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New York hockey writers will not vote for year-end awards in protest of blogger’s revoked credentials

Apr 2, 2011, 1:35 AM EDT

Michael Grabner

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.

  1. demons87 - Apr 2, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    I think Kevin Allen and the rest of the writers should join in the protest to really put pressure on the Islanders. He looks at it as an isolated incident, but it could have been his credentials or someone from another city. They need to look at the bigger picture.

    The Islanders are right when they say that the non votes would hurt individual players, but everyone not voting on the awards would put pressure on the Islanders because the NHL wouldn’t want to see their awards not handed out.

  2. bcjim - Apr 2, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    **”This unprecedented action taken by the New York chapter members of the PHWA, is not hurting the Islanders organization…”**

    Are they retarded?

    Clearly if Grabner were to win the Calder, it would help the Islanders. Image wise, PR-wise, etc. Therefore, him not winning an award he otherwise might, *will* hurt the Islanders organization.. one would have to conclude.

  3. Sean Boulton - Apr 2, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    I’d say the most interesting thing about the Islanders statement is actually in the opening paragraph (can be found in the link), where they describe this as a dispute over “the Islanders decision to not issue credentials to a blogger”. “Revoke credentials from” would clearly be a much more accurate description of the situation than “not issue credentials to”, albeit less supportive of the Isles spin.

    Good on all three NY-area chapters for taking a stand, and shame on both the PHWA and the NHL for not doing something about this when it first happened.

  4. Brooks D. Simpson - Apr 2, 2011 at 6:28 PM

    There are better ways to make this protest. The Islanders may have been wrong to revoke the credentials (although Botta’s skilled at making himself the story), but this particular form of boycott simply hurts players. It doesn’t punish Botta’s protagonist, Garth Snow, or the organization as a whole.

    Snow had already been giving Botta a cold shoulder, and Snow’s had issues with some other reporters. This is a clash of egos. That said, Snow could have handled Botta without excluding him. Ask Larry Brooks.

    After all, Trevor Gillies is expendable. :)

  5. mattcaputo - Apr 4, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    The organizations are responsible to the players who are their investments. If they don’t want Chris Botta to come to their games – meanwhile, he’s passionate as heck about the job and an invaluable resource to Islanders fans – they should be willing to part with an NHL Award winner. Who cares if Grabner wins the trophy? There is one less guy out of the very, very few people in the world that cover the Islanders.

    Fans across the country forget, the Islanders have one true beat writer, Katie Strang from the Newsday. After that, none of the other media outlets cover the Islanders every day. This certainly hurt the Islanders fans who seemed to love Botta. It’s hard to say if Botta was ever bad for the organization. There would be zero regular coverage of the Islanders if Botta didn’t do the blogging he does.

    Garth snow said Botta became unwelcome because he’d “made himself the story.” I find that hard to believe. The story was the Islanders were amidst a horrible losing streak early in the season and Botta wanted to give Snow a chance to speak to fans and explain the team’s situation via sit-down interview. As a journalist, I’d said Botta’s idea was ambitious, but not outrageous and probably would have made for good PR. Snow declined and banished Botta when he reported so. For this, Botta is kicked out.

    He was a blogger that was originally hired by the Islanders to blog. SNY took over his blog and the New York Times hires him in various capacities, including to write for their very well done Slap Shot blog and in their print edition. I do not know Botta at all, but clips in the New York Times and regular attendance to games and practices makes him a journalist in my eyes.

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