The wisdom of hockey crowds?

The decision by the Montreal Canadiens this season to allow the fans to pick the three stars of each game, by voting online or via a mobile application, is causing a stir – and significant debate – among hockey fans.

On the one hand, many are lauding the move for getting the fans involved. After all, there are no fans more passionate than Habs fans (says this Habs fan). Montreal is a city with three and a half million general managers, where every single fans believes that they know best. The three stars, traditionally selected by the media, were usually met with barely more than an eyeblink. Now, people can participate.

But is this really such a good idea?

The three stars, though sometimes questionable, usually reflected actual game performance. The goalie with the stellar performance, the guy with the game-winning OT goal, the d-man who blocked key shots.

Now, they will be decided by a simple popularity contest, virtually ensuring that the opposing team gets shut out and that fan favourites (such as local boy Maxime Lapierre, or wunderkind PK Subban) get a bump in the votes no matter what happens on any given night.

And it’s not as though the stars are completely meaningless. League awards and even financial bonuses get decided based on star rankings. With the fans choosing, it’s hard to argue that these things should continue.

Anyone who’s ever been to a hockey game – in the crowd, or even watching from the pub – knows that hockey crowds are anything but wise. Us fans, despite what we might like to think, are often more passionate than we are smart. We boo the refs for calls that don’t go our way, deserved or not. We cheer more loudly for checks, hits and fights than we do for smart plays. Hell, we even shamefully booed the American national anthem during the playoffs. And if there’s any question about how this three-star voting will look, we need only point to the All-Star Game online ballot box stuffing incidents for evidence of what happens when you put things to a vote.

But maybe the move is sheer brilliance. After all, what does it matter if the three stars are reflective of actual performance on the ice? Isn’t it more important to tap into the fans’ passion? Professional hockey is, after all, about entertainment. We’re not judging Olympic figure skating here; we’re voting for who entertained us the most. And is that not deserving of a reward, however nominal?

Personally, I think this is a gimmick, and maybe one that is doomed to fail. But the sheer amount of conversation that it’s generating proves that it was a smart move regardless of the outcome. It raises the question, though: If you put things to a crowd, do they need to be wise?

(The three stars of last night’s painful OT loss to the Bolts, incidentally, were Ryan Malone, Carey Price, and Tomas Plekanec. Malone’s appearance as first star wasn’t due to the fans being smarter or more magnanimous than we thought, but due to an override rule designed to automatically grant the first star to the OT goal-scorer, regardless of fan voting. Another questionable decision.)