Update: After days of backlash, the NHL will allow John Scott to participate in the All-Star Game, and captain a team.
John Scott isn't going to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game.
A few months ago, that sentence wouldn't have carried any weight to it. Of course he isn't going! Scott is a 33-year-old grinder, known mostly for face-punching, big (and sometimes controversial) hits and limited ice time. He's spent eight years in the league and amassed 11 points. He's played in 11 games this season.
On the grand scale of the sport of hockey, John Scott is a nobody.
But dammit, if he didn't become a somebody to me over the last few months.
To spice up the stale All-Star Game, the NHL overhauled the format into a 3-on-3 tournament between divisional teams. The league was so excited to drum up fan interest that they opened the fan vote to any player they wished to nominate. The result was unsurprising. Because the Internet can't handle things, everyone started voting for Scott.
Was there some meanness involved here? Of course. If John Scott was good, then voting for him at all wouldn't be a story. But John Scott is bad, so watching him skyrocket to the top of the vote totals was admittedly hilarious. The All-Star Game is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, and so, of course, it became the target of a joke. Scott just happened to be the punchline.
Every ounce of the NHL's displeasure was obvious. "As long as voting is legitimate, we will honor the results," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said through gritted teeth as the league simply stopped promoting the fan vote to quell the rising Scott tide. Scott himself didn't seem to enjoy the attention. And why would he? While we were all pointing out how dumb the All-Star Game is, we were also making fun of him to prove it. That's uncomfortable.
But he won. And he was announced as an All-Star Game captain.
At some point, the joke morphed into something else: appreciation. I know I went through this change. Before this started, Scott was just some bruising player. But then I started finding things like this:
And it dawned on everyone: There's an actual person at stake here! You know, with a personality and feelings and everything. And before we could feel guilty about the whole voting thing, Scott himself started to come around on the idea. He has two kids and a wife who's due with twins the weekend of the All-Star Game. He could earn bonuses and a shot at splitting $1 million if his team wins the event.
"It's one of those things where I never thought I'd be able to get to go, so when I found out it was a possibility my family was like, ‘you have to go. It's going to be so cool,'" Scott said in a phone conversation with Puck Daddy last week. "They're excited for it — probably more excited than I am. It'll be one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime' experiences."
An embarrassing joke All-Star vote campaign had become a feel-good story for a hard-working, good guy and his family. Everybody wins.
That makes what happened on Friday so tragic.
Scott was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, who immediately stashed him in the AHL and said they weren't going to call him back up. He's ineligible for the All-Star Game now. And everything about it was so transparent.
John Scott was previously asked by both NHL and Arizona Coyotes to bow out of NHL All-Star Game. He refused. Trade likely takes care of that— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 15, 2016
Add that to the fact that the trade was announced on a late Friday afternoon (universally understood as the ideal time to dump bad breaking news) and it's not hard to connect the dots. The NHL wanted Scott out of the All-Star Game, and they got their wish.
Family uprooted, experiences and contractual benefits sacrificed days before Scott's wife gives birth just to ... what? Ensure the sanctity of the All-Star Game? Get higher-profile players in? Keep the league from being embarrassed?
Too late on that last one. This is embarrassing for everyone, really. Sure, the campaign turned from semi-malicious intent to something meaningful at some point. The end result was still the same: John Scott and his family paid real-life consequences for our Internet fun.
So we, as fans, share some of the blame. But nobody is more at fault here than the NHL, for a myriad of reasons. The first is obvious. If you're going to create a system that creates a situation like this you're beholden to stick with it no matter what. Suffer the consequences, fix it next year. By all accounts, they already were. This muscle flexing was unnecessary.
Scott's removal from the equation confirms what fans were trying to prove with the vote anyway: The fan vote doesn't matter. The bottom line, and the marquee players that bring in eyes and cash do. Whatever legitimacy the NHL All-Star Game had left is now sabotaged beyond repair.
Most importantly, the NHL failed Scott. They took a surprisingly heartwarming moment and story for the sport and obliterated it out of pettiness and pride for a fake hockey game, causing real-life consequences for a low-paid player and his growing family. Fans may have started this debacle, but the NHL made sure they looked like the villains by the end of it.
It's callous. It's humorless. It makes my head spin and my heart hurt.
And it was all over a stupid All-Star Game.