I love hockey fans.
They’re among the most fun and passionate fans in all of sports, especially here in Canada. Rivalries burn fierce and many fan bases just flat-out don’t like each other, making attending hockey games that much more entertaining
But perhaps my favourite thing about hockey fans, and NHL fans specifically, is that we’re not above collectively kicking back and having a little bit of fun, mostly at the expense of each other, but sometimes at the expense of the NHL itself.
Enter John Scott, a 33-year-old enforcer for the Arizona Coyotes who has managed just five goals and six assists in 285 career NHL games.
He’s also, the league announced last week, the captain of the Pacific Division team at this year’s NHL All-Star game.
Why? Because the fans put him there.
Yeah, Scott won the NHL’s All-Star fan ballot thanks to a huge organized movement of people who voted for him as a kind of collective joke, and possibly a little bit of a protest of the All-Star Game’s overall silliness.
This is why I love hockey fans.
As I have said in a previous column, I think the NHL All-Star game is a joke. It’s a boring hockey game played by players who seriously just don’t want to be there. And now, with the introduction of a 3-on-3 tournament, the weekend is shaping up to be a total sideshow.
So the fans decided to take it to another level, electing Scott, who has racked up a total of 542 penalty minutes and a -18 plus-minus rating over nine NHL seasons, to play in a showcase of the league’s brightest stars. It’s also worth noting that the Edmonton native has never played a complete NHL season and has spent most of the current one as a healthy scratch for the Coyotes.
I mean, the Coyotes waived him mid-way through December when he was number-one in the league for voting, and then he was scratched the day after being named the captain of an All-Star team. The guy’s not exactly Jaromir Jagr. (Incidentally, Jagr, the Atlantic Division captain, made some pretty hilarious comments about the whole situation on his Twitter feed, @68Jagr. You should go check them out.)
Now, if you’ve been following this story at all you’ll probably be aware that there has been a lot of negative backlash, especially among sports media, to the fans’ decision to vote for Scott, to the NHL’s decision to allow him to participate, and to Scott’s acceptance of the invitation.
When it came out that Scott was surging in the fan vote at the start of December, a number of hockey analysts made calls on Scott to step down and remove himself from the race.
“If I’m John Scott I’d get my name off that list as fast as I could,” Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos on a Dec. 2nd edition of Hockey Central.
“It’s making a farce of the whole thing. Take it away from the fans if they’re going to be such idiots,” Doug McLean chimed in a second later.
That’s kind of harsh, don’t you think? I mean, isn’t that kind of the point of fan balloting?
To allow underrated players that would otherwise fly under the radar to make it into a game that is dominated by high-scoring high-profile superstars? To give players who might actually want to be there a shot a making it?
And Scott, to his credit, seems like a really nice guy who kind of deserves a chance to be in the spotlight after grinding as a fourth-liner his entire career. And the fans are giving that chance to him.
A final curtain-call for a dying breed of hockey player. One who makes his presence felt more with his fists and body than with his goal-scoring prowess.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he told AZCentral in December.
“I just kind of stay out of it. The guys are giving me a hard time about it, but it’s kind of neat. The fans, they obviously like me for some reason.”
What I really appreciate about this whole situation is the fact that the NHL is letting it happen.
Remember, this is the league that is considering pulling their players out of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang despite nearly-overwhelming fan disapproval.
They’re not exactly known for listening to the fan base on internal matters, especially when it comes to the All-Star Game.
So the fact that they stepped back and allowed an enforcer who has only played 11 games this season to participate in a game designed to pit the Alex Ovechkins and Patrick Kanes of the world against each other is a little baffling to me.
Then I had a thought: this is the NHL saying, ‘Look, we’re making a concerted (if misguided) effort to make this game better for you to watch. So if you, the fans, tell us you want to see a nice guy with just five goals in his entire career in this tournament, then by all means he’ll play. But don’t look at us when this year turns out to be even worse than previous years.’
But, of course, they pretty much immediately backed down from that notion as well, as last week they announced that, in light of the Scott situation, they would be would be making changes to the fan-vote format next season. And while they haven’t said what those proposed changes might be, general speculation is that the league could be considering giving fans only a partial vote or limiting them to a shortlist of players instead of allowing them to vote for any player they want to.
And to be honest, I don’t care right now. Because this will be the first time I will watch the All-Star game in the past two years. And, for once, I know exactly who I’ll be cheering for.