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NHL finally learns its lesson with the John Scott all-star captain debacle

The 6-foot-8 enforcer John Scott, left, was traded from the Pacific Division’s Arizona Coyotes to the Atlantic Division’s Monteal Canadiens on Jan. 15.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NHL was terrified at the idea of John Scott playing in the all-star game.

This is one of the league's marquee events – a big corporate shindig in a fledgling market in the middle of the year – and everyone at head office in New York was picturing a lumbering, 6-foot-8 enforcer ruining the new four-team, 3-on-3 format.

They were, after all, trying yet again to revitalize the on-ice portion of the weekend.

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They were instead picturing Scott looking woefully out of place and becoming a sideshow on ESPN highlight reels that night.

So they tried to convince Scott – who fans voted as the captain of the Pacific Division team – to stay home. Or to come to the game with his family and not play, the way an injured player might.

The Arizona Coyotes tried, too, as they wanted one of their stars such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Max Domi in the game as their lone representative.

But Scott had already warmed up to the idea. A bit of a goofball, he had T-shirts printed and arrangements to bring his family, including his wife Danielle, who is eight months pregnant with twins.

"My family was like 'You have to go. It's going to be so cool,'" Scott told Yahoo Sports last week. "They're excited for it – probably more excited than I am. It'll be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences."

On Friday, the Coyotes traded Scott to Montreal as part of a larger deal. He would not be going to the Canadiens – they didn't even want him – and he was banished to the AHL in St. John's for the rest of the season.

No all-star game. No enforcer playing 3-on-3 on SportsCenter. No T-shirts.

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What there was was a conspiracy theory that had legs.

"I can tell you that the Montreal Canadiens had no interest whatsoever in getting John Scott in this trade," TSN's Bob McKenzie said shortly after he broke the news of the deal. "The Arizona Coyotes wanted him to be included. You can draw your own conclusions from that."

It's an ugly situation, with hurt feelings on both sides.

People have tried to cast blame all over the place here. Some – led by Don Cherry during Saturday night's Coach's Corner – have blasted the fans and a few media members for orchestrating the vote. Some put this on Scott himself, for not bowing out "gracefully" early on.

The reality is the NHL should have seen this coming. It has had a fan vote for the all-star game of one sort or another going back to the 1985 game. Since voting moved online, however, these campaigns to get unique players into the game have been common.

In 2007, there was a highly successful campaign to get journeyman minor-leaguer Rory Fitzpatrick, which was thwarted by the league under dubious circumstances at the last minute.

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Other undeserving candidates such as Mike Komisarek (in 2009) and Zemgus Girgensons (2015) were voted in. There were also campaigns in other years, such as 2012 in Ottawa, when fans of rival teams attempted to vote in hated former players as a "gift" to the home crowd.

Yet nine years after Fitzpatrick and the "Vote For Rory" movement became international news, the only significant change the NHL had made to their system was dropping the number of all-stars voted in by fans from 12 starters down to four captains.

Fans were still able to vote up to 10 times a day, encouraging online ballot stuffing. And they were able to vote for anyone – literally anyone – that had played in the league.

Scott wasn't the only oddball getting votes this year. Rob Scuderi, Zac Rinaldo, David Clarkson and others were climbing the rankings at various points.

None of them should have ever been on an all-star ballot presented to fans to pick from.

Many have made this about John Scott, and the easy target that is his unsuitability to play in an all-star game. But what the story should be is the NHL's absolute incompetence in the face of overwhelming evidence this was eventually going to happen.

The league actually got lucky in that Scott was the only questionable choice put on the team.

They were also fortunate at the amount of publicity the voting received. Fan voting was originally brought in to mimic the highly successful use of it in the NBA, and to draw attention to a game that, even in the 1980s, was mocked for its irrelevance.

This year, more than most, it actually worked.

Multiple NHL players expressed support for Scott on the weekend, with many saying they had planned to watch the all-star game for the first time in years because of his participation. Others lamented the NHL's heavy-handed response to what had largely been a harmless and entertaining campaign to get Scott in the game.

"Traded and sent down over this fiasco?" retired defenceman Mike Commodore wrote on Twitter on Sunday. "[It's] very possible he never gets called up again. NHL career over. Messed up."

The NHL learned its lesson here. It's expected the league will greatly limit the influence fan voting can have on next year's all-star game, likely by making fringe players ineligible.

That the league didn't do that years ago is on the NHL, not John Scott.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More


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