Kudos to the NHL for making the right decision

  • Wed Jan 20th, 2016 3:24pm
  • News

As I sat down to write this column on Tuesday morning, I had no idea how I would attack this issue.

Originally, this was going to be an article about how the NHL should approach the latest development in the John Scott saga. But now it has turned into something completely different.

Scott is an NHL hockey player who is about as far from an all star as you can get.

At 33-years-old, Scott has scored just five goals and six assists in 285 career NHL games. Basically, he’s one of the last remaining pure enforcers in the NHL.

He was also one of four players elected by a fan vote to participate in this year’s NHL All Star Game, a vote which the NHL publicly stood behind and supported despite how controversial it had been.

In last week’s edition of the Express, I noted how surprised I had been that the NHL had allowed Scott’s nomination to go through at all given their past history of ignoring fans’ wishes.

Which is why I was so shocked last Friday afternoon when I read that Scott had been traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Montreal Canadiens, a move that gives the NHL an out from allowing him to partake in the All Star Game festivities because Montreal immediately sent Scott to the St. John’s Ice Caps of the American Hockey League and said they had no plans of calling him up.

As a fan and as a sports journalist, the move set alarms off in my head. Scott’s inclusion in the trade made little sense from a hockey standpoint. He’s a player that doesn’t fit into the system that the Canadiens have going in Montreal. And when TSN’s Bob McKenzie, possibly the most respected hockey journalist in the world, reported Scott had been asked by both the Arizona Coyotes and the NHL to forfeit his spot at the game, which he refused, everything seemed to fall into place.

While it is possible the league had nothing to do with the Scott trade, it was a convenient move for the NHL. It gave them an out from the fan vote because Scott’s eligibility could be called into question.

Fans were outraged. The trade went through and the league made no comment on Scott’s all star eligibility for four days. Scott commented that his all star status was, “Still up in the air.”

And instead of immediately responding and assuring fans that their pick still mattered, the league issued a statement saying they were evaluating the impact that the trade would have on the Pacific Division roster.

To make matters worse, Arizona’s GM Don Maloney said he expected the NHL would invite another Coyotes player to replace Scott at the game, and he said it with such confidence that I found it hard to dismiss all the conspiracy theories. Granted, there are many players on the Coyotes’ roster that are much more talented than Scott and maybe much more deserving of the all star trip. But I don’t know if there are any who would want to replace him.

Like many enforcers, Scott was well liked in his team’s dressing room, and his teammates stood behind his decision to accept the fans’ invitation.

“He’s dreamed of being in the All Star Game the same way everyone else has, for him to get that chance is so cool,” Coyotes’ Captain Shane Doan told TSN 1040.

So the fans waited, but they didn’t do so quietly.

Instead, they threw every bit force they could muster into a #FreeJohnScott campaign on Twitter and Instagram. The public support for Scott’s inclusion in the game was nearly overwhelming. Fans piled onto the cause. There was a petition that gathered more than 9,000 signatures in just over 20 hours. And every time the NHL made a post, the fans would instantly flood it with the hashtag.

Within just five hours of the trade, #FreeJohnScott was trending worldwide.

And, I can’t believe I can actually write these words, the NHL listened to their fans.

On Tuesday afternoon, the league ruled that Scott could play in the game. Not only that, he would still be the captain of the Pacific Division and Arizona would not receive another representative. For the first time in a very long time I would like to say kudos to the National Hockey League, though there are, of course, some caveats.

For one, I wish the league had actually come to this conclusion on their own without the public outcry and made a more speedy decision.

For another, I wish I could say without a doubt the decision wasn’t at least partially motivated by legal and monetary concerns.

The NHL stood to lose way more than they could gain from blocking Scott. If they chose to declare him ineligible, the optics would have been terrible and would probably have tarnished the league’s reputation for years to come.

Forbes also reported Scott may have had grounds to file a grievance against the league if he was barred.

After all, each player on the winning team this year receives a $90,000 bonus. If he couldn’t compete, Scott would have lost his chance to win that money.

But I think that the positives actually outweigh the negatives here. Because they showed the league that they are not a force to be trifled with, and if the league wanted to go against them, there could be dire consequences.

The league will actually allow Scott to play and they slapped Arizona on the wrist in the process. The only way that they could have handled it better would have been making this announcement on the day of the original trade.

zcormier@reddeerexpress.com