Saturday, January 20, 2007

Did the NHL arbitrarily void Rory Fitzpatrick votes?

Rory wuz robbed!

Rory Fitzpatrick, a near-replacement-level journeyman defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks, was the focus of an All-Star ballot write-in campaign started by a fan named Steve Schmid. Schmid wrote some automated voting software, and got himself some publicity and followers. By mid-December, Fitzpatrick was in second place among Western Conference defensemen, and set to make the team.

According to
Slate’s Daniel Engber, the NHL didn’t like this state of affairs. After ineffectual efforts to foil the automated voting programs, the league simply took the step of wiping out 100,000 of Fitzpatrick’s votes.

How did Engber (and the fans he links to) figure that out? Pretty easily. Engber writes,

"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." [Links in original.]

That is: there should have been exactly as many votes for Western Conference defenseman as Eastern Conference defenseman, since the league required ballots to be completely filled out. But there were 100,000 less. And according to the NHL’s own rules, that can’t happen.

The funny thing is, this is the absolute worst possible way to fudge the results without getting caught. It would have taken barely any extra effort for the league to have fully voided the 100,000 ballots instead of just the 100,000 Fitzpatrick votes. But they didn’t. Either they wanted to get caught, or they’re a lot less competent than you'd expect from a professional sports league.



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