Lacing Up is a weekly column taken from an email conversation between Ashley Gallant and CJ. “Stoosh” Jiuliante. Stoosh is a former Faceoff Factor staff writer and a long-time hockey fan.

Heath Condiotte joins us this week for a truly All-Star discussion.

Ash: The NHL has announced its 2008-09 All-Star teams, and some people (okay, many people) are grumbling about who was left off the list.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Is there someone heading to Montreal who should have been granted a nice little vacation instead? Or perhaps there’s someone who was passed over this year. Or maybe it’s the entire selection process that should be changed…

Heath: I enjoy the All-Star game and skills competition. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I love watching the skills competitions, the new “Young Stars Game”, and even the actual game itself. My biggest gripe is the selection process, which is a total sham. I think it’s time for a major shakeup, and unfortunately my solution involves taking the fan out of the mix. We have two scenarios that will occur time and time again (in this “digital” age) when fans are allowed to decide the outcome of the selection process:

1. Someone completely undeserving will end up making the squad as a joke or a prank by some Internet savvy fans. If you don’t think this can happen, perhaps you forget Rory Fitzpatrick. He came awfully close to being on the starting roster over Nicklas Lidstrom as a write in. For any loyal readers unaware of Rory’s stats that season, they’re probably fairly close to numbers that Joe Melichar (puke) put up in Pittsburgh. Info about the failed attempt is here:

2. The team who has the most Internet-inclined fans will see a group of players in the game, leaving out many deserving players from around the league. Look at Montreal this year, who used the robotic scripts to vote over and over again for their players. Had it not been for some competition from the large Penguins Internet fan-base, they would have owned all 3 starting forward spots, along with the top 2 defenseman spots, and goaltender. As it stands, they still ended up with 4 (a forward, 2 defensemen, and goaltender) which is a total joke—Kovalev has a whopping 32 points this season, putting him high atop the nhl rankings at 56th ;) The only answer I can see to this problem if the NHL decides to keep online fan balloting is to somehow limit votes per ip/email address to 1 per day or 1 per week, etc. But I am sure that programmers can figure out a way around that one too…

My proposed solution is to take the fan balloting away and make selections determined by the Professional Hockey Writers Association similar to the end of year individual awards. Or how about letting the players vote amongst themselves, akin to the NFL Pro Bowl (where the players votes count for 1/3, the coaches votes count for 1/3, and the fans votes count for 1/3? Nothing can be more rewarding for a player than to be elected by his peers! In my mind, both of these solutions would solve the problem of having perennial fan favorites, who simply are not playing a season deserving of the honor, voted into the game (can you say Mike Modano?). The fact that Ryan Whitney, Sergei Gonchar, and Marc Andre Fleury were even on the ballot is a crock. It’s time for change, America! ;)

Final thought—how about an idea similar to that proposed by Rich Hammond, beat writer for the LA Kings:
“ voting for starters is boring. Let the fans vote for the top 42 players, regardless of conference. The two top vote-getters become team captains, and they alternate in selecting players, one by one, on the ice right before the national anthems. Team Malkin vs. Team Crosby.” This to me might be the greatest idea of all time. My only question is this: who is the last “all-star” standing around waiting to be picked?!

Ash: I, too, am a sucker for the ASG. I know a lot of people find it unbelievably boring, but I like how different it is from the usual games, and how relaxed everyone is…not to mention the abundance of interviews, even interviews with players on the ice while they are playing (think Marty Turco from 2 seasons ago). All in all, I think it’s fun to watch.

I agree that the primary problem with the voting system is that fans are allowed to vote as many times as they want. If you wonder why Crosby was able to shatter Jagr’s record for most number of votes, there’s your reason.

I know that a lot of people point fingers at Montreal fans for stuffing the ballot boxes, but Pittsburgh fans are just as guilty. Like you mentioned, just the fact that Fleury, Whitney and Gonchar held on to the end is an indication that something is wrong. Honestly, I think Carey Price deserved to get that all-star spot a lot more than Fleury and I’m happy that he was chosen for the ASG, but my number 1 pick for the east is Tim Thomas.

I think most of the problem would be solved if there was only one vote per e-mail address – though you’re right, there would be the occasional person who could rig something up to stuff the virtual ballot box. But I really like your ’1/3’ idea of letting the players themselves vote in 1/3 of the players, and then the fans and hockey people voting in the other 2/3 of the rosters.

You know, that last idea that you proposed (from Rich Hammond) really got me excited. How amazing would that be, to have the best hockey players in the world on the ice, choosing their own teams in front of millions of people? It’s just like junior high all over again, although I’m sure none of those guys were picked last. Maybe we should forward this idea to Gary Bettman as a suggestion for next year’s ASG...

Stoosh: I love the All-Star Game because right now we hockey fans are being inundated with columns and blog posts treating the flaws in the voting system as if it was some sort of social injustice. Those same writers and bloggers will follow up in a few weeks with the cookie-cutter columns that do nothing but talk about what a joke the game is, how no one cares, no one watches, no hockey fans consider it to be real hockey, how it should just go away, etc.

Irony at its finest.

I’ve always enjoyed the game and the skills competition and part of me says that the fans should still play a role. At its heart, the game is an exhibition and a celebration of its star players. It’s also a reflection of the game the fans want to see, so in that sense I think some of the heat that this whole issue generated was a bit unnecessary. I think some of the critics of this voting process needed to keep in mind that this process was open to every player. Ovechkin’s name was on the ballot just as Crosby’s and Malkin’s was; Pens fans chose to take the five minutes out of their day and vote for Crosby and Malkin, and it’s certainly not their fault if Caps fans didn’t support their own superstar when the same methods were just as easily available and accessible to them.

Going forward, I’m not sure what you can change. I like the change from the “Rookies Game” to the “Youngstars Game” format. The idea of moving the game from mid-season to the very beginning of the season was floated in John Buccigross’s column at this past week, and I like that idea. The ASG would be used to essentially kick off the season and it would be a celebration of the stars based on the statistics and accomplishments from the previous season.

I would also love to see the Legends Game be brought back. Have a league-specific Legends team and a host-specific team square off in a game. How awesome would that be for the fans in Montreal this year? Can you imagine a Legends game in Pittsburgh that brings Lemieux, Jagr, Stevens, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy and Ulf Samuelsson back (we could put Cam Neely and Ray Bourque on the opposing League Legends team just for fun…I keeeeeed, I keeeeeeed)?