The NHL All-Star game is an annual romp wherein the best hockey players in the world all gather on one rink and put absolutely no effort into playing against each other. Goalies fall over comically instead of stretching out to make goal-stopping saves. Defensemen let wingers whirl around, lest either be injured by a collision. Forwards renowned for back-checking and two-way play lazily float at centre ice, hoping for a tape-to-tape pass that will spring them on an odd-man rush. Like every other all-star game in sports, the NHL’s version is a glorified exhibition, a chance to pull out all the shiny practice moves and do crazy stunts that make fans cheer and hockey purists grumble. This all being said, the All-Star game still means something.
There are many players - most, really - who never get to experience an All-Star game. Being selected, therefore, by either the league or the fans is still an honour. For the above-average player, the good-but-not-great players, going to the game to play with the superstars of the league would be exciting and memorable. For anyone else, well, it would be a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This brings us to John Scott. Scott, an enforcer, one of the last of a dying breed in the NHL (that is, players whose only skills involve pugilism), was selected by fans to be the captain of the Pacific division’s team this year. Scott, him of the career eleven points (yes, only eleven), was to join the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, the dynamic winger Patrick Kane, and the greatest Russian goal-scorer of all-time Alex Ovechkin in the All-Star game. At first, the hulking expert on fisticuffs was hesitant to join the game. However, after conferring with his family, Scott decided to go, adding that he was happy to be able to experience the game, something he had never expected to do, and that he was happy to be able to take his daughters and expecting wife there to enjoy the festivities. John Scott has made a career out of dealing punishment with his fists and taking punishment from the fists and bodies of other grown men. He said some recognition for the hard-working gritty players of hockey was appreciated, and that he’d do his best. Former teammates all agreed that they were excited and happy for Scott. They also praised Scott’s loyalty and locker-room presence, as well as his character off the ice. Overall, from the standpoint of players and fans, John Scott was being rewarded, and everyone was excited to see him play. After all, at least he’d actually try in a game marked by apathy toward defence and exertion.
However, the NHL was apparently unpleased with the fan vote’s results. After all, large sponsorship deals are connected with the All-Star game. Corporate millions could not be sacrificed for the sake of a feel-good story. League officials asked Scott to not participate in the game, as well as management staff from the Arizona Coyotes, Scott’s team. Scott insisted on going to the game, however. Then he was traded. After being waived by the Coyotes, Scott was sent to Montreal, where he is expected to add “veteran leadership” to their AHL affiliate. Because of this trade, Scott may no longer be eligible to participate. This move ignited a predictable firestorm, with fans accusing the league and the trading teams of colluding to keep Scott out of the All-Star game. Blogs lambasting the move appeared overnight, demanding Scott be allowed to play. A Twitter petition was started. Threats were made of boycotting the All-Star game. At the time of this piece’s publication, though, nothing has been resolved. It appears as though the league will move on with its plans for the All-Star game, and that John Scott is no longer going to be involved in those plans.
Now, what can be said about this? First of all, the NHL’s protectiveness of the All-Star game is laughable. There’s no “integrity of the game” to worry about, sponsors will keep paying as long as big-name players are somehow involved, and the game isn’t that big of a feather in the NHL’s cap. Viewership has decreased steadily over the years, prompting the switch this year to a three-on-three format. Second, and more importantly, the treatment of John Scott is despicable. Whether or not the trade was as nefarious as some pundits and theorists are claiming, Scott was coldly removed from a chance to be a part of something hockey players dream about. Scott is the epitome of a hockey player: he’s hard-working, a family-man, a blue-collar-type who cares about his team and works as hard as he can without fanfare. To yank away the chance for him to share something like the All-Star weekend with his family is just not right. So what if he didn’t belong? So what if he can’t score between his legs, deke out a defenceman, or rocket in a one-timer from the faceoff dot?
As I wrote about earlier this year, hockey players (all celebrities, really) are people. They have feelings, desires, ambitions, and are affected by the public spheres into which they are so often thrust without desiring it. Take Scott; he has a family he wanted to share a weekend with, a weekend that could have provided them with countless treasured memories. Instead, he’s been sent far far away from his pregnant wife and children. Now, he might not have a chance to be present for the birth of his two new kids. While the more callous might shrug this off as “part of the game”, they’d be in error to do so. What happened to Scott was a money-motivated show of authority, one that casually tossed aside the very real person at its centre. As I wrote of Patrick Kane, celebrities do indeed accept, to an extent, the spotlight which they are put under; this being said, such does not, in any way, deny them of their entitlement to basic shows of respect. Is it really too much for the NHL to allow for something like Scott’s appointment to the All-Star game? At worst, he trips over his own skates trying to keep up with better players and only scores when his more-talented teammates bank pucks in off his body. At best, a family is given an experience that will remain with them forever, and a man fairly given a reward is allowed to keep that reward; that reward, and some shreds of respect.