Many people know I've been blogging a long time. In a couple of days (February 10th) I'll reach my eighth anniversary writing about the Tampa Bay Lightning in my blogging capacity.
Yet, I got my appetite wet while writing about the Lightning before blogging entered the mainstream. There's a forgotten place that existed way-back-when from the dot-com boom era (that flared out and went dot-com bust).
You are aware Rivals.com used to cater to general sports, aren't you? Probably not, as it was so long ago. Rivals is now known for its prep sports coverage but, indeed, it had tried to be what SB Nation is now - covering everything in sports with independent publishers covering individual teams. That was when the Web was just beginning to attract the general masses and people were breaking free of the perception that America Online was the Internet.
Rivals.com, before falling down and restructuring, hosted a Tampa Bay Lightning team page by the name of BoltsMag. It was a small but solid group of fans (including Chad Schnarr of BoltProspects.com fame, myself, and a few others of note) who sometimes contributed to the site's content with stories of their own.
It was there that I got my first by-line. I'm not even sure the exact date of publication of the story in question. Unfortunately, the web archives are all but fried for Lightning.rivals.com, and attempting to use the Wayback Machine will only get you a brief flash of the community website before a redirect takes place.
I can say that it was written with the 2001 NHL All-Star game in mind, while reflecting on the 2000 NHL All-Star game and the flaw of the All-Star game format employed at the time.
While the 2011 NHL All-Star Game format introduced us to a new gimmick format that's proved to be popular (captains drafting their teams, using players from both conferences), it isn't a hindrance on the selection process of who makes the All-Star team. Oh, fan voting still results in ballot box stuffing in favor of certain teams and certain players (hello, Rory Fitzpatrick), but the broader All-Star teams aren't handcuffed by demographics.
From 1998-2002, while the NHL tried to capitalize on the popularity of the Winter Olympics, nationalities were part of how teams were compiled in the "North America vs. the World" format. A team of Canadian and American players would be pitted against the players from everywhere else.
North America versus the World would have been so much more if the NHL wasn't mostly North Americans to begin with; they comprised 72.6% of all players in the NHL in 1999-2000. The average percentage of NHL players from North America from 1998 through 2002 was 73.28%.
The All-Star game itself is supposed to highlight the league's best players, and shouldn't have been a dictating factor in why a player was selected to be an All-Star... And yet, in the North America versus the World format, it was.
My story, as I found it saved in a file on my hard drive, is shown, quoted in its entirety, below. The formatting is inconsistent, but you get the gist of what I was trying to say.
One Man Versus "the World"
It's harder than you think to be selected to an NHL All Star team under the current format.
By John Fontana
In recent years, the National Hockey League has departed from a format that pits one [conference] against another to a layout that pairs North American players versus players around the globe in an effort to help generate international fan interest in the 1998 Winter Olympic games. This All-Star game design creates more problems with players than is acknowledged and Tampa Bay Lightning fans were witnesses to this.
Last year's All-Star match-up excluded star players from the 1999-2000 TB roster. Instead of the respectable seasons of then-team captain Chris Gratton or current team captain and NHL wunderkind Vincent Lecavalier being acknowledged, Petr Svoboda was selected. Not that he wasn't a worthy choice, but it's questionable that a defenseman from the 1999-2000 season's poorest defense gets the nod over one of the brightest up and coming stars in the league.
It turns out that selections are sometimes forced due to the new format of North America versus the World. The North American Roster had been filled and the team needing to fill its alternates roster was the World's.... Vinny's from Quebec, Petr's from the Czech Republic, your winner is selected not because he was a better player, but because of his point of origin and not the quality of his game play.
Will this trend continue, where "All Stars" are selected not by the quality of play, but by where they are from? Will Bolt team captain Lecavalier be passed over again because of roster constraints for the North American team? Will the representative of the Lightning (if no one is voted in as a starter for either of the All Star teams) be selected not by the fact he is a star on the Lightning, but because of where he grew up?
Would the Lightning be fairly represented by any other player on the roster besides Vincent? Not a chance.
For the record, the 2000-01 All-Star game had LW Fredrik Modin representing the Lightning on the World team. Knowing the player who was chosen and his oft-overlooked contribution to the Lightning, I can't complain about things that much. Modin was 2nd on the team in scoring in his first season with the Lightning (32 goals, 24 assists, 56 points) which turned out to be second on the team, behind rookie Brad Richards. Lecavalier was a scant 5 points behind Modin (23 goals, 28 assists, 51 points). Vinny's face-of-the-franchise reputation is what inspired my impassioned urging of his selection to the All-Star team.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Things happened, the 51st NHL All-Star game is in the history books, and the world's moved on. It's amusing and odd, though, to reflect on something from so far in the past, knowing that I and the Lightning franchise have gone so far since then.