With 31 goals in 73 games, Michael Grabner is in the running for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
For you fans who might not be aware - and, in reality, there is very little reason for you to be - the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the NHL are currently locking horns over the treatment of one of the PHWA’s members. And the battleground at the moment is the annual post-season NHL awards.
Members of the PHWA vote every year on the winners of the Hart, Calder, Selke, Norris and Lady Byng Trophies, as well as both all-star teams and the all-rookie team.
But this spring the chapters of writers who cover the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils have voted to boycott the voting process for the awards over the fact the Islanders arbitrarily revoked the media credentials for Chris Botta, a former employee of the Islanders who was blogging for aolfanhouse.com. Complicating the issue was the fact the Islanders had initially paid Botta to do a blog and later stopped funding it, but Botta continued it. He is now blogging for the New York Times.
The league was said to be weighing its options, but all indications are that other writers - including this one - will cast ballots for the awards and the matter will be dealt with in the summer with commissioner Gary Bettman. The Devils and Islanders chapters each voted 5-0 to boycott and the Rangers writers voted 7-3. One voting member from Nashville announced Monday he will join the boycott. That will remove 21 people from the voting process, which leaves somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 voters.
Botta’s exclusion by the Islanders has created a great deal of indignation among the writers who cover the league and, in reality, it’s an egregiously dictatorial way for the Islanders to act. Any team that draws family and friends to its games doesn’t have the luxury of treating people who give it coverage and exposure that way. Doing that is just bad business. It’s also wrong from an ethical standpoint and the league’s complicit allowance of it by not stepping in and forcing the Islanders to reissue Botta a credential is shameful.
But I suspect most people who read the writers don’t have a lot of concern over this issue and likely don’t really care just who votes for the year-end awards as long as they are given on merit. So I’m not about to get on a soapbox over it. My experience is fans are not terribly interested in how the media is treated by teams, nor do they have a lot of time to examine the relationship between the writers and those they cover. That’s why I never complain about excessive travel, uncooperative players and media relations people who jerk us around by trying to control and manage the message.
But what fans should care about is the integrity of the awards. The players should, too, because not only does it have ramifications when it comes to their compensation, we’re also talking about their legacies here.
There seems to be a notion the process will be tainted somewhat by the fact that three chapters representing 20 writers will not be voting. The example that came up was Islanders rookie right winger Michael Grabner, who is enjoying a terrific season and is a legitimate candidate for the Calder Trophy. What if he loses the award by a couple of points and didn’t have the benefit of the Islanders writers voting for him to make up the difference?
If that were the case, the NHL should revoke the PHWA’s voting privileges immediately. Personally, I find it insulting that anyone would suggest I or anyone in my business would vote for a player simply because he/she covers him regularly and might not have the same kind of familiarity with other deserving players.
Let’s not forget the NHL gave the PHWA the responsibility of voting for the awards in the first place because the members could be counted upon to not allow those kinds of biases to affect their decisions. Those who make a living covering hockey would not, in my opinion, be swayed by familiarity with a player. If I know most of the writers the way I think I do, if one was unfamiliar with a player from the other conference because of limited viewing, he/she would make it his/her business to get up to speed and make an informed decision.
In reality, the writers have proved time and again that geography and familiarity have no bearing on the results of the year-end votes. And in the information age in which we live, it’s possible to get it right every time. If it were based on geographical biases, the six voters in Vancouver would never have had enough support to give Henrik Sedin the Hart Trophy last season.
The members of the New York, New Jersey and Long Island chapters have every right to exercise their option to boycott the voting, but to suggest it will affect the final outcome of the vote is preposterous. If Michael Grabner doesn’t win the Calder, it won’t be because Islanders writers couldn’t vote for him. It will be because 160 informed professionals chose another player - likely either Jeff Skinner or Logan Couture - based on objective observations and reliable data.