NASHVILLE — It took a while, but John Scott found his voice.
Scott had no say when hockey fans flocked to the online polls and decided to make a joke of the NHL’s soon-to-be-changed all-star voting system and, perhaps, Scott himself. The big, slow guy with five career NHL goals and 108 times that many penalty minutes.
Scott had no control when Don Maloney, the Arizona Coyotes general manager, decided to toss him into a trade that wasn’t even about Scott, both sides insisted, but exiled him to Newfoundland — a 66-hour drive from his wife, nine months’ pregnant with twins.
A target of our let’s-vote-ironically times. A casualty of the hockey business.
Still, Scott did have a ticket to the All-Star Game, and he refused to hand it over when the league asked.
“This is not a game for you, John,” someone at the league told Scott, according to his article in The Players’ Tribune. “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”
The man with the granite knuckles and Wladimir Klitschko reach used gentle keystrokes to fight back. Scott had read some columns about him and wanted to tell his story his way. The pen is mightier.
Steven Stamkos loved Scott’s article, its honesty and insight.
“That put a lot of things into perspective,” Stamkos says. “He makes a lot of valid points that you probably never would’ve thought of before and truly understand what he’s gone through in his career and to get here. It’s pretty special.”
It took a while, but the league is doing the right thing, albeit with a bit lip. Commissioner Gary Bettman sat down with Scott Thursday night to welcome him: You’re here, make the best of it, have fun, our support is behind you.
Should’ve been the response weeks ago.
“It was nice to hear that, coming from him,” Scott says. “I’m not the typical all-star, and it’s probably not going to happen again.”
Bettman, Scott says, didn’t bring up the Players’ Tribune piece and his outing of the NHL’s failed attempt to shake him from attending.
“They should do something if they don’t want this to happen again,” Scott told the day’s largest media huddle. “It’s gotten a lot of publicity. You never know. It could be a good thing.”
Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Daniel Sedin, Roberto Luongo and any all-star asked Friday says Scott got voted in fair and square. He deserves to be here. Erik Karlsson felt sad when he thought Scott’s trade and AHL demotion would disqualify him.
“It was kind of cool when he said, ‘No, I’m coming.’ I like that,” Jaromir Jagr says. “I think he’s going to be the most popular player on the ice.”
Scott’s all-star T-shirt has already sold out online, and he’s hunting for some SCOTT gear to give to his family. Since his article went live, Scott has been overwhelmed with texts and calls of support. Forever painted as the on-ice villain, he smiles when he considers how he helped flipped his image to fan favourite.
“They voted him in, so let him play. I don’t know why it’s such a big deal. The guy has worked tremendously hard to be where he is,” Luongo says.
“If I was the NHL, I’d put him in every skills competition tomorrow night. That’s the logical thing to do: fastest skater, hardest shot, accuracy… let’s get him in all of them.”
Scott was hoping to participate in Saturday’s accuracy contest but was bumped to hardest shot when some of the more, um, skilled players made demands.
“A lot of guys don’t want to do this and that,” Scott says. “A lot of prima donnas here.”
Yes, this weekend Scott will be one making the jokes. And he already has a goal celebration planned for when he scores Sunday. (“An homage to an old tough guy, maybe,” he teases.)
As the scrum winds down, Scott pulls out his phone and points it at the media to snap a photograph.
“Everyone, smile,” Scott instructs the reporters.
The lens’ focus has reversed. He wants to remember, to call the shots, and also to get Jagr’s autograph.
“I just hope he doesn’t slash anybody,” Jagr quips.
For Scott, the All-Star Game is not a joke. Never was.
“He’s definitely not a guy you want to piss off out there,” says Kane. “He’ll probably take the game pretty serious.”
Luongo agrees: “I’m sure he’s going to want to win that game more than anyone else.”
In spite of the enormity of John Scott’s scrum, John Scott’s all-star controversy, and John Scott’s 6-foot-8, 260-pound body, we learned things about players not named John Scott at Media Day, too. Here are 13 of them.
1.) Toronto’s Leo Komarov ranks third in hits delivered this season (216) and represents fans’ best chance of seeing a finished check Sunday but says he will refrain from launching a body-check during the 3-on-3 tournament.
Komarov never watched the All-star Game growing up in Europe but was still aware of it, thanks to video games. “It’s always on the PlayStation,” he says.
2.) Florida’s Aaron Ekblad addressed his enjoyment of Nashville’s fine strip of honkeytonks.
“Considering I’m under 21, it makes it difficult,” he quipped. “Maybe I’ll have a water.”
3.) Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk isn’t convinced the game’s new 3-on-3 format will be tougher on the goaltenders.
“Is it going to be any worse than before?” Dubnyk says. “I’ve watched all-star games in the past, and they didn’t look too easy.”
4.) Erik Karlsson is looking forward to sampling Nashville’s hot chicken. His girlfriend researched the best spot.
5.) Daniel Sedin was surprised to learn that Pacific Division teammate Drew Doughty is still looking for his first Norris Trophy.
“He doesn’t have a Norris?! He should have a few, I think,” Sedin says. “He can skate, he’s smart, he can defend. The minutes he plays are tough minutes. It’s not only offence or only defence. He does it all.”
6.) Claude Giroux vows to sing John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” at karaoke this weekend.
7.) Steven Stamkos admits that his impending free agency is on his mind, but he views the rink as his escape.
“You’re human. It’s in your head, for sure. You try not to let it affect your play on the ice,” he says of the negotiations with Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman. “There’s no timeline or date you put on it. It’s gone on this long, you never know what to expect.
Stamkos says he is “pretty involved” with the talks that have taken place and stays updated regularly but not daily. Unlike fellow UFA-in-waiting Dustin Byfuglien, who told his agent he didn’t want to be distracted by any updates until a deal was close.
“I can’t see how that would be intentional,” Luongo says. “I don’t know him personally. I don’t the guy, the circumstances, but it was something weird.”
9.) Patrick Kane wasn’t happy to find out that teammate Jonathan Toews was suspended one game by the league for backing out of All-Star weekend with an illness.
“It’s disappointing,” Kane says. “I’m not sure the rules of it or why that happens.”
10.) Stamkos on the rumour that his parents were moving from Markham, Ont., to somewhere in Florida: “Was it Sunrise? I thought it was Boca,” he smiles. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from. It’s almost comical that stuff, especially about your parents. And they were getting calls and texts about it.”
11.) Sneaky Stamkos is already playing the underdog card for the Atlantic Division, who will dress the youngest player in Dylan Larkin (19) and the oldest in Jaromir Jagr (43).
“I’d say we might (be) underdogs when you look at some of the other teams out there,” Stamkos says. “There’s some pretty stacked teams.”
12.) P.K. Subban adamantly defended Montreal’s backup goaltenders, Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens, who have combined to lose seven of their last eight starts — as MVP Carey Price watches from the sidelines.
“I don’t think our goaltenders should be taking any heat. As a defenceman, I think our goaltenders have given us opportunities to win every game, whether it’s Pricey, Scrivy, Condo, even [Dustin] Tokarski,” Subban says. “Our goaltending isn’t the issue of why were in the situation we’re in.
“Condo specifically has taken the lion’s share of the games since Price has gone down,” he said. “What more do you want from the guy? He’s played extremely well. It’s us as a team. We have to be better.”
Reporter: “I know you don’t like to talk much about yourself, but…”
Kuznetsov: “I try not to talk much about my game, but today we can talk a bit. It’s like late Christmas present for you.”