Friday morning, the New York Rangers chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) announced that they will abstain from voting in the year-end awards as a form of protest. The issue for the writers was when the New York Islanders revoked the credentials of blogger Chris Botta. Botta is known for writing at AOL Fanhouse, Islanders Point Blank, and the New York Times Slap Shot blog. After the Rangers chapter voted 7-3 to boycott the year-end voting process, the Islanders chapter of the same organization voted 5-0 to join their brethren and also declined to participate.
Andrew Gross of The Record in North Jersey explained the New York Rangers chapter’s position in a post today and how they view this as a bigger dispute with long lasting ramifications:
“As our chapter chairman, Larry Brooks of the New York Post, has said on several occasions this season, what is the point of paying dues if the national organization is not willing to protect its own.
The NHL, too, has turned a blind eye, essentially indicating they had no jurisdiction over the Islanders’ decision. I don’t expect the NHL to be the media’s protector. But the Botta decision sets such a bad precedent the NHL should have exerted whatever pressure it could.”
There was plenty of discussion and controversy when the Islanders revoked Botta’s credentials earlier this year. According to the reports, the Islanders revoked his credentials because of critical comments that he’d made in the direction of the Islanders organization. Even if this was the entire story, the PHWA would not look kindly towards one of their own seeing their access revoked. From all indications, Botta has been a responsible member of the New York media—if not critical. Of course, there’s more to the story here. Before working full-time as a blogger/journalist in the New York area, Botta worked in the public relations department for the New York Islanders. Yes, the same New York Islanders who cut-off his access. The drama, the intrigue!
Craig Custance of the Sporting news relayed PHWA president Kevin Allen’s comments:
“Although the Rangers’ chapter doesn’t reflect the sentiment of the other 30 chapters, I’m respectful of its decision. In America, the idea of using one’s vote as a means of protest is as old as the country itself. And the issue here is important. The PHWA doesn’t believe that an NHL team should be able to deny access to one of our members. Chris Botta is one of our members. And he was denied access by the New York Islanders.”
There are two sides to this story. On one hand, the PHWA is standing up for one of its respected members. One of the few weapons in their arsenal is for the writers to boycott the year-end awards. They disagree with the Islanders’ move earlier in the year; the Islanders never reinstated Botta’s access, so the PHWA is making their statement for everyone to see.
On the other hand, the Islanders believe (and the NHL agrees) that issuing credentials falls under their jurisdiction, and theirs alone. Instead of simply ignoring the bad publicity, the Islanders’ PR department issued a refreshingly honest statement on the matter.
“This unprecedented action taken by the New York chapter members of the PHWA, is not hurting the Islanders organization or changing our stance on the past matter. Instead it is directly affecting the various players that rely on these votes to earn nominations. Players such as Michael Grabner, who is considered as one of the frontrunners for the Rookie of the Year award, Frans Nielsen who is considered a possible nominee for the Selke Trophy or Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who could win the Vezina Trophy, will not receive votes from New York media members who watch these players every game.
Grabner will never have a 30-plus-goal rookie season again. In the case of Nielsen, his seven shorthanded goals this year are the most since Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards, who also scored seven tallies in 2008-09, when he was nominated for the Selke Trophy.
It is unfair to punish the players that had no direct impact on the decision made by the Islanders organization. The Islanders request that the New York members of the PHWA change their position and vote for those NHL players who deserve consideration for an NHL award. By doing so, the New York members of the PHWA will recognize the players that rightfully deserve the chance to have their name considered among the league’s elite.”
There are two things that are interesting about the Islanders’ comments. First and foremost, if the Isles are willing to continue to hold this position in the face of all the negative publicity, I’ll go out on a limb and assume the organization isn’t going to change their position on the subject. In the statement, they not only acknowledge their position, but also reiterated their take.
Additionally, the Isles noted how the boycott will effect individual players who are up for awards. Michael Grabner is tied for league lead in rookie goal scoring (31) and is 3rd among NHL rookies with 48 points. Even though the Islanders are the ones who provoked the action by the PHWA, it looks like it will be individual players who suffer the consequences.
Since this has been an issue debated in the past, we wanted to throw this out to the readers for debate. Is this kind of boycott a productive statement and a noble sign of solidarity, or should the PHWA show their disapproval in some other manner? Let us know in the comments.