Hockey’s Future New Column: Game Misconduct

By Tony Bryson

It has become a yearly tradition for the marketing
wizards at the NHL offices. No, I’m not talking about
the introduction of another series of extremely horrid
third jerseys by several of the member clubs. I’m
talking the fall release of fan selection ballot for
the mid-season All Star game. Every year the league
releases the ballot, and every year there is some
controversy surrounding those names available for
selection. Why should this year’s game be any
different? Well maybe because the controversy
surrounding this year’s ballot is such an obvious
blunder that it really makes the league look bad.

Normally the NHL has a leg to stand on when it comes
to omissions in the All Star ballot. There is a
surprise player or two who come out of the gate hot
and lead the league in several categories, or the
unknown rookie who makes a big splash and comes out of
no-where, or the aging veteran who has a career year
while he winds down towards retirement. All of these
situations are ones where the league office can be
excused for its short sightedness. But this year the
league really left itself open for criticism by
leaving Calgary Flame poster-boy, and rising star
player, Jarome Iginla, off the ballot.

When you scan the list of leading scorers a few names
jump out at you. Mark Parrish and his twelve goals in
thirteen games is a surprise. Iginla’s team mate
Craig Conroy, and his sixteen points in fourteen games
is a surprise. And perched up at the top of the
scoring race is a surprising Jarome Iginla.
Surprising? To be sitting at the top of the league
scoring race is a bit of a surprise, but his play has
been nothing of a surprise to those who have watched
the Flames the past several seasons. Make no mistake,
Jarome Iginla is not a Mark Parrish, who is benefiting
from the addition of centers of the caliber of Alexei
Yashin and Michael Peca.

Iginla has actually watched
as Calgary’s top two centers have gone down to injury
and has still managed to take his game to the next
level. He is not a Craig Conroy, a veteran player who
is experiencing a spike that will surely lead to an
unexpected career year. Jarome Iginla is one of the
brightest lights developing in the game today. He
hasn’t experienced a massive jump in his numbers to
get to this point. Iginla hasn’t been a surprise to
those on his team. He’s been a leading scorer, a
leader in the dressing room, and a leader in the
community for the Calgary Flames for the past four
years. He is as far from a surprise as there is when
you scan the scoring summaries and consider his
history as a player.

Jarome Iginla has always been considered a special
player. Iginla was the centerpiece of the deal that
sent Joe Nieuwendyk from Calgary to Dallas. When Al
Coates made that deal a lot of eyebrows were raised,
primarily because of Nieuwendyk’s stature with the
Flames, and how few people really knew anything about
Iginla. But Coates knew that Iginla was something
special. He knew Jarome was about to step onto the
world scene and lead Canada to a gold medal at the
World Junior Hockey Championships. After that
Christmas tournament Iginla would head home to
Kamloops, finish his final year of junior hockey with
sixty-three goals and one hundred and thirty six
points, and lead the Blazers to a Memorial Cup
Championship. And just for good measure Iginla would
jump into the lineup for the Calgary Flames during the
Stanley Cup playoffs and manage a goal and an assist
in the two games he would play, in the Flames last
appearance in the post season to date. Was this just
a good year, or a sign of things to come?

In Iginla’s rookie season he managed twenty-one goals
and fifty points. That was good enough to place him
second in Calder voting to Bryan Berard of the New
York Islanders. His second year in the league, he
suffered from an injury that lead to the dreaded
sophomore jinx, only scoring thirteen goals and
thirty-two points. But that was the last bad year
that Jarome Iginla would have for the Flames. He
would develop into their go-to guy and most consistent
player. As a twenty-one year old Iginla would score
twenty-eight goals and fifty-one points. He followed
that up with another impressive year where he would
light the lamp twenty nine times while adding in
thirty four helpers for a total of sixty three points.
Finally, in a very tumultuous season for the Flames,
one in which most players failed to live up to
expectations and the team hit an all time low, Iginla
was the one bright spot contributing thirty-one goals
and seventy one points. At twenty three years of age
Jarome Iginla had put together four twenty goal plus
seasons and had developed into one of the best power
forwards in the game. He was by far the Flames best
player, yet was not receiving the recognition he
deserved. So why was it surprising to see Iginla’s
name omitted from the All Star ballot? Has he not
shown that he deserves to be there?

When you looked at the ballot and the names scattered
across the page, it is a representative of most of the
teams in the circuit, and the majority of the top
players from the respective teams. Well,
representation from the large market teams anyway. It
should be noted that only six of forty-eight players
on the ballot for the North American squad come from
what could be considered small market teams. For an
example, Adam Deadmarsh, and his back-to-back years of
fifteen plus goals is there. I’m not sure how long
one player can live off of a thirty-three goal
performance from five years ago, but Deadmarsh is
taking it to a new extreme. He could be considered
the hometown player for this game, but his inclusion
on the ballot is embarrassing to say the least. An
undeserving Adam Deadmarsh is there, but no Jarome
Iginla. Or what about highly touted players that have
not lived up to their potential yet? Vincent
Lecavalier, the next great francophone player is
there. He was only twenty points behind Iginla last
season, but Prince Vince is a deserving candidate for
selection. How about some of the fossils that have
made the ballot? I have to question the addition of
Francis and Messier. They’ve been great over the
years, but its time they stopped getting the nod based
on their tenure. How about the walking wounded?
Leclair and Lindros deserve to be on the ballot?
Leclair played sixteen games last year. Lindros
didn’t play at all. They deserve to be there? What
this all seems to be boiling down to is familiarity
for the fans, and marketing opportunities.

Now here is the real interesting part of the story.
The NHL is continually looking for ways to market
itself and make it look more appealing. For a league
trying to tap into the African American market, and
find a player that this particular demographic can
identify with, Iginla is a natural. For a league
trying to show off the fact that the small market
teams have a hope in competing, Iginla is a lifesaver!
But does the NHL brain trust consider the positives
of adding such a natural to the ballot? Do they take
advantage of the largest marketing opportunity they
have during the year to promote the rising stars in
the league? No. Instead they trot out the same old
tired names (nineteen of the names eligible for
selection at forward on the North American team are
over the age of thirty). Its no wonder the pundits
ask where the next group of star players is going to
come from, the NHL doesn’t bother to promote anything
but the aging ones it already has!

This issue should not be isolated to just Jarome
Iginla. There are many quality players that have not
got their opportunity to shine in the All Star game
for numerous reasons, subject matter for future
columns. Players like Steve Sullivan, Brad Richards,
Marc Savard, Fredrick Modin, Shane Doan, and company
may never get an opportunity to play in the All Star
game because they don’t fit into the mold the NHL has
for the mid-season shinny classic. What is disturbing
is that this behavior has been going on for a very
long time. Players have had to develop a body of work
that displays their play at a high level, and in the
NHL that high level is the post season. That is
unfortunate as integration of the young players just
blossoming might be an aid to them to taking their
game to the next level, and help balance the playing
field within the game and create new marketing
opportunities for the league in problem areas. A lot
of the young players need those chances to play with
the best and learn about the game from the top
players. Unfortunately the NHL does not take this
view and promotes this “old boys club” mentality for
the All Star game. This is a practice that has to
stop for the good of the game.

The omission of Iginla should not be viewed as a
slight. If anything the fact that Iginla is missing
from the ballot should be viewed as a positive for
those that loathe the NHL Offices and want to see
change. Maybe the guys that compile the ballot will
finally get a grip and start to do their job
effectively? Maybe these guys will finally stop
looking at only the big market teams for talent and
start looking at the teams that develop tomorrow’s
stars? Maybe they will finally realize that they have
a whole series of hidden gems out there in the
hinterlands of hockey that the league has forgotten
about? Yeah, and maybe intelligent life will be
discovered on the surface of the sun! There are few
things that you can count on in this world, but one of
them is the NHL doing the wrong thing when it comes to
promoting the game of hockey. What really hurts is
that this opportunity was staring them right in the