« Mike Vick: Role Model Extraordinaire | Main | Will We Hear From Jeff Samardzija Ever Again? »

Rigged Against Rory?

I've been avoiding this story, mainly because I think it was all a bit silly in the first place and All Star games rank right behind teeth cleanings and just in front of watching E! on my list of grueling things to do with my time. But it looks like we've finally got some closure: the NHL rigged the vote against Rory Fitzpatrick.

If you're not familiar, fans started a write-in campaign to get journeyman Canucks defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick (who recently scored his first goal of the season) into the All Star game. Fitzpatrick is a mucker, a grinder, a role player. In short, he's the type of player every team needs to be successful. Hockey's different like that -- not only does it help to have a healthy contingent of blue-collar players on a team, it's a necessity. So it really makes sense that a guy like Rory gets voted in; they're unsung heroes, but they're very important.

The campaign began with one man and picked up steam. Fitzpatrick dominated the voting, until a fateful day in December when the totals plummeted. Did interest wane? Or did the league not want the "embarassment"? Was something afoot? A lot of big hockey voices on the 'net, most prominently the brilliant Eric McErlain at Off Wing Opinion, did their best to spread the word about a possible injustice, and Slate has blown the lid off with a full-scale investigation that seems to confirm the worst.

I believe the evidence suggests the NHL cooked the books. Since the league counted only ballots that were entirely filled in, there should have been an equal number of votes cast for hockey's two conferences. But for the week after Christmas, players in the Eastern Conference received 6 percent more votes than those in Fitzpatrick's Western Conference. Among defensemen, the results were even more skewed: The guys in the West—Rory among them—got 16 percent fewer votes overall. (These discrepancies were about three times bigger than any that had come before.) As bloggers were quick to point out, the numbers were exactly what you'd expect to see if the league had manually dumped 100,000 Rory votes. Nothing has been proved, but I'm hard-pressed to come up with another reasonable explanation.

The league may have been embarassed by the campaign, but it represents everything the league has wanted with its "My NHL" marketing campaign. All Star voting was up 740% this year, and casual (or flat-out new) hockey fans found something to spark their interest in the sport. The NHL has been trying, since the lockout, to prove to the public that they care about their fans. If that's truly the case, nothing would have been better than letting Fitzpatrick into the game. It would have given fans confidence in the fact that the NHL actually cares about their voice.

Instead, after a successful first season from the lockout, the league is mired in controversy and people are finding it hard, yet again, to trust the NHL.