(Three chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association will boycott the voting on many of the NHL's top individual awards, including MVP. The boycott is to protest the New York Islanders' decision earlier this season to revoke, without explanation, the media credential of Chris Botta, then a senior writer for AOL FanHouse and now a correspondent for The New York Times. He also writes an independent blog about the Islanders.)
As the NHL’s 2010-11 regular season winds down, and with voting on the league’s 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 NHL’s 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 league’s savvy fan base understands the need for, and desires, independent and objective coverage that doesn’t pass through league and team filters.
Our concern is that this decision, if allowed to stand and become precedent, signals an end to the league’s agreement that independent and objective coverage not only benefits its fan base, but the NHL itself.
The PHWA’s 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 NHL’s 2010-11 regular-season awards. That voting selects the winners of most of the league’s 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 PHWA’s role as an independent and objective voting bloc in continuing to bolster the credibility of the league’s awards.
-- Terry Frei is a columnist for the Denver Post and a vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He wrote this statement to reflect sentiments that PHWA chapter chairs expressed during a conference call Sunday.