Monday, February 01, 2016

In John Scott, the fans and the players sent Gary Bettman and the NHL brass a message

The fans spoke and John Scott
was on the bench in
Nashville for the All Star Game
As far as All Star Games go, Sunday's NHL All Star Game provided the kind of entertainment on the ice that made what's normally a going through the motions recreational skate into a meaningful afternoon of hockey.

A three tournament format of three on three that provided for any number of plot lines and twists, and may have finally delivered a  format for the league to make its mid-season client schmooze fest something the fans want.

Few hockey purists are sold on three on three hockey in the regular season and no one wants to see it ever find its way into the post season, where the game is won and lost on the ice without a gimmick.

However, in a showcase game such as what All Star weekend is all about, the format seemed to fit just right, the NHL somehow stumbled across what appears to be a winning combination, how they managed that many will wonder, but 3 on 3 worked in this instance and the league should be recognized for that.

However, because it's the NHL, they of course found a way to make sure that no one was talking about their genius, instead it was about their petulance prior to the weekend.

By the time the the last guitar lick had reverberated in Music City, the All Star format was the secondary story from Sunday. The real message and one that should be heard loud and clear by the NHL and those in the corner offices that rule the league, is that no one likes bullies and no one likes arrogant jerks.

Hockey fans and those players and coaches selected to the 2016 All Star collectively took off one of their gloves and raised one giant finger of defiance at a  league that created a fan voting system and then seemingly tried its best to deny the fans selection his turn in the spotlight.

Sunday, John Scott was the show, clearly not at the skill levels of some the names on sweaters beside him on the ice, but no one had more heart, few were as articulate in the face of a media storm and no one has endured more crap from a league that for whatever reason, insists on finding ways to self inflict wounds that need not be inflicted.

Scott was chosen by the fans, whether Gary Bettman and the league liked that thought is irrelevant, the competition was created by the league and the fans, whatever their motives may have been made their choice.

There never should have been a debate from that moment, instead the NHL the never ending factory of the "what the hell?", found a way to make sure the all star game became a controversy.

The all star game, an event that few are inclined to really think about at the best of times.

For the most part it's a three day corporate shill festival, one that each year seems finds that the players prefer to be left off of the roster, rather than be included. The beaches of Hawaii or other destinations for the players a welcome diversion with family and friends from the long grind of a season.

The controversy over Scott's inclusion in the weekend had many twists and turns in the last month.

First there was the odour of a trade and then demotion to the AHL that leaves him about as close to being put on an ice flow as you can get (and in Newfoundland he's not that far away actually), a move that seemed akin to a hit by the mob more than anything else.

Then this week, his first hand account to the Players Tribune as to the apparent attempt to shame him into turning down the invitation. Combined. the two  incidents make the league's handling of the entire episode to reflect the work of nothing but punks.

Though truth be told for many fans of the game it's about what one might expect from a league brass that constantly says they're for the good of the game and all about the fans, but more often than not, shows a complete inability to understand the fans of the sport, or the passion they have for the game and its players.

From the opening introductions on Sunday the theme of the day was set, the fans welcomed Scott like a conquering hero, the players who had already spoken to him prior to the weekend, making sure he felt welcome at the game carried that emphasis onto the ice.

His team mates on the Pacific side kept feeding him pucks, the coaches made sure that his shifts were frequent. His joy in the game clearly visible to anyone watching,  the atmosphere incomprehensible as it probably even seemed to Scott, was electric every time he stepped on for a shift, ecstatic with each of his two goals.

The evening wrapped up with the fans once again making sure that Commissioner Bettman and the NHL's other hangers on, perched up in the corporate booths heard one final farewell on the night, as the fans made one more significant vote on the day, selecting Scott as the MVP of the All Star Game.

By games end, as seems the case more and more often the NHL's brass realized far too late that they were on the wrong side of the story once again. Trying to salvage their horrid image by offering up some kind of revisionist history of the entire episode, suggesting that their only concern was to make sure that John Scott felt comfortable this weekend.

How nice of them, what a great bunch of guys, we imagine they were hoping we take away from the weekend.

And in reality, no one believes it, not one word of that came out of the Commissioner's mouth.

The league seems to not know this fact, but Hockey fans are pretty sharp observers of the game, they know skill and they know heart and both of those traits were on the ice.

There were other traits on display from the head office though and hockey fans know those as well and this week and particularly on a Sunday afternoon in Nashville, the hockey fans voted and John Scott won them over.

Gary Bettman and the league, well not so much ...

The tone deaf nature of the league time after time is on display, just ask the Mayor of Calgary who found his city being hectored to by the Commissioner in January over the theme of the need for a new arena for the Flames.

A choice of commentary that Mayor Naheed Nenshi noted to much applause across Canada, might work in other cities, but not in Calgary.

It was a sentiment that those across Canada would nod in agreement with, having heard the Bettman bombast before, Canadians perhaps calling to mind a hit of the past from Nashville favourite and Canadian country music star star Shania Twain.

Ms. Twain, seems to have captured the perfect Canadian reaction to the Commissioner whenever he speaks of late, that don't impress me much.

It was a big week for Mr. Bettman, as it was announced and promptly ignored as things turned out, that the Commissioner had received a contract extension a few months back, a pact which will take his leadership of the league into 2022, the announcement coming as it does close to Groundhog Day.

Some symbolic timing we suggest, particularly for a league where we hear the same things over and over again, indicating that when it comes to listening to the fans, the ears aren't always open and the messages not frequently received.

The Toronto Star -- All-Star MVP John Scott saved hockey, for a day
The Toronto Star -- John Scott hopes all-star MVP spotlight opens doors to new opportunities
Globe and Mail -- John Scott named NHL all-star MVP as Pacific Division wins tournament
Globe and Mail -- Bettman says fans spoke, so John Scott 'welcome' at all-star game
CBC -- John Scott scores 2 goals, wins MVP, proves he belongs in NHL all star game
Sportsnet -- John Scott scores 2 goals in All-Star Game, players happy for him
The Toronto Sun -- John Scott: 'You can't write this ... It's unbelievable'
Ottawa Citizen -- The NHL ditched its soul. John Scott found it for them
Detroit Free Press -- John Scott goes from unwanted to unbelievable
Arizona Republic -- All-Star Game caps Coyotes, John Scott issue
NPR -- John Scott Transcends Jokes, NHL Resistance and is Named MVP of All-Star Game

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