The Caps, Ray Emery and three stars

November 7, 2013

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Okay, this is like a week late, but any time a fine upstanding scribe from a fine upstanding sports town like Philadelphia is lobbing accusations that a local franchise is being untoward with its selections of players of the game, we sort of can’t ignore it.

As you know, the Flyers and Capitals brawled last Friday, a fight punctuated by Philly goalie Ray Emery pounding Washington’s Braden Holtby on the head, despite Holtby saying he’d rather not fight. As you also know, the Philadelphia Daily News’s Frank Seravalli was in charge of the three stars that night, and he handed the third one to Emery, whose only positive contribution to the game was hitting an unwilling combatant in the head repeatedly.

As you also probably know, Seravalli later went on the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast to defend himself.

“It wasn’t a joke vote at all,” he said of his decision. “Honestly, the way that I look at three stars, is that for the most part they’re for the home fans. And not that I’m about catering and pandering to a fan base, but I found the entire night and what happened entertaining. And to me, it’s an entertainment industry, and what happened was totally within the rulebook. The league rules designate players to be aggressors up to three or four times a season. To me, it was a circus of a game, and I found that part of it to be certainly entertaining….As far as I can tell, from all the that players I talked to, none of them have a problem with the way things were handled. And I found it to be an entertaining situation, so I voted him as the third star….I certainly didn’t mean it to mock the game or disrespect the game, but I could see why you could think that. I happened to find it entertaining.

“Three stars have been kind of a joke for a long time,” he later said, justifying his decision, which he had defended as not a joke vote at all. “I mean, I kind of look no further in this situation than the team that the Flyers played against. The Capitals as a team actually select their own three stars. I went back and looked at some of their selections just even their season. I mean, I just looked at some of the Caps games this season. They had two games in a row at home; they lost one to Colorado on Oct. 12, 5-1; a Caps player was still the third star. [Paul] Stastny and [Gabriel] Landeskog each had two points; neither one of them were a star.”

This is true. Stastny and Landeskog both had two assists in that game. Eric Fehr — who scored Washington’s lone goal — was the third star. I’m not sure whether two assists are better than one goal, but maybe it’s a close call. Some might argue that either accomplishment is worth more than giving up four goals and punching someone in the head, but maybe that’s crazy talk.

Anyhow, the point is, I think it’s only fair to explain how Washington selects its three stars. The stars are usually submitted to the Game Operations department with about five minutes left in regulation; the Game Ops people prefer to insert them into the script before the game is over. The team’s media relations department will often submit different scenarios if the game is tied late in regulation, to account for various outcomes.

Some teams in the NHL use media members to select the three stars, but then make changes to the selections themselves when late circumstances dictate a change. Other teams leave things entirely up to the media. And still others choose the three stars themselves, as media members are often difficult to track down when they’re on deadline late in games.

A former Caps spokesman recalled going through several different processes while with the team; some media members preferred to be anonymous because of potential controversial selections, and late goals or overtime results were a perennial issue. The team would thus take an informal survey to get a consensus, and then make late tweaks as necessary.

While Seravalli evidently thinks the Caps’ process is flawed, it’s worth noting that when Saturday’s game with the Panthers at Verizon Center went to overtime, the two goalies were the first two stars — first the winning Neuvirth, and second the losing Clemmensen.

The last time the Capitals lost at home — on Oct. 16, a 2-0 decision to the Rangers — the team handed all three stars to New York. So the biased home-cooking Capitals gave three stars to the visitors in a 2-0 loss, but the noble and unbiased Philadelphia media did not do the same in a 7-0 drubbing.

Seravalli did tell the podcast that the Flyers have asked him not to participate in three stars selection any more. And he also explained why he didn’t choose Holtby for one of the stars, despite the Caps posting a 7-0 shutout.

“He didn’t even have to be good,” Seravalli said. “The Flyers didn’t do anything to make his night hard.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · November 7, 2013