The biggest news to emerge from Elliotte Friedman’s report that the NHL will not alter its All-Star Game voting policies after the John Scott controversy last season? That there are still pundits that believe it was “a disaster” for hockey.
“How disappointing. I disagree with you Elliotte: I do think that it was a disaster, John Scott going to the All-Star Game in Nashville,” said Kelly Hrudey of Sportsnet. “I know the NHL thinks that it’s a great PR move, but it was a terrible decision. It chips away at the history of what the All-Star Game is and for many years players have cherished that honor to go. To make a mockery of it was wrong.”
Now, one thing we learned during the John Scott affair was that there are varying degrees of nonsensical backlash about it.
You had ‘never played the game!’ troglodytes like Jeremy Roenick who trashed the voters as “not real hockey fans” before trying to bro it up with Scott in Nashville.
But then you have people like Hrudey whose outrage was based on an event that no longer exists. (And, let’s face it: Having been one of those guys that never had a chance to play in one. Not a knock; just a potential motivation for his views on it.)
When Hrudey played, the All-Star Game did actually mean something to players. Now they beg out for a few days of vacation. It did carry a certain gravitas. Now we have the Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey that have rendered the novelty of seeing enemies playing on the same line as passé. It was a “midseason classic” like other sports have. Now we’re on at least the fifth different format in 20 years, the last two involving a fantasy draft and a 3-on-3 tournament.
Whatever All-Star Game it is that Kelly Hrudey thinks John Scott sullied, it’s being played in some alternate reality. The one we have here is trivial to the point where its existence has been debated.
But after stripping away that context, the idea that the John Scott stunt was anything but a success is a demonstrable falsehood. It earned the NHL All-Star Game massive mainstream attention, even beyond the sports media – hell, it was on NPR! It set a ratings record on NBCSN. The NHL sold out of John Scott gear. The All-Star Game felt like it had actual stakes, and was actually fun.
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better; but hey, they’re going to try.
Now, the John Scott thing wasn’t a fun time behind the scenes for the NHL. (Believe me, they’ve told me this. Pretty much every chance they’ve gotten, and sometimes in rather, ahem, candid terms.) So the expectation, and the early indication, was that the NHL would change the All-Star voting format again to restrict fan choices and avoid another “Vote for John Scott” situation.
But Friedman said on Saturday that it’s no longer going to happen. “So if you were expecting that this kind of write-in thing would not be able to happen again … I’ve been told no substantive changes,” he said. (Note: Scott wasn’t a write-in. He was on the full ballot.)
This is really, really smart for the NHL. For a couple of reasons.
Obviously, hockey fans and media would have blasted any reactionary changes to the All-Star Game voting after John Scott because, well, it was one of the most unintentionally successful things to happen to the NHL since snow fell during the first Winter Classic. So keeping the same voting format avoids accusations of the NHL, yet again, being its own worst enemy.
Speaking of “being the enemy,” that’s the other genius part of this decision: The NHL knows that John Scott was Haley’s Comet. It’s not coming around again for a long, long time.
Why did John Scott work? Well, first, because of the man himself, who had a winking approach to his lot in hockey life. Here’s a guy who would pound opponents in the face and then put on a T-shirt depicting him scoring his only goal of the season. He was a throwback to an era when goons were as popular as the best scorer on the team. He gets it in a way that, say, a “Vote For Zac Rinaldo” campaign wouldn’t have.
But the reason this really took off was when the NHL decided to play Vince McMahon to his “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
They hid the vote totals and stopped promoting the vote altogether on their website. That motivated fans. The establishment pushed back on his candidacy with “sanctity of the All-Star Game” B.S., and that motivated fans. Then came the still-unbelievable sequence of his trade by the Arizona Coyotes, demotion to the AHL and the NHL attempting to coax him out of going to the All-Star Game by asking him what his daughters would think of him if he went.
That turned a curiosity at the All-Star Game into a full-blown scandal, and elevated the Scott thing into the biggest story in hockey.
This continued until the very end, when the NHL left his name out of the MVP vote despite scoring twice, which then led to that incredible moment when he won the award despite not being on the ballot, won the car and was carried on the shoulders of his teammates.
The “vote for John Scott” thing was a perfect storm of athlete, context and, above all else, the establishment trying to keep an everyman down. If we’re getting this again, it’s not anytime soon, for one simple reason:
The NHL has basically endorsed it but leaving the rules unchanged, which sucks the defiance out of it.
There will be other John Scott-like candidates – there are every year, with varying degrees of success – but the NHL has now signaled they’ll lean into that curve next time. They’ll probably promote it. They’ll probably embrace it. Any pushback will ring hollow, because we all saw how it worked out for them last time.
It’s like sneaking a beer from your parents vs. being invited to have one with them while having a chat about life. The former just tastes better,
So we give the NHL credit for being smart about leaving its All-Star format unaltered, but we give the NHL more credit for knowing that a John Scott movement probably isn’t going to happen again. Not only because the NHL won’t play the same kind of heel, but because, in our hearts, fans know we might have seen the quintessential version of how this story should play out. It might never get better than that.
So even with the NHL allowing for it. we’re probably not going to have another John Scott NHL All-Star sensation.
We’ll just wait for the movie instead.
(In full disclosure, this site played a role in that fan campaign.)
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