Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas


It’s not too late.  It’s a disgrace and, in the world of internet voting (vote all you want, people), it shows the absurdity of trying to bring false popularity to a great game.  But it’s not too late for Commissioner Gary Bettman to make a statement and do the right thing:  name superstar Alex Ovechkin a starter for the Eastern Conference in next week’s NHL All-Star Game. 


It’s hard to believe some of the names that made the grade.  We all understand why:  the game’s being played in Montreal, it’s the 100th anniversary of the legendary Les Canadiens, the fans have now discovered that they can vote again and again and again (fill in the word again here as many times as you want), etc.  All you really need to know is that, at one point, earlier in the voting, ALL SIX starting Eastern Conference positions were going to go to members of the Montreal Canadiens.  Somehow, some way, later in the voting, two guys named Crosby and Malkin passed Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay for starting positions.


Oh, the embarrassment of it all.




Many years ago in baseball something very similar happened – and the Commissioner stepped in and fixed it.  In 1957, according to Total Baseball (Fifth Edition), fans of the Cincinnati Reds elected eight (of nine) starters to the National League All-Star Team.  They “stuffed” the ballot boxes (no internet back then) and that led to the embarrassing situation that is similar to the one the NHL is in now.


So, what happened?  Well, according to Total Baseball, “Commissioner Ford Frick named Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron to replace Reds Gus Bell, George Crowe and Wally Post in the starting lineup.”  Apparently, only people in Cincinnati were upset when the obvious (correct an absurdity) was done.


You didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out what happened and, thankfully for baseball, somebody with a brain AND some power took notice and did something.


BACK TO 2009


Something just as egregious happened in this year’s NHL voting.  To almost start six Canadiens and to have Alexei Kovalev (full disclosure – a favorite of this writer’s when he was a young Ranger) start over Alex Ovechkin, well, you can finish the sentence.  So, in 2009, to have Gary Bettman make a similar statement by announcing Ovechkin as a starter would, at least, restore a little bit of dignity to the process.  Sure, popular players win election every year.  Sure, people can argue the merits of many starters.  Sure you can argue that hockey starters (off the ice after a minute or so) are not like baseball starters (although that would totally miss the point).  But, again, when Mays, Aaron and Musial (all superstar Hall-of-Famers-to-be) were (unbelievably) wrongly snubbed, somebody (the Commissioner of baseball) actually DID something.


Here, too, when a superstar Hall-of-Famer-to-be (obviously Ovechkin has to do it over a number of years but understand, Aaron was only in his fourth year and Mays in his fifth full year (due to military service) in 1957) and reigning MVP who is having a great season (again) is snubbed for a very good player, it would be nice for the NHL if somebody, like the Commissioner, would actually DO something.




While it’s never happened, maybe the point would be better made if one city pounded the internet ballot box so much that all six starters would come from one team.  Maybe then the Commissioner would get the point.  Maybe he should reserve the right to change that starting lineup (if the Commissioner of baseball had the power to do it in 1957, you’d like to think that the Commissioner of the NHL has the power to do it in 2009).


The aftermath of the baseball fiasco was that, for a number of years, the voting was taken away from the fans.  It was eventually returned and now the fans have the same internet voting in baseball that they have in hockey.


If Bettman doesn’t do something (and, of course, it’s unrealistic to think that he will), then maybe next year there will be a national (international?) movement to make an average, likable player a starter in the All-Star game.  Maybe that would make the Commissioner do something.


Again, it’s great to argue about All-Star selections.  But, once in a while, something happens that makes a mockery of the game and hurts the image and integrity of the NHL, whether the powers-that-be understand it or not.  This (Ovechkin not being named a starter) is one of those times. 


Your move, Commissioner Frick (oops, I mean Bettman).    



© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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