NASHVILLE—John Scott 1, NHL and Scott naysayers, 0.
Or maybe more like 6-0. You decide how big the rout was.
But it was definitely a one-sided score after Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in which Scott scored two goals and was named MVP by a write-in vote, a resounding victory for a minor-leaguer many, including yours truly, viewed as unworthy to be included in the event.
Scott, however, emerged as the hero because he was of good humour, because the fraternity of NHL players embraced him and was determined to see him succeed, and because he was able through his pregnant wife and children to express a sense of simple family values that were compelling.
Nashville sure loved him. By my count, he got five standing ovations on the weekend.
The NHL would have preferred that he not participate at all, and in the end, looked like they were somewhat tone deaf to the message some portion of the hockey public was sending them. The players, meanwhile, demonstrated that they sometimes (often?) don’t see things quite the way the league sees them, and in this case not only welcomed Scott into their All-Star club, they went out of their way to champion him as a player they admire as a person and for doing a difficult job over so many years.
If they’d shrugged and said, well, it’s all Scott’s business and none of ours, Sunday wouldn’t have happened. If they’d treated him as they treated Phil Kessel when he was mocked and made the last pick in the All-Star draft one year, there wouldn’t have been the same good feeling.
But led by Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski, these all-stars told the hockey world and the league that they didn’t like the way Scott was treated by the league and took matters into their own hands.
Where this goes from here, nobody knows.
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, who already has enough problems to deal with thank you very much, will undoubtedly hear calls to summon Scott from the Habs’ minor league affiliate in St. John’s, Nfld., and Taylor Hall did a nice job on Sunday of lobbying for a contract extension for the 6-foot-8 enforcer. Lord knows that if Bergevin was convinced Scott could score at the NHL level, he’ll be back in the league in a flash.
The IceCaps, meanwhile, will probably try to capitalize on Scott’s All-Star success by using him to sell more tickets, and there’s chatter about movies and screenplays, with Scott playing the "Rudy" character that comes from nowhere to be the hero.
Scott was a healthy scratch with the Arizona Coyotes this season and a healthy scratch with the IceCaps, and we’ll see whether his weekend efforts will go very far to changing the course of his career.
With the help of his friends, he was able to turn controversy into victory, turn himself from a life-long hockey thug into a sympathetic, lovable character.
There isn’t anybody who can say that didn’t happen. Now we’ll see what happens next.
Hats off to new All-Star format
The only shame in the rush of everyone to wrap themselves in the Great Scott story was the success of the NHL’s bet that three-on-three would help rescue the All-Star Game was, to some degree, lost in the discussion.
Jaromir Jagr had warned using this format would produce a game "a little bit slower" than when it’s used in regular season OT, but that turned out not to be the case at all.
The players played harder than they had at All-Star games in recent memory, right from the start. Indeed, in the final minutes of the 1-0 victory by the Pacific Division over the Atlantic Division in the championship game, any sense that this was a meaningless exhibition game was totally lost as the Atlantics tried desperately to tie the game and maintain their shot at the $1-million prize.
Was it novelty or was it real? Hard to say, and we’ll find out more next year in Los Angeles. But three-on-three at the All-Star Game was very similar to what that format looks like in regular season play after years of playing five-on-five showed nothing at all in common with real life NHL competition.
Players defended, the pace was outstanding at times, and goalies weren’t left out to dry in the same way they had been for years. In fact, the goalies were in many ways the stars of the day, with brilliant saves showing just how good these guys are, as opposed to feeling helpless when they’re facing three-on-oh or two-on-oh breaks.
Johnny Hockey shines
Also lost in the love for Scott was the fact that Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau was, without a doubt, the real MVP of the game, although Jonathan Quick and John Gibson came close and the husband/wife combo of Vince Gill and Amy Grant made for wonderful, warm television.
Gaudreau, however, is the game’s most dangerous three-on-three player, and his brilliant quickness and speed shone on Sunday. Nobody seems to be able to capitalize on the space provided by three-on-three quite like Gaudreau, and it is eye-catching how he stands out when there’s all that extra room out there.
One suggestion for the league? How about four different jerseys, one for each of the divisions? It would make it easier to distinguish the groups in future competitions.
Bettman gets extension
While some saw Sunday as the day Gary Bettman and his adminstration was left with egg on their faces because of Scott’s popular success, the news also broke early in the day that Bettman has in fact inked a contract extension that will take him through to 2022.
Clarence Campbell, of course, had a 31-year run as NHL president, and this new contract will bring Bettman close to that mark.
There’s a great debate in the hockey public as to whether Bettman’s reign has been good for the game, although his governors don’t seem to have much doubt about it.
The business has exploded during his time in office. The game, meanwhile, has gone up and down, back and forth, and is currently again locked in another low-scoring era. The league opened things up after the 2004-05 lockout and then has allowed offence to shrivel again, and the way in which three-on-three is being embraced this season should be a message that offence is exciting and sells.
If Bettman has had a major success in the on-ice product, it’s been in a reduction in violence and the near extermination of fighting, a plague on the game for as long as the NHL has been in existence.
Well, the enforcers (like Scott) are all but gone, and there’s relatively little fighting in the NHL now compared to years gone by.
"The game will evolve," said Bettman at his state-of-the-league address on Saturday. "The game is competitive now, I just think teams are more focussed on skill."
Bettman has managed to never express a strong opinion on fighting, for or against. But there seems little doubt he approves of the way the game has gone when it comes to the sweet science.
Goalies taking leading role in creating offence
Strange but true: the players most focussed on getting more goals in the NHL game are, in fact, the goaltenders.
Tampa’s Ben Bishop openly advocated bigger nets, while New Jersey goalkeeper Cory Schneider continued to be a spokesman for the effort to slim down netminding gear.
"It was never asked of me. I like to be a part of what’s going on. I don’t simply want to be told what’s happening and not really understand what is being done, especially when it directly affects my career," said the articulate goalie. "To have the opportunity to have a say in that or be a part of that, I said sure, why wouldn’t I want to be involved?
"This year the drums started beating a lot louder and guys were saying they really wanted to be a part of it. The fear is if we don’t do it ourselves, someone else is going to tell us how its got to be."
Schneider, along with Bishop, Braden Holtby and Devan Dubnyk, were shown protoypes of some goalie body armour during their time in Nashville that would serve to make goalies smaller.
"We’re all in agreement we want it to go in a certain direction. When you see a guy off the ice and you see him on the ice, you shouldn’t be stunned at what you see. Maybe it’s hard to describe," said Schneider. "Goaltending is an inherently insecure position. You’re always checking your stuff, and looking down the ice and thinking, ‘Why does he look so much bigger than I do even though he’s 40 pounds lighter than me?’
"It’s not jealousy. It just comes with the position...it’s still early, still trying to figure what we want. We’re working with the companies to put something in front of us. We’re very early in that process. But we’re trying to move quickly."
Holtby said it’s going to take some time to change goalie equipment and the difference may not be as large as some would like.
"I saw how much work it’s going to take," he said. "I hope they find a way to bring everything down. As long as everyone’s on the same playing field...it makes no difference if we’re all giving up three goals or two goals."
Top Prospects Game a big hit
Last week’s BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Vancouver was, as usual, a big success, and fears that the game wouldn’t be well attended turned out to be unfounded.
Centre Pascal Laberge of the Victoriaville Tigres had a big night, and Sherbrooke goalie Evan Fitzpatrick was terrific. Sarnia blue-liner Jakob Chychrun, on the other hand, struggled with the puck, surprising scouts with some of his decisions.
Chychrun at one point looked like the sure-fire No. 2 player in this draft, and now he’s come back to the rest of the blue-line prospect group. To be fair, shoulder surgery kept him out until the first game of this regular season, and it’s taken him a while to get his game back.
There’s a long way to go before the draft, lots and lots of time for this impressive young man to vault right back up to where he was.
Kick save snare
Dylan Wells of the Peterborough Petes, the fifth ranked North American goalie for the draft, has an interesting background. His father, Rob, is the drummer for the very successful Tim Hicks Band, and Dylan played the drums until he started being passionate about hockey when he was about seven years old.
He still sits behind the kit from time to time, and sees similarities between being a drummer and being a goalie.
"Like the drummer is with the band, the goalie is the backbone of the team," he said.
Not just 'about the Cup' for Jagr
Jagr was like a Yoda figure all during All-Star weekend, with one and all leaning in to glean snippets of wisdom from the 43-year-old winger. Florida head coach Gerard Gallant said that as of last Wednesday, the Panthers weren’t even certain he was going to Nashville, but he ended up being the subject of admiration and affection.
Interestingly, he took issue with the league’s slogan "It’s about the Cup" and disputed the notion that winning another championship is what drives him.
"When I was in Philly, we played in Pittsburgh and I think it was after the first period and we were losing 3-0 and Peter Laviolette came into the dressing room and said, ‘Guys, if I brought the Cup in right now, and somebody told you that you don’t have to play any more games and you had won it, would you take it?," said Jagr.
"And I guarantee you nobody would say yes. It’s not just about the Cup. It’s about the whole year, spending it with the guys. It’s about the games. You have to suffer every day to win.
"So if somebody brought the Cup to me right now, I’m not going to take it."