John Scott (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
After reflecting on the situation for three days, the NHL finally announced that John Scott would be appearing as captain of the Pacific Division team in the All-Star Game, which was really its only option.
The one saving grace from the John Scott Fiasco of 2016™ is that the hockey world will almost certainly never have to experience the likes of it ever again. Nothing has been decided at the NHL level, but it would be ludicrous to think the league would not take steps to avoid this embarrassment ever again, either by allowing fans to vote for All-Star Game participation only on a pre-selected list of candidates or lessening the weight given to the fan vote.
So no more silly campaigns that leave the league looking like a village idiot. It strikes one, though, that hockey fans are the only ones who do these things. Other leagues have fan voting to select their participants and you don’t see utility infielders, bench warmers or third-stringers involved. Must have something to do with the product on the ice. When the game is a joke, people treat it as such. Perhaps the 3-on-3 format will do something to rectify that, so let’s give it a chance.
The other saving grace is that it’s clear the NHL is now absolved of any accusations that it engineered Scott’s trade from the Arizona Coyotes to the Montreal Canadiens to create a loophole that would keep him out of the game. (Or if it did, at least that it realized what a massive public relations blunder it created. Either way, the league saves some serious face here.)
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the Coyotes including Scott in any deal they see fit, nor was there anything nefarious in the Canadiens taking him and dispatching him to the American League. The fact remains that Scott is a marginal NHL player whom most hockey people could argue should not be in the best league in the world in the first place, let alone its showcase event. He wasn't even in the lineup for the two games the St. John's IceCaps played this past weekend. Players have a firm grasp of the risk-reward system that drives professional sports long before they sign up for work there. Yes, athletes are often treated like pieces of meat, but at least it’s almost always prime rib.
The unconscionable thing would have been to execute this trade to keep Scott from participating in an All-Star Game in which he did no lobbying and was conducted under the NHL’s own rules. It was bad enough the NHL left Scott twisting in the unforgiving winter Newfoundland winds for a couple of days before it made its decision. The right thing would have been for the league to declare immediately that despite the trade and demotion, it was prepared to stand by a voting process that installed Scott in a fair and legitimate manner.
In reality, the league likely looked at its options and all of them were bleak. There are at least two times precedents it set in the first place – 1989 with Bernie Nicholls and 2003 with Sandis Ozolinsh – where the player was traded from one conference to another prior to the game and was still allowed to play in the game. The league’s own deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, was widely quoted as saying, “As long as the voting is legitimate, we will honor the results.” It also had the very real possibility of facing a grievance from the NHL Players’ Association on behalf of the player, since there is a $1 million prize up for grabs for the team that wins. Based on an 11-player roster, that’s almost $91,000 per player, which is a significant sum for a player such as Scott, who will make $575,000 minus 16 percent escrow this season and likely won’t get another NHL deal.
Of course, you could argue that Scott’s inclusion on the Pacific team diminishes its chances of winning a skill-based 3-on-3 tournament, but that’s not really the point. Aside from the possible financial compensation, Scott is entitled as an All-Star Game participant to revel in the experience in its entirety. And for those who feat that Scott will for time immemorial be known as an NHL all-star, that is not the case, nor will it be for any other player who suits up in Nashville. An all-star by definition is a player who is named to the first or second all-star team at the end of the season, not someone who plays in the All-Star Game.
So now John Scott will be able to go have his fun and enjoy the experience, one that will in all likelihood be his last ever as an NHL player. And then we’ll never have to deal with an ugly imbroglio like this one ever again.