If the NHL wants to touch off the mother of all conspiracy theories, it will do the wrong thing and prevent John Scott from playing in the All-Star Game. But the NHL, as usual, doesn’t seem terribly concerned with optics. Because if it had, it would have announced the moment that Scott was traded to the Montreal Canadiens and sent to the minors that his spot as captain of the Pacific Division team in the All-Star Game was secure.
Instead, it issued this wishy-washy statement: “The league is evaluating how this trade impacts the Pacific Division roster.” When reached by thn.com Friday afternoon and asked whether he’d be playing in the game, Scott said, “I have no idea.” But if the league believes it has an out now that Scott is no longer playing for a team in the Pacific Division, that stretches the bounds of credulity. And that’s saying something when you consider it’s the NHL we’re talking about here.
And if I’m John Scott or his agent Ben Hankinson, the first thing I do upon finding out that I’m not playing in the All-Star Game is order the NHL Players’ Association to file a grievance on my behalf. In case you don’t remember, the NHL has added a financial component to the All-Star Game this year, awarding the team that wins the 3-on-3 tournament a pot of $1 million to split among 11 players. That comes out to a tidy sum of $90,909.09. If you’re Jonathan Toews and you’re pulling down $10.5 million this season, that might not seem like much. But if you’re Scott and you’re making $575,000 minus 16 percent escrow, and you don’t have a contract beyond this season, that is a very significant sum of money.
A calls to Hankinson and and an email to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly asking for clarity in the situation were not returned. The NHLPA said it has been in touch with the league and the player and is monitoring the situation, but would not deal in hypotheticals. But one agent was sure there would be grounds for a grievance. “Anything that has been negotiated in the CBA is grieveable if someone feels there is some type of wrong,” the agent said. “They’re taking away his Powerball. He has a 1-in-4 chance to win $90,000 and by not letting him play, they’d be taking that away from him.”
TSN insider Bob McKenzie reported that Scott had already been asked by the Coyotes and the NHL to pull out of the game and he refused. McKenzie also opined that there was no doubt in his mind that this trade included Scott in order to ease the NHL’s problem when it came to Scott’s all-star participation.
If that’s the case, then the NHL looks even worse than it does when it allowed this fiasco to transpire in the first place. Remember, it’s the NHL’s rules everyone is playing by here. John Scott did not ask to be voted into the All-Star Game, in fact when word of his support began to surface he urged fans to vote for teammates Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Max Domi. And the league has already come out and said that it would honor the results of the voting. If the NHL really wanted to do something about it, it would have got involved long before this became an issue. By even contemplating not allowing Scott to play for the Pacific team, it looks like a bunch of bullies who have no regard for the wishes of its fan base. As if three lockouts under the current commissioner hadn’t told fans that already.
If it turns around now and uses this technicality to keep him out of the game, it will not only look like a rather petty bunch, it will be going against its own precedent. At the 1990 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, Bernie Nicholls was traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the New York Rangers the night before the game. Nicholls still played for the Campbell Conference team in the game, despite the fact he had been traded to a Wales Conference team. And in 2003, Sandis Ozolinsh was traded from the Florida Panthers to the Anaheim Ducks just days before the All-Star Game, but was still permitted to represent the Eastern Conference.
And what about its treatment of John Scott? How humiliating is it for him to be put in this situation, twisting in the wind while the NHL decides his fate? Say what you will about him being named to the event, but the fans spoke and the NHL is supposed to listen. It could easily prevent this by allowing fans to vote only for a pre-selected list of players. The right thing for the league to do would be to admit its mistake, live with the consequences and make it right in the future. The more it tries to avoid embarrassment, the more it embarrasses itself.
Instead, it’s creating the impression that it can simply correct its mistakes by twisting a few arms and creating a technicality. That’s not leadership. That’s cowardice of the highest order. And it’s just plain wrong. I never thought I’d say this before, but I want John Scott playing in the All-Star Game more than ever now.