NHL Public Relations @PR_NHL
John Scott will captain the Pacific Division team at 2016 Honda #NHLAllStar Weekend. https://t.co/jUcmc2RxRn https://t.co/ejVBdCbfqr2016-1-19 16:49:38
Scott, who was selected as captain of the Pacific Division by fan vote, had been traded Friday to the Montreal Canadiens and was promptly assigned to the AHL.
Veteran reporter Bob McKenzie went on Toronto’s TSN 1050 that same afternoon and unequivocally stated that the deal meant Scott was done as an All-Star.
The transcript of his comments, via Chris Nichols of Today’s Slapshot, is as follows:
John Scott will not be an All-Star. Either the National Hockey League will say because he is no longer in the Pacific Division—whether it’s in the NHL in the Atlantic Division or the real Atlantic Division, which is St. John’s… Either the NHL is going to say that he’s not eligible to be on the Pacific Division team as an All-Star captain, or John Scott—if it got to that—John Scott is going to go, "Uncle. I’m not going now."
McKenzie’s comments prompted an online backlash, and with good reason. Most would agree that any All-Star Game issue is by definition a minor one, but the All-Star vote also happens to be the only place where the NHL overtly solicits fan opinion.
Ignoring the expressed sentiment of those fans, particularly given the relative unimportance of the All-Star Game, would be a deliberate insult to them.
In the end, the league found the best solution still available to it.
None of this would have happened in the first place if the NHL had been paying attention. It was inevitable that unrestricted fan voting would eventually result in a nominee who didn’t meet the league’s preferred definition of an “All-Star.”
Last year, fans voted for five Chicago Blackhawks and Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres as All-Star starters. Given that Chicago is a great team in a big market and the Sabres didn’t exactly have an abundance of plausible candidates, that wasn’t a big deal, but it was a clear harbinger of what was to come this year.
So was the “Vote for Rory” campaign in 2007, which aimed to vote journeyman defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick into the game and nearly succeeded in part thanks to unlimited automated voting detailed by Slate’s Daniel Engber. That piece included an interesting quote from ESPN’s Barry Melrose.
“If this works, enjoy it, ‘cause I gotta think [the NHL will] have a trick up their sleeve so it’ll never happen again,” he said.
The NHL opted to move away from unlimited balloting but failed to otherwise restrict voting. That left the door open for another “Vote for Rory”-style campaign, one with more genuine grassroots backing. Such a campaign was bound to happen.
It should be said that this sort of campaign is not necessarily a bad thing. It generates buzz for the All-Star Game, which is as bland a corporate event as exists on the NHL calendar.
However, the league obviously doesn’t see things that way. As McKenzie tweeted, it had asked Scott to voluntarily remove himself from the game:
Bob McKenzie @TSNBobMcKenzie
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 that2016-1-15 21:55:07
The NHL, which tends to combine both hidebound respect for hockey tradition and corporate risk aversion, would seem to prefer less controversial participants at its All-Star Game. There’s an easy way to do that going forward: Change the voting.
It is as simple as drawing up a list of potential candidates and allowing fans to vote only from that list.
Doubtless, we’re going to see changes in the voting process going forward, and that’s certainly the NHL’s right. In the present, however, the NHL set the ground rules and the fans responded by nominating John Scott. Ex-NHLer Patrick O’Sullivan put it nicely:
Patrick O'Sullivan @realPOSULLIVAN
Nice to see @NHL avoiding further embarrassment by letting Scott play. He was voted in legally by the system in place. Fix the system.2016-1-19 17:24:02
For those who see Scott as an illegitimate candidate, all I can say is that under the league’s current rules, he’s actually the most legitimate candidate on the board—the player chosen by the NHL’s fan voting system.
Those pundits who see Scott as contemptible should keep in mind that he’s spent the last six seasons in the NHL full time. He hasn't played a minor league game since 2009. That he made it as an enforcer in no way diminishes the effort and dedication it took to carve out that major league niche. In some ways, his path was probably more difficult.
Those pundits who see the fans who voted for him as contemptible should keep in mind that many of those same fans are the ones who make it possible for them to make a job out of watching hockey.
The league can and probably should change the way All-Stars are selected. But rightly or wrongly, Scott was chosen. On those grounds, he deserves to be there as much as anyone.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.