncomfortable as the public pantsing the association is suffering through today.
The saddest part of all this is that it tarnishes the legitimacy of every honor the group has awarded. Every one of them.
And the silliness has cost players real money. Players often negotiate bonuses for awards and end-of-season All-Star berths into their contracts. That’s especially common in entry-level deals like the one Taylor Hall is on.
Hall, who finished third in the left wing voting, had already maxed out his individual bonuses, and so this voting snafu didn’t cost him anything from the Oilers. He was, however, shorted $50,000 that he would have received from the league if he hadn’t been bumped by Ovechkin.
No he probably won’t miss it, but he deserved it, and the PHWA took it away.
Look, the system’s broken. The time to fix it with complete transparency and a clear, straightforward ballot is now … before the league steps in and the privilege is stripped away entirely.
* I should probably point out that I’m not a member of this august fellowship. Not for any particular reason, other than I’m not much of a joiner… something I wish the AARP would take note of…
2013 NHL First Team All-Stars
C: Sidney Crosby, Penguins
LW: Chris Kunitz, Penguins
RW: Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
D: P.K. Subban, Canadiens
D: Ryan Suter, Wild
G: Sergei Bobrovsky
Second Team All-Stars
C: Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
LW: Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
RW: Martin St. Louis, Lightning
D: Kris Letang, Penguins
D: Francois Beauchemin, Ducks
G: Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers