The NHL's All-Star voting disaster: a Slate investigation.

The stadium scene.
Jan. 18 2007 6:55 PM

Rorygate

The NHL's All-Star voting disaster: a Slate investigation.

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Week-to-week disparity in votes between Eastern and Western Conference defensemen.

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.

If the league did toss out votes, it could have done so with a lot more subtlety. For example, it might have eliminated the votes of every player who was listed on each of the Rory ballots. That would have reduced the totals by equal numbers in both conferences, making the subterfuge undetectable. But the vote count released by the NHL suggests a more ham-fisted approach. The Rory fans were furious.

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Week-to-week voting totals for players from the San Jose Sharks.
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League apologists might point out that automated voting was against the rules, and Rory didn't deserve to win anyway. But why should we assume that the Vote-O-Matic was the only voting hack out there? A sudden, extremely suspicious spike in votes for players from the San Jose Sharks seems to have propelled undeserving forward Jonathan Cheechoo * into the starting lineup. (He's currently ranked 37th in his conference for scoring.) Rory's teammate Roberto Luongo, who almost certainly benefited from the Vote-O-Matic, will also be an All-Star starter. Given how the voting system was set up, I'd bet that many more players were the beneficiaries of large-scale fraud.

This sort of thing is nothing new. Fans have been stuffing All-Star ballot boxes and electing ne'er-do-wells for as long as they've been asked to vote. In 1957, the commissioner of baseball had to step in when Cincinnati Reds fans managed to elect most of the team's starting lineup at the expense of players like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. The introduction of online voting made cheating even easier: A Boston computer programmer famously hacked Major League Baseball's on-line system * to push Nomar Garciaparra ahead of Derek Jeter in 1999. And the hockey fans in San Jose—i.e., the ones who live in Silicon Valley—have been notorious for gaming online voting in years past. Even the fan poll for this year's Hobey Baker award—that's hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy—had to be reset as a result of automated scripts. (The NHL probably should have learned a lesson from its bush-league counterpart and reset the voting when they realized there was a problem.)

In spite of everything that's happened, sportswriters have proclaimed the defunct Rory campaign " good for the league." After all, voting for the game was up 740 percentcompared to the 2004 contest. (Never mind where all those votes came from.) Some have even gone so far as to suggest the whole thing was orchestratedby the league's viral marketers, who have been pushing a fan-centered brand under the slogan " My NHL." But it's hard to imagine how anything positive could come from such a parade of scandalous incompetence.

It's been almost two years since a lockoutalmost ruined the sport. Now the league has baited, misled, and rejected its fans. The NHL has hit a new low. It's turned the All-Star Game—an event that's supposed to be about giving people what they want—into a repudiation of the game's most loyal supporters.

Corrections, Jan. 19: This piece mistakenly identified San Jose forward Jonathan Cheechoo as Joseph Cheechoo. ( Return to the corrected sentence.) The piece also incorrectly identified Major League Baseball's official Web site in 1999 as MLB.com. The URL was majorleaguebaseball.com. (Return to the corrected sentence.)