What the John Scott Situation Says about the NHL
All-Star weekend is upon us, and boy is it messy.
John Scott is a NHL All-Star.
On Sunday, the long-time enforcer is going to put on a jersey that proves it. He's going to skate with most of the league's best players. He's going to be - and, perhaps, already is - beloved.
This has been a whirlwind run of events for Scott. Year after year, he is barely assured of a role in his league, and yet he has stuck around. This go-around, he found himself with the previously hapless Arizona Coyotes.
Let's talk about those Arizona Coyotes for a second. You cannot dissect what has happened to Scott without first taking in what the Coyotes have gone through. The Coyotes' stay in Arizona has been tumultuous at best. They've been on their way out, staying for good, on their way out again, and so on to eternity. They've been forever told that they won't be forever.
I wouldn't describe anything surrounding the Coyotes as "buzz", but there was a discernible difference in the way this team was perceived heading into this season as opposed to previous ones. A couple of terrible, terrible seasons netted them a few high profile prospects through various means: Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Dylan Strome. This trio of young players headlined a training camp roster that would mostly generate almost no passion at all, save for Shane Doan and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. For crying out loud, their best off-season acquisition, undrafted division, was Brad Richardson. Brad Richardson!
Though Strome was sent back to juniors to begin the season, Domi and Duclair were not. Instead, they and Doan and Ekman-Larsson led a surprisingly successful Coyotes team. Going into the All-Star break, the Coyotes continue to maintain a playoff spot.
John Scott, likable as he may be, was not part of the success equation that got the Coyotes where they are.
I'm not going to theorize on the league's involvement in the trade that sent John Scott from the Coyotes to the Canadiens and eventually to the St. John's IceCaps. I don't personally buy into it - why would the league punish the Canadiens by making them give up an asset for a player they don't want? - but I won't begrudge anyone that does.
On the other hand, I understand the unusual situation the Coyotes were put into.
The Coyotes have very little worth writing home about in terms of big wins and media exposure. I don't just mean this year, I mean ever. Since NBC took over the NHL's broadcasting rights, Arizona/Phoenix have played just 23 games on national television during the regular season. That is the 4th fewest in that timeframe among American teams. Arizona has produced just a single finalist for the league's biggest voted-upon awards (Norris, Hart, Lady Byng, Selke, Vezina, Calder).
So, through my empathetic nature, I understand why the Coyotes do not want John Scott in the All-Star game. Even if Scott had made himself an improbable fixture in the fabric of the upstart Coyotes, he is not long for the organization. He is not one of the organization's greatest players and never will be. However, all of Ekman-Larsson, Domi, Duclair, and Doan belong to at least one of those categories. I understand why they would prefer to market one of those players as opposed to Scott. I get it. As an isolated incident, I wouldn't find this particular trade appalling. John Scott is a fringe NHLer whose stature with a given team is always on dangerous footing. Those players get moved sometimes.
What I, and you, and everyone, find particularly galling about this all happening is the NHL's bizarre and unwarranted response to things.
Scott penned a contribution to The Players' Tribune in response to all of this nonsense. In it, he exposed much of the dirty and pathetic tactics exacted by the league's suited monoliths. They tried, at first, just asking him. The Coyotes asked him. Then, the league tried to shame him by using his kids as props. That was the straw that broke Scott's back, and he vowed he would go to the All-Star game.
Eventually, the NHL caved to fan pressure. Everyone now wanted Scott. Inexplicably, he had become a folk hero. He didn't really do anything to create this storm. He just stuck around until a tornado of circumstances picked him up and put him directly in the league's crosshairs. If there's one thing that NHL fans love, it's things that higher ups around the NHL hate. So, Scott is a hero now.
The NHL's response is telling, though. All John Scott has ever done is exist, quietly, within the parameters of the game. He fights because that's the job he's paid to do. I may not enjoy fighting, but it is part of the formula the league has its teams follow. Off the ice, John Scott appears to be a solid dude. He was one of the few enjoyable aspects of The Road to the Stadium Series television show last season.
He has a wife and two kids with two more coming any moment now. They have been upended, by the way, taken from Arizona to Newfoundland. Taken from one country to another. In a sense, exiled. It's not that Newfoundland or St. John's is bad, it's just so far. Roughly 3700 miles separate Arizona from Newfoundland. That is roughly the same distance that separates the NHL from its decency.
They shamed Scott, whose biggest crime was existing. Meanwhile, two men accused of sexual assault will play. The league did not cry about this. In fact, the hype machine behind Patrick Kane hasn't skipped a beat. It seems increasingly likely that Kane will in fact win the league's highest honor, the Hart Trophy for Most Valuable Player. Drew Doughty has remained a perennial Norris candidate since being accused of assaulting a woman.
There is a not-incredibly-unlikely future scenario where Braden Holtby struggles in the season's home stretch while Semyon Varlamov helps the Colorado Avalanche claim a playoff spot. It is therefore not out of the realm of possibility that three men who have been accused violence against women will win some of the league's biggest honors. If not this season, it still could happen in the near future.
Go Braden Holtby go.
Fans didn't vote John Scott into the All-Star game. They did, but they didn't. The league, gradually, over time, through a series of missteps, placed him there. They insisted on forcing the Coyotes to stay in a struggling market. Then, as that organization languished, they allowed the continued neglect of that organization by the league's primary source of exposure in the United States. All the while, they allowed John Scott's very role to continue existing, even as the league itself has distanced itself from that portion of the game. And, even then, almost none of this would matter if they had shown any foresight or decency in moral matters surrounding the repeated violent misconduct of its best players.
The league has repeatedly claimed that its players know how to behave. Meanwhile, Evander Kane, Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty, Mike Ribeiro, Semyon Varlamov, and Slava Voynov (among many, many others) prove otherwise. Increasingly, Gary Bettman's platform seems less like a stage and more like a rug that has immense amounts of dirt swept underneath it. He's standing on a mountain that he has made out of a molehill, largely through negligence and straight up dishonesty.
Gradually, that mountain is crumbling.
John Scott exists largely as a monument to the fighters that came before him. The league - and, in fairness, many players - insist that fighting belongs in the game. Yet, here, the game's most revered fighter of the moment was almost not allowed to play in a game that honors the best of its many roles.
He will play on Sunday. It will be messy, but the game always is. He will play on Sunday, and he'll tell the story to his kids, and gradually the mountain will crumble, and maybe the next person in line won't take time out of their busy schedule to build a new one.
He will play on Sunday, and somehow, he'll even deserve to be there.