Ducks fans get out the vote; can Price hold off Fleury in East?

With just under two weeks left in the NHL All-Star Game voting, things are getting downright chaotic; at least in comparison to the Detroit Red Wings/Montreal Canadiens voting blocs we witnessed for most of the season. Check out the nuttiness in the all-star defensemen voting for both conferences, taken at 10:10 a.m. EST this morning:

Sergei Gonchar could pass one of the Canadiens before the voting closes on Jan. 2, but he wouldn't be eligible to start because of the "a player must have played 20 games by January 2, 2009" rule. Ditto Ryan Whitney, should he see a surge in support.

For ages, the one-two in the Western Conference voting had been the Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom and Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames. Yet it's Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks making the big move, with Brian Campbell of the Chicago Blackhawks giving Dion sloppy fifths in the rankings.

The Ducks and Hawks fans have been stuffing the ballot box like a Christmas turkey over the last two weeks. Is it time we just go back to the paper ballots?

Regarding the Ducks and Blackhawks, check out the forwards' voting in the West:

Considering their lead since the start and the fact that they're, you know, Detroit Red Wings, it's absolutely stunning that Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and Henrik Zetterberg have all toppled out of the top three in favor of Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

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Well, stunning until you realize that the NHL All-Star Game fan voting is now an exercise in keyboard pounding, nimble text-messaging and robotic auto-vote programs; reading about Crosby's new all-star voting "record" over Jaromir Jagr makes one yearn for the days of paper ballots and hanging chads.

For example, check out the goalie races:

The Ducks fans have put Jean-Sebastien Giguere over Roberto Luongo as the Western Conference starter. The Penguins fans had put Marc-Andre Fleury in over Carey Price as the East starter, until Price surged back ahead last night.

Even if Fleury gets to the 20-game mark (he's at 16 now), neither he nor Giguere -- who's been outplayed by his backup goalie for at least the third time in his career --deserve to be an all-star starter. Not in the sense that their stats merit the honor, and not in the sense that fans want to see them play.

We're rather torn about this age of electronic fan voting. We are, of course, talking about a silly exhibition game that -- outside of contract bonuses and the few million fans who make time to tune in every season -- really doesn't mean a hell of a lot in the grand scheme.

So on the one hand, it's exhilarating to see certain fan bases get mobilized and passionate about supporting their players. (One baffling, nagging question about this year's voting: Why hasn't Alexander Ovechkin ever gotten any traction from the net-savvy Washington Capitals fans?) If these fans vote in seemingly "unworthy" players, the worthy ones will still be named to the game by coaches and everyone has fun watching the numbers rise and fall in real time.

That said, if Fleury makes the cut as a starting goalie, that means Tim Thomas or Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist or Mike Smith or Ryan Miller or Alex Auld will not, because there's only three slots for goalies. Which really sort of sucks for a guy like Auld.

As far as honors go, being an NHL All-Star starter doesn't mean as much as baseball or basketball, but means more than the Pro Bowl. (Then again, being the 10th caller for Riverdance tickets means more than being selected for the Pro Bowl.) 

But shouldn't it mean something, to the point where this robo-voting and ballot stuffing somewhat tarnishes the game? Was the Canadiens' fans greatest sin using computer programs to vote, or was it exposing this entire NHL 2.0 voting process as an unbalanced farce; a tradition carried on by Ducks, Blackhawks and Penguins fans?

Because how is it that the Philadelphia Flyers are fourth in attendance and yet have just one player (Kimmo Timonen) among the leaders in the East?

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