Leafs enjoyed watching Scott, open to more all-star journeymen

Mike Babcock talks to the media about how the Toronto Maple Leafs need to stay motivated as they start the final 34 games of the NHL season.

TORONTO – Michael Grabner spent part of the all-star break in the dentist’s chair after taking a puck to the mouth and needing six root canals.

But that didn’t keep the Toronto Maple Leafs forward from smiling right along with the hockey world while John Scott claimed MVP honours in Nashville.

“I think it’s a great story,” Grabner said Monday. “I think it played out great and it was great for our game.”

It would be impossible to replicate the unusual circumstances that made Scott resonate so strongly, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of it that can’t repeated in the future. Most, if not all, NHL dressing rooms include players that fly below the radar as unsung heroes – the kind of guys that peers would love to see recognized in a similar manner.

Think about it: It wasn’t just fans and reporters raving about Scott on Sunday.

You had Henrik Lundqvist saying he hadn’t “smiled this much watching a hockey game in a long time” and Christian Ehrhoff calling it the “best thing” that happened to all-star weekend. Many of the players present in Nashville went out of their way to mention that Scott deserved all of the attention sent his way.

It was such a huge hit that every member of the Leafs interviewed Monday seemed warm to the idea of having another journeyman like Scott represented at next year’s all-star game in Los Angeles.

“Maybe they should have a couple spots for guys like that,” said Grabner. “I think it makes the game better too – the publicity obviously it got from just this weekend with him. I think he was great throughout the whole thing; his attitude stayed the same.

“He was happy; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy smile that much to be honest.”

“That’s some of the hardest jobs to do, is to show up every night and protect your teammates,” added Nazem Kadri. “I think that’s why those type of guys are beloved. It’s a tough role to play, obviously he’s been doing it for a while, and it’s a bit of a dying breed.

“It’s nice to see him get some attention.”

Even if the NHL decides to start restricting which players that fans are allowed to vote for – part of the expected fallout from the campaign to get Scott in – they could still leave one spot open for an unsung hero going forward.

Perhaps it would make the most sense to turn that choice over to the players themselves. They would have no shortage of candidates that could fit the profile.

They could recognize longevity and go with Matt Cullen, who has logged 1,260 games (and counting) without being a NHL all-star. Maybe they’d choose to honour one of the many solid citizens that have been part of recent championship teams – guys like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene or Justin Williams.

Or how about Jason Chimera, still motoring away at age 36?

Matt Martin fits more of the toughness mold like Scott, but has held down a regular shift with the Islanders for the last several seasons.

These are only a few ideas. There are many others who fly below the radar and could take a turn in the spotlight at what amounts to a fun exhibition.

However, in all likelihood the Scott situation will end up being a one-off. As much as many players and fans enjoyed celebrating the everyman, there are others who believe it violates the spirit of the event.

They include Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who sent Scott a note of encouragement after reading his Players’ Tribune piece over the weekend – “I just didn’t feel the treatment was right” – but doesn’t want his inclusion to become part of a trend.

“See I don’t see that at all,” said Babcock. “I think it’s an all-star game and the best players go. But if you want the fans to vote, they get to vote for who they want. They come to the game, they pay their money, they get to cheer for who they want. They’re a huge part of the game.

“The fans spoke but we didn’t want to listen to them. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”