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How The NHL All-Star Game Highlights The Absurdity Of Sports And Society

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Unlike, I suspect, the majority of the NHL fanbase, I'm a political junkie.

This isn't necessarily a knock on the fanbase. Perhaps it's more of a knock on me.

For the most part, NHL fans seem to dislike politics. The lack of real change or choice in the procedure. The phoniness of the candidates. The charade of it all.

I gather this from conversations with those I watch hockey with and play hockey with. Politics may come up briefly, but the passion and depth of the conversation is lacking.

The few who do care are seemingly lost in the wilderness. Ever listen to Don Cherry talk politics? Don't.

I vote in most elections, abstain from choices between candidates about whom and measures about which I feel I am uneducated. If I've read up on it, and I know what the stakes are, I'll cast a vote. That's the point, right?

Picking a candidate because of his or her party affiliation, removing all real choice and simply pulling that 'D' or 'R' lever, is clueless and apathetic. More apathetic than not voting at all, actually. An act to mask inaction.

But there you have it. To steal an uninspired turn of phrase, it is what it is.

Actively apathetic voting for the NHL All-Star Game is also part of the world we live in. Much like real politics, this isn't in spite of get-out-the-vote drives, but actually directly because of the partisan nature of them.

The Penguins sent a plea to me via email Tuesday morning:

Give your favorite players the chance to play in the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL® All-Star Game in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada by submitting a ballot!

The ballot includes first-time career appearances from Penguins forwards James Neal, Jordan Staal and defenseman Kris Letang. Joining their teammates are ballot veterans Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin.

So is that what it's about? Your "favorite" players? Or the best players?

Is it about voting for the players closest to your heart (political party), regardless of accomplishments (platform), or voting for one of the biggest stars in the game, regardless of their health or play this season (qualifications)?

Is it simply to create dream matchups or a reward for long-term accomplishment? Has that distinction ever been drawn? No. But we'll argue about it forever, and the NHL wins again. Hurrah for controversy.

As per the NHL's most up-to-date information, here would be the six players we the fans (we, the people) selected to this year's All-Star Game.

F- Phil Kessel (TOR)

F - Daniel Alfredsson (OTT)

F- Jason Spezza (OTT)

D - Erik Karlsson (OTT)

D - Dion Phaneuf (TOR)

G - Tim Thomas (BOS)

You may be surprised to know that the game takes place in Ottawa. Or may not.

Tim Thomas' lead over Toronto's James Reimer is pencil-thin, so the goaltender race will go on until the bitter end. As for credentials, Thomas boasts a .939 save percentage (second-best in the league), a 1.94 goals against average (fifth in the league), and four shutouts.

Reimer's .900 save percentage is No. 36 in the league and 3.00 goals against average is also No. 36. He has one shutout and has played seven fewer games than Thomas.

Actually, what's great about Reimer is that, when you look at his numbers statistically, he offers no inherent value to the Maple Leafs.

2011 - James Reimer 17 958 7 4 48 3.01 482 434 .900 1

2011 - Jonas Gustavsson 17 916 9 7 50 3.28 488 438 .898 0

2011 - Ben Scrivens 8 425 2 4 21 2.96 219 198 .904 0

The save percentages are all similar, with .006 separating the best and worst of Toronto's goaltenders. The minutes between Gustavsson and Reimer are nearly identical. All of the goals against averages are only .32 apart. One shutout the entire season, and kudos to Reimer for pitching it.

Yet, there he is. Near the top of the leaderboard. Ron Paul to Thomas' Mitt Romney.

The best part of the so-called fan's choice in these hockey elections? There's so little real choice. The fans pick six of 42 players, or 14 percent, of the participants in the All-Star Game.

But I guess that's the point. We don't know what we're doing, so the people who do know what they're doing will make it right.

And so articles are written analyzing the flaws in the system. How one person can cast 90 votes, or how truly arbitrary the selection process is.

Down party lines, with the most active party winning. Ottawa fans because they're hosting the game. Toronto fans motivated to vote because of their team's hot start and the relatively short drive to Ottawa. Pittsburgh fans because, well, that's what Pittsburgh fans do. "Die-hard!" (It's why four Penguins were selected as starters last year, while only maybe two deserved the distinction.)

Do I have a solution? No. Neither does collegiate football for the Bowl Championship Series. The NFL finds nothing silly about a 12-4 team playing on the road to a 8-8 division "champion" in the playoffs. MLB finds nothing wrong with the league's lack of competitive balance. The NBA? No comment needed. The NHL continues to battle with itself over the inherent danger of intense head trauma. Really.

We live in a farcical world. Sports do a bang up job of continually highlighting that fact. Silly little voting campaigns for All-Star pageants show how much we resent making real choices in the world. Choices for positive change and based upon merit.

I'll vote for that guy on my team! I know him! He signed a piece of paper for me before! He seemed like a nice guy in our three-second conversation!

Yeah, it's just a game. But reflect on how seriously we all take it. Far more seriously than meaningless political discourse.

Think of all the riots after championship games. The riot police were out in Pittsburgh, prepared, when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009. When Joe Paterno got fired, Penn State students took to the streets, defacing property. There have probably been a dozen riots in Los Angeles since Rodney King, and probably all were based on sports. And woe upon you if you're a couch in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Power to the people? I'd rather not.

For more coverage of the NHL All-Star Game, head over to SB Nation's hockey hub.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.