John Scott belongs in All-Star Game, NHL must make it right

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman responds to questions during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman responds to questions during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

John Scott should play in the NHL All-Star Game, unless he chooses not to do so. 

He should be the captain of the Pacific Division, after winning the fan vote. He should be the Arizona Coyotes’ representative, just as Sandis Ozolinsh still represented the Florida Panthers after being traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2003, and Bernie Nicholls represented the Los Angeles Kings after being traded to the New York Rangers in 1990.

That the leading vote-getter in the fan balloting can’t participate in the event – through a technicality or more nefarious reasons – renders the entire convention as futile. Which is fine for the NHL, we imagine, as the League has slowly taken away “the will of the fans” in an event that ostensibly theirs for the last decade: Going from 12 players voted in during previous incarnations of the All-Star Game down to just four in 2015-16.

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We’re not sure what the next incarnation of fan voting will be. We’re sure it’s going to be a [expletive] mess thanks to an enraged and motivated electorate. 

There were two phases of the John Scott campaign. There was the ballot-stuffing itself, a movement promoted by our podcast, that of Steve Dangle and then taken to incredible heights by the Reddit hockey board. No one is seeking to ret-con why that happened: As a joke, like electing the class clown as class president; as an affront to the NHL; as pure anarchy; but also as a way to add a level of entertainment and intrigue to an event that’s lacked it.

And then Phase 2 was the aftermath, when the influence of the fans ended and the decisions made by Scott, the Arizona Coyotes and the National Hockey League would dictate how it was going to play out.

With due respect to Don Cherry, calling the fans “jerks” and blaming them for the embarrassment that’s landed Scott in Newfoundland is lazy and nonsensical – unless we’re all suddenly endowed with the power to trade players and/or demote them to the AHL.

This could have gone down differently. The League could have embraced the anomaly’s potential to create hype for the game, as an entry point for fans that have actively avoided watching the All-Star Game on an (semi-)annual basis. But instead, they took the petulant road: Ignoring the voting in the hopes that it would ebb; actively discouraging fan balloting on its website by burying mentions of it; and then refusing to fully embrace it when Scott won in a romp – perhaps because they already knew they’d never allow him to step on the ice.

It was all a grand miscalculation, another in an unending series of decisions in which the “hockey guys” running the NHL show a basic disdain for the fans and a basic misapprehension about what we want to see.

Only this time it’s not a few people grumbling about how Boston and Minnesota shouldn’t be featured on “Rivalry Night.” This time it’s palpable anger and discontent from fans who feel their votes were tossed in a landfill (again) and, more importantly, about how John Scott’s been treated in this situation – his only sin being that he’s a marginal hockey player whose candidacy for the All-Star Game captured the attention of fans, for whatever their motivations.

Which is to say that while the NHL was desperately protecting the “integrity” of its new All-Star Game format, it managed to create more negative buzz for the event than it’s ever had.

They didn’t want the “joke” told, and yet they managed to insult the audience anyway.

There are fans calling for boycotts. There are petitions.  Check out #FreeJohnScott and tell me it’s “a few wise guys with access to the Internet prevailed on fans to embarrass the NHL,” as Larry Brooks, another guy who hasn’t paid for a ticket since the Reagan administration, opined. 

At this point, I’m assuming Scott’s not participating in the All-Star Game. Bob McKenzie indicated that if he’s not ruled ineligible, then his will is broken and he’ll decline. If that’s the case, then we get to yet another important decision that the NHL will undoubtedly bungle: How to attempt to make this right.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet offered one such solution last night:

According to a couple of sources, the NHL offered Scott’s family a free trip to the game — the ability to participate in the weekend without play. It was rejected. What’s uncertain is if that offer still exists. (The league has not commented.) It’s also uncertain if the league added other incentives, such as a winner’s share of the All-Star money or another family vacation at another time.

… It’s ugly, and everyone’s emotional right now, which makes it a harder fix. But, a solution, if I may: Invite him to the weekend, heck make it a secret, so it’s a surprise. Enjoy the awesome city of NashVegas and take selfies with anyone who wants. Let him (and his family) come out on the ice wearing a Pacific Division captain’s jersey. Get an ovation.

Then, pull out another jersey and say, “Thank you very much for your support. Now, I’m going to enjoy the weekend while watching captain Drew Doughty/Mark Giordano/Corey Perry/Daniel Sedin lead the Pacific Division to three-on-three glory.”

Look, I don’t think anything short of full participation is going to make this John Scott situation right in my eyes and the eyes of too many NHL fans. But Friedman’s right: It’s ugly. An annoying novelty at the All-Star Game has been inflated into a repellent moment for the NHL.

There has to be some happy middle ground here. But based on their cantankerous reaction to John Scott winning the fan vote, I question if the NHL has the desire to find it.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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