The John Scott Debacle

John Scott

Karsten Erzinger (2L)

Most hockey fans I know have little love for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. After the fallout of the sordid John Scott NHL All­-Star affair, that situation is unlikely to have improved. For those that have not followed the story, it goes as follows:

Last year, the NHL announced changes to the format of the All­-Star game, which would feature a series of 3 on 3 games. Each of the 4 divisions in the NHL will field a team comprised of players from the various teams within those divisions, with the top team fetching a significant cash prize for winning.

While the teams were primarily picked by the league, there was a fan-­voting mechanism that was in hindsight, very poorly implemented. It allowed fans to vote for their favorite players, the winners of the votes would be named the captains of their respective teams. The problem is that there were essentially no limitations on who fans could vote for; if he was a current NHL player, then you could cast a vote for him. The end result? Enforcer John Scott, who is often a healthy scratch, was voted captain of the Pacific Division’s team. Scott has tallied 11 points in 285 NHL games over 9 seasons ­ not exactly all-­star material. That didn’t matter to esteemed members of the public, who apparently thought this was a hilarious joke, albeit one that the league did not seem to appreciate.

The NHL and Scott’s team at the time, the Phoenix Coyotes, pressured him to decline attendance to the game. Scott reasonably refused and soon after found himself traded to the Montreal Canadiens, who promptly sent him to the minors. The NHL then announced that because he was in the minors, he could not play in the All-­Star game. After massive backlash from fans, the league capitulated and have stated that he is allowed to play in the game. A number of sports writers and commentators have noted that it is plausible that the trade was orchestrated by the league itself.

The whole affair has prompted much in the way of opinions and reactions. During his Coach’s Corner segment, Don Cherry blasted the public for voting John Scott into the game in the first place. In his view, they embarrassed Scott and their actions indirectly led to him being traded, which has also meant that Scott must relocate his young family while his wife is pregnant with twins. In addition, because Scott went from being active on the Coyote’s roster to being in the minors on the Canadiens, he will also be taking a substantial pay cut to his existing salary (which is meager by NHL standards). While Cherry also condemned the league, to him the main culprits seemed to be the fans who, in pursuit of a joke, subjected a man and his family to dire real world consequences. Other commentators have cited this saga as further proof that the All-Star game is a joke that shouldn’t exist, while some feel that fan voting should be done away with entirely.

To me, it’s pretty simple. First, the purpose of fan-­voting is so that the fans can have a say about what it is they want to see during the All-­Star game. While the whole purpose of the game is to showcase NHL talent, it is also a celebration of the game that is put on for the benefit of the fans. If fans voted for John Scott because they wanted to see John Scott play in the All­-Star game, then so be it. While Cherry is probably right that the motivation for most was to set up Scott as the butt of a joke (which isn’t that nice) and make a mockery of the All-­Star game itself, that is not the whole story. As many commentators have correctly noted, few actually watch the All­-Star game itself ­ it already is considered a joke to most hockey fans. If the fans want to see Scott in the All­Star game and that attracts more viewers, what’s the harm? By mucking around with this whole affair, the league has only done more damage and pissed off more fans. Furthermore, Scott himself makes a pretty good point when he stated: “I hope everyone who has done my job can take a little bit out of this and say, ‘You know what? Finally, one of us is getting recognized…If not for just fighting all the time, we do bring a lot to the team in terms of doing a lot things that go unseen. It’s nice to get a bit of props once in awhile for that.”

The real villains of this are the league in how they handled the situation. They could have implemented limits on the voting to prevent this from happening, or they simply could have abided by the results of the vote and let things play out. But no, for whatever reason they had to completely mishandle the entire situation, to the detriment of John Scott and his family. While Scott may not be the most highly skilled player to have ever made the NHL, he’s worked hard to earn his spot and he doesn’t deserve to be treated the way he has. Following his trade to Montreal, likely made under pressure from the league, his future NHL prospects are greatly diminished. Bettman and the NHL league should be ashamed of itself and in this instance, the loathing most fans have for Bettman and the league are more than justified.