By Joe Haggerty
NEW YORK The NHL Awards voting season is always something Ive looked forward to participating in, and taken responsibly.The Norris Trophy, Hart Trophy and Selke Trophy are synonymous with hockey greatness and in a practical sense there's a lot of money, prestige and reputation for hockey people built on winning and losing the hardware. Think back just a couple of years ago at how clearly humbled Zdeno Chara was when he was named the NHLs best defensemen with the Norris Trophy in his grasp, or the pride Raymond Bourque took each time he walked up to the podium to accept his Norris over the years.Every other hockey writer Ive discussed voting with, in passing conversation or in legitimate debate, has always approached their ballot with the proper amount of examination and contemplation.So that means the thought of actually boycotting the awards vote isnt arrived at easily or haphazardly.Despite all of that, the three chapters of the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) that cover the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and New York Islanders have all voted to boycott this seasons award voting due to the unfair treatment doled out to former New York Islanders writer, and PHWA member, Chris Botta.Botta was barred from entering Nassau Coliseum as a member of the working media earlier this season after a series of disagreements with Isles GM Garth Snow a situation somewhat muddled by Bottas former role as media relations director for the team and his close ties within the organization before moving over to the fourth estate.The bottom line is this: the Isles have once gone to great lengths to make their organization look petty, contemptful and small in a pitiful way.While there may or may not be extenuating circumstances to Bottas situation, he is a dues-paying member of the PHWA and a handful of my fellow writers have decided to go to withhold their vote. It was admirable in theory and idealistic in fervor, but with actions come consequences that this particular hockey writer isnt willing to pay given that the NHL Awards vote and Bottas situation are two entirely different things.I agreed to vote on the NHL Awards at the beginning of the season, as I have for the last five years, and I'm holding true to my journalistic word.There are some within the NHLs rank-and-file have been lobbying for some time to take NHL Awards voting away from the writers and reporters that cover the team on a daily basis, and instead hand it to hockey operations people, team-employed broadcasters or others within the NHLs inner circle. The boycott from three chapters totaling less than 20 voters has cracked the door open for the league to review the awards voting policy, and theres a very real possibility this could be the last season Im voting for Norris, Hart, Selke and Lady Byng along with League All-Star teams.That would be a shame, but Im not expecting gigantic public outcry about this from a public that has become increasingly suspicious of the traditional media sometimes with good reason and sometimes with the flawed perception that they could do better. I support every single fellow member of the PHWAin their quest to berespected and supported by the NHL, but personallyI'm not sure boycotting a traditionalvote is the right way to go.My mother always told me not to "cut off my nose to spite my face", and that little piece of homespun advice seems pretty apt to me in this case.Hopefully a permanentaltertation to the NHL Awards votingwont be the finalcase and cooler heads prevail once the NHL assures through actions and words theyre interested in continuing independent coverage of the leagues 30 teams a necessity in todays world of 247 blogs and team-sponsored content that can sometimes only tell half the story of what'sgoing on in the locker room or behind the scenes.If the NHL isnt, well, then get used to hearing nothing but sunshine and rainbows from every hockey team no matter how good or bad the product on the ice is. If the laughingstock Islanders are that sensitive, think how some other teams higher up on the food chain perceive themselves. The hockey fan is sophisticated enough to see through that, and wants more than simply vanilla, happy and shiny hockey coverage.
There are a million roads both parties could go down this summer while meeting at the Stanley Cup Finals and again later at either the NHL Awards or the NHL Draft in Minnesota to discuss the Botta situation. Hopefully it leads to a resolution that Botta, the PHWA, NHL commisioner Gary Bettman and the Islanders kooky front office can live with that will continue a partnership between writers and hockey league thats been going on long before I came on the scene in Boston. Hopefully the writers that work diligently to chronicle the magnificent NHL action will continue to vote on the traditional awards that are so much a part of the fabric and traditional greatness of the National Hockey League. I really cant imagine it any other way, and its disheartening to learn there are many out there that very easily can.Here is the statement from the PHWA about the Bottavoting situation: As the NHLs 2010-11 regular season winds down, and with voting on the leagues awards imminent, the Professional Hockey Writers Association remains adamantly opposed to and distressed by the early season decision of the New York Islanders to revoke the media credential of a PHWA member.This is even more objectionable than the original decision itself: In the months since, league officials have refused to intervene and overrule the Islanders decision, which would serve to re-emphasize the NHLs commitment to facilitate objective and authoritative coverage from PHWA members.The media marketplace is changing daily, and newspapers and other outlets for written journalism are among those adapting. To its credit, the NHL and its teams have aggressively taken on the challenge of creating and enhancing their own coverage on several platforms, going beyond the more traditional in-house broadcasts to now include team web sites and other outlets.Yet the leagues savvy fan base understands the need for, and desires, independent and objective coverage that doesnt pass through league and team filters.
Our concern is that this decision, if allowed to stand and become precedent, signals an end to the leagues agreement that independent and objective coverage not only benefits its fan base, but the NHL itself.The PHWAs position is absolute. The splitting of hairs about the circumstances of the Islanders decision is an irrelevant waste of time. We ask that the NHL disavow the Islanders capricious decision in this specific instance, but even more important, reaffirm that barring egregious actions that would cause the PHWA to expel a member, anyway -- PHWA members will be granted access to cover its teams.Meanwhile, three of our chapters those made up of writers who cover the Islanders, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils have decided not to participate in the PHWA voting for the NHLs 2010-11 regular-season awards. That voting selects the winners of most of the leagues major trophies and its first- and second-team all-stars.The PHWA takes seriously its role as an authoritative, objective and independent voting body for these awards, and is honored to participate in the process. It also respects and will support the decisions of individual members not to return their ballots, which the league already has distributed to PHWA members. However, the PHWA also believes that because the voting process has begun, both the writers organization and the league have entered into a mutual and honorable pact to see through the voting process for the 2010-11 awards.The PHWA is confident that with potentially nearly 90 percent of its 177 members continuing to participate, the pool of voters -- which has grown significantly in recent years is more than sufficient to maintain the integrity of the voting.In the upcoming offseason, the PHWA hopes to again meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other league officials to seek clarification of the credentialing issue and to discuss the future of the PHWAs role as an independent and objective voting bloc in continuing to bolster the credibility of the leagues awards.On to the links: Ryan Lambert of Yahoo! Sports gives us what we learned this week including that an old hockey dog like Jarome Iginla still has a few things up his sleeve. Adrian Dater has a blog up for Versus.com where he stumps for Jacques Lemaire as a Jack Adams nominee out of New Jersey after the way he helped turn things around for the Devils. Paul Stastny is done for the Avalanche this season. Im surprised this didnt happen as soon as that trade with the St. Louis Blues went down. A very sad story about former Yale hockey player Mandi Schwartz, who succumbed to cancer after a courageous battle. Ryan Callahan talks to the boys at Pro Hockey Talk about making the NHL and potentially being a Captain of the Rangers someday. Maple Leafs rookieJames Reimer has been a revelation between the pipes, and James Mirtle finds that it all stems from having big time faith in himself. A good look by Jesse Spector of the NY Daily News at Gary Bettmans hour on the radio every week the only commissioner that hosts a call-in show weekly to reach out to fans both happy and disgruntled. A review from Jaspers Rink on how the Capitals are stacking up these days with the playoffs looming and the roster red-hot.Joe Haggerty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs