It was July 10, and 6-foot-8 enforcer John Scott had just signed one of the few NHL contracts given to a fighter in free agency.
It was for the league minimum salary ($575,000 U.S.), and he likely wouldn’t play much in a league where fighting is quickly disappearing.
His agent knew congratulations were in order and went on social media.
“Congrats client John Scott signing [with the] Arizona Coyotes in his 10th year pro,” Ben Hankinson tweeted. “John’s not [an] NHL all-star on ice but is in [the dressing] room, and Coyotes can play big.”
Little did Hankinson know what was coming.
The NHL’s annual fan voting for the all-star game opened on Tuesday in the early morning hours. Two days later, Scott was in first place, with the most votes in the league and ahead of superstars such as Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane.
Suddenly, the prospect of him being an all-star – in a year when the format is a 3-on-3 skills showcase – is very real.
Scott is 33 years old and has played only six games this season. Most of the time, he sits in the press box, munches popcorn and watches a Coyotes team that now has some terrific young talents such as Max Domi.
In his career, Scott has five goals and six assists in 280 games. His average ice time is seven minutes a game. He also has 535 penalty minutes, giving him the third-highest PIM-to-points ratio in the league the past decade. (Only Cam Janssen and Colton Orr are worse.)
“I don’t want to have my name in the headlines for this reason,” Scott told the Arizona Republic. “Like, it’s a fun little thing and hopefully it’ll die down over time. I definitely don’t want to be voted into the all-star game. It would be cool, but I definitely don’t deserve it at this point. You never know. There’s still some time left. I could turn it on.”
Understandably, this campaign to send Scott to January’s all-star game in Nashville – which is believed to have originated with a mention on the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast – has ignited a debate online over whether the fan balloting should be allowed to make a mockery of the event.
The NHL, however, says it won’t block him from taking part in the game if he is voted as one of the four “captains” of the four division-based all-star teams.
“As long as voting is legitimate, we will honour the results,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Wednesday.
Legitimate is the key word there. The NHL has had these fan-voting controversies before. In 2006-07, a similar movement attempted to get Vancouver Canucks defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick – a little-known minor-leaguer for most of his career – into the all-star game.
There were T-shirts and websites and plenty of media attention for a process often treated as an afterthought.
On the final week of voting, the NHL then tossed out a huge number of “Vote for Rory” ballots, blaming the use of automated voting programs tainting the results. Fitzpatrick narrowly missed going to the all-star game, finishing just behind Nick Lidstrom in votes.
For the 2009 all-star game in Montreal, Canadiens fans stuffed the ballots so much that four Habs ended up in the six-player starting lineup, including defensive defenceman Mike Komisarek.
Three years later in Ottawa, four Senators were voted in.
Last season, Buffalo Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons made the all-star team after fans in his tiny home country of Latvia dominated the voting process, giving him 1.57 million votes. It was the third-highest total received since fan voting was used back in 1986, behind only Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in 2009.
Girgensons was joined by five Chicago Blackhawks in the starting lineup.
The danger for the NHL this time around is that Scott may get some company in the curious-candidates department. Fans are also voting in large numbers for Girgensons (again) and Pittsburgh Penguins depth defenceman Rob Scuderi, who are both in the top 50 and rising fast.
Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, meanwhile, has been a vocal critic of the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime format and is getting a lot of votes from fans that want to see him forced to play it at the all-star tournament.
Other players with an oddly high number of votes include Shayne Gostisbehere, Zac Rinaldo, Barret Jackman and Chris Thorburn.
Given Scott is leading the voting, it’s likely the NHL will heavily scrutinize the ballots this year. The voting regulations stipulate fans are not permitted to use multiple e-mail addresses to sign up, although the contest allows for 10 votes a day per account.
“If it is discovered that an entrant has registered or attempted to register more than once using multiple e-mail addresses or identities, all of that entrant’s entries will be declared null and void,” the rules state.
That means that Scott could potentially lead the all-star voting when it ends on New Year’s Day but not end up going to the all-star game, if it turns out the majority of his votes are coming from illegitimate campaigns organized by sites such as Reddit.
But if not, Scott could make history as the only player to have spent most of the season as a healthy scratch – and who has more fights than points – to make the all-star game.
And best of luck to him trying to keep up with Ovechkin and Kane in 3-on-3.Report Typo/Error
NHL All-Star Game Voting