Project Mayhem: NHL All-Star vote scheme brings rivals together

Puck Daddy

Every time the ballot boxes have opened for the NHL All-Star Game in the Internet voting era, there's been some kind of fan-driven effort to influence the totals in hilarious, disruptive and/or political ways.

The most infamous example was the 2007 "Vote For Rory" campaign, in which beloved journeyman Rory Fitzpatrick was nearly voted in as a starter and the NHL was accused of playing around with vote totals to suppress his candidacy. There were more accusations of chicanery in 2009, when Montreal Canadiens fans flooded the ballot box via a computer script. Last season saw several more fan campaigns with varying degrees of success.

The voting for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game began at midnight on Sunday night, in which fans vote in three forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender as "starters." As in the past, there are also write-in candidates for players left off the initial ballot.

Already, there are two fan campaigns for the 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa. New York Rangers fans have a surging protest vote after Dan Girardi was left off the ballot. (And really, it's not an All-Star Game if a stay-at-home defenseman doesn't make the cut, right?)

But there's another campaign that's a bit more elaborate and mischievous.

It's called Project Mayhem. It was meant to piss off Ottawa Senators fans. Then things got really interesting when Ottawa fans started supporting this All-Star Game vote sabotage themselves.

The idea sprung from the mind of Jason 'Chemmy' Orach, who writes on the Toronto Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets and dabbles in the dark arts of snark on Twitter as @felixpotvin.

The plan, named in honor of the chaotic scheme from "Fight Club", goes as follows:

A coordinated mass effort to vote in a lineup of ex-Senators players like Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, Dany Heatley, Ray Emery, Martin Havlat and Chris Campoli, as a way to goose Ottawa about its mismanagement over the years.

Dany Heatley, starting an All-Star Game in Ottawa. That's like a grove's-worth of lemon juice squeezed into an open cut …

Chemmy told us the inspiration came from "Vote For Rory" and the Habs ballot stuffing, along with the understandable aggression that exists within the Battle of Ontario.

"The Senators are a team that proclaimed themselves a dynasty only to immediately shoot themselves in the foot the first time cap problems reared their ugly head. Bryan Murray had to choose between Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden and picked the guy that's playing in the AHL now, not the perennial Norris candidate," he said.

But … it's Ottawa. Haven't they suffered enough?

"I'd agree that Senators fans have suffered enough already, from losing the Stanley Cup on a Chris Phillips own goal to watching their star players demand to leave town," said Chemmy, "and yet the organization claims Stanley Cups won before they existed, which makes them an easy target."

Now that the ballot's been released, the Project is in motion. Chemmy believes Zdeno Chara will get in on merit. The primary focus appears to be Dany Heatley, who requested a trade from the Senators two years ago and is now playing for the Minnesota Wild.

"The difference between this and the Vote for Rory campaign is that Dany Heatley is a star (albeit one in decline) in the NHL. Unlike Rory Fitzpatrick he's a guy who's scored 50 goals twice and the NHL promoted him in San Jose pretty heavily. He's actually an all-star,'" said Chemmy.

But as the plan was released and picked up some notice in October, a strange thing happened: Ottawa fans weren't offended by this Leafs fan-instigated movement.

They actually supported it.

Multiple Senators blogs (and one Flyers blog) backed the effort, finding it humorous and agreeing with its politics. If it was going to be a goof on their team at their All-Star Game, they wanted to be in on the joke.

Did they want to deflate the mockery by laughing along with it? Did they want to join in on a protest?

Are they complete masochists?

We reached out to two Sens bloggers to figure out the psychology of this thing: Darren McLeod of Silver Sevens and Steven Smith of SensTown. Here's our short Q&A.

The reaction from some Ottawa fans to Project Mayhem has been to embrace the idea rather than see it as an insult or sabotaging the All-Star Game. Why is that? What was your reaction to the project?

DM: I posted my reaction when Project Mayhem first started making the rounds on Twitter, and it was very positive. People forget (or don't realize) that outside of Dany Heatley, Senators fans don't hate these former players.

To me, Project Mayhem offers two things: it reiterates to the rest of the league how many great players the Ottawa Senators organization has produced in the last twenty years, and it allows a class reunion of sorts where we can briefly exist in a bizarro universe where Ottawa's general managers did not make the mistake of letting these players go.

We can finally see what a Zdeno Chara - Erik Karlsson pairing would look like, or see Marty Havlat and Marian Hossa playing together again. It would be a pretty fitting celebration for the Ottawa Senators' 20th anniversary season -- why wouldn't a Senators fan want to see that?

SS: My reaction was to laugh. It was funny and if it happened I wouldn't really mind. Every franchise has a bunch of ex players who have gone on to do well, this could have been for any franchise.

I personally find it so ridiculous that it's funny. It's no secret that the Leafs and Sens fan bases don't care for each other, and it's nice to know that we're always on their mind. I also don't really have any faith that Leaf Nation can pull this off.

Is there one former Senators you'd like to see start in Ottawa more than anyone else? Why?

DM: Alexei Yashin.

Just kidding -- he's not an NHL All-Star caliber player anymore.

My actual pick is Wade Redden.

SS: If I had to pick I'd probably say Marty Havlat. I've always liked him and his game when healthy. He is a character and during his time in Ottawa was always a game breaker with his speed and skill. Though I'm not too sure it's realistic for him to make it, it would be nice to see him complete a comeback season and suit up at the ASG where he started. He is still quite popular amongst the Sens fans and you always see a bunch of his No. 9 jerseys kicking around games still.

Have your feelings on this project changed since the start of the season? Ottawa's a .500 team with at least two players (Spezza, Karlsson) that seem to have all-star aspirations -- has the Project lost a little luster since the Sens aren't that awful? Do you still support it?

DM: Although I find it funny that Milan Michalek is, at this point in the season, more deserving of an All Star spot than Dany Heatley, it doesn't change my position on Project Mayhem. I support it all the same, as the more Senators (past and present) on the roster, the more fun it will be for the Ottawa fans.

SS: Mine haven't really changed because while I laughed at it when I first heard about it, I never took it seriously. Spezza and Karlsson definitely have a chance and Milan Michalek could be included if he keeps it up, plus we have Alfie who Sens fans desperately want to be the captain at the ASG, so it seems very unrealistic for a .500 team to have 4 potential all stars.

It has definitely lost whatever luster it had, especially with the supposedly awful Sens taking the last 2 games from the supposedly amazing Leafs. I imagine it was mostly started by Leaf supporters who anticipated another awful season in the works and needed to bash the Senators to feel better about their 44 years and counting, and their zero playoff appearances since the lockout.

I never really supported it but I still don't think it would be that bad to see a bunch of former Sens come back to where it started for the ASG.

Finally, will Project Mayhem ultimately succeed or fail and why?

DM: I actually think it will fail simply because Ottawa Senators fans have embraced it. Those who started it were doing it to antagonize Senators fans, and now they've realized that Senators fans are on board with the idea. So where's the motivation for them?

SS: I think it will ultimately completely fail because fans are selfish and lazy and they will vote for their own players and won't care enough to go to the trouble to do this, plus it's the Leafs fans we're talking about here. No way they have the competence to get this done. Even if they somehow do, I don't think it will be the big burn they think it is. It will just be a walk through memory lane.

• • •

Was Chemmy surprised to see Sens fans supporting this?

"Senators fans want to see guys they liked that the organization traded come back, and good for them I guess. They're a small market team that lobbied hard for the salary cap that eventually ended their championship window. It might be nice for them to see what they wanted all along," he said.

So the fragile alliance between warring fan bases begins in earnest. Will Dany Heatley start an All-Star Game in Ottawa? Can Ray Emery, a backup goalie in Chicago, make it in as a starter? Can Craig Hartsburg coach one of the teams?

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