Today, the NHL announced its traditional end-of-year selections for First and Second Team All-Stars, designations that can sometimes result in players getting a nice little sum of bonus money for a job well done. Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals doesn’t have such a bonus built into his contract, but if he did, he should ask the Caps if he can get two times the cash, since those all-knowing members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association voted him in twice.
Ovechkin made the First team as a right-winger, which is the position he played this year–it was kind of a big deal when Adam Oates shifted him and may have resulted in him breaking out of his early-season slump. This is a thing I am aware of, despite not being in the Capitals world, because I follow and read a large variety of writers and hockey voices. But then he made the Second team as a left-winger. In their explanation of this distinction, the league admirably compares him to Mark Messier, who was twice a First left-winger and twice a First center. But Messier got all those distinctions in completely different seasons.
Actually, Ovechkin shouldn’t have been honored for his left-wing work at all. PHWA members were reminded via email that, if they were doing voting, they needed to vote him in ONLY as a right-winger. Enough of them forgot or didn’t know or were just plain ignorant of the fact and chose him for left-winging anyway. Taylor Hall, who would’ve won Second honors for left-winging if not for this mess, may have been cheated out of the kind of bonus I mentioned above–there isn’t really a consensus on that yet, but it’s possible since he’s just coming off an entry-level deal.
Oy, what a mess.
This whole egg-on-the-face is really just the latest in a series of hilarious flubs by the PHWA when it comes to honoring players for good seasons. (Personally, I feel Ovechkin didn’t deserve First or Second honors regardless. He underperformed for parts of this season, which was shortened, so really it’s like he’s getting honored for doing well in just a fraction of a proper regular season. The comparison to Messier is especially absurd in this situation. However, I am not a PHWA member.) The Selke Trophy debacle, in which Patrice Bergeron got more first-place votes than winner Jonathan Toews but lost out on decisive point totals due to wacky down-ballot selections getting weight, is still fresh in my mind. Bergeron, by the way, got just one vote for today’s recognitions, three-way tying for 11th among centers.
But there’s another problem with this whole thing, which has people wondering if the league will re-examine how awards are given. There’s some measure of accountability–individual reporters can choose to show their ballots and anonymous vote totals are released, but those vote totals don’t come with complete explanations of who voted for whom. No one necessarily has to own up to their votes unless they want to and in a field that values openness, that kind of secrecy really shouldn’t fly anymore. We’re not voting for president here. Tell us why you chose who you chose.
Writers often express views in columns and articles and stand by them, but this has to extend to end-of-season voting as well. I’d like to hear the rationalization from the person who voted Evgeni Nabokov for First goaltending honors, for example. It might not convince me in the end that that vote was quality, but full accountability would at least show that the voter put some thought into it.
As it is right now, PHWA voters don’t have to stand by what selections they make, although many of the established/old-school scribes have this rather divisive attitude of acting like writers for other venues (such as this one!) aren’t qualified to write or think about hockey since they took a different road. So if they can talk the talk, they can surely walk the walk, right?
If nothing changes about the way awards like Team All-Stars are bestowed, we can expect to see more flubs like these down the road. That should be cause for some concern.