NHL Roundup: John Scott And Dennis Wideman Controversies

Dec 17, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes left wing John Scott (28) and Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Jared Boll (40) fight during the second period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes left wing John Scott (28) and Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Jared Boll (40) fight during the second period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /
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Before I start this post, I do realize this is a Chicago Blackhawks-focused blog. And while John Scott is a former Blackhawk, this post will have nothing to do with the Blackhawks. We occasionally touch on more league-focused material, usually with our power rankings or slideshows, such as our recent Hart Trophy favorites post. This post is none of those things.

While the NHL All-Star break is typically a time to relax and take stock of the regular season’s first half, two very interesting topics have been circulating over the last couple days, and they’ve left a very bad taste in my mouth. This post is a means to address those two items, hopefully make you readers more informed on them and offer my opinion on the matters.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, the two biggest news items revolving around the NHL right now are Scott’s column, published through The Players’ Tribune on Thursday, regarding his All-Star Game candidacy, and Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman cross-checking a linesman in one of the last games before the break. And, boy, do these events have people talking. And arguing.

Let’s start with Scott’s column. If you haven’t read it, please take the time to do so. It’s absolutely worth it. If you’re not aware of the backstory involving Scott being in the upcoming All-Star Game, take a seat and allow me to lay it out for you.

Scott is a career enforcer, something he’s well aware of and something he’s grown to embrace. He got his first NHL action during the 2008-09 season with the Minnesota Wild, at age 26. Since then, he has played in 285 regular-season games and four playoff games (all four with Chicago in 2011), tallying five goals, six assists and 542 penalty minutes. Scott is a large man at 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, and he’s not the most fleet of foot or talented. But he’s utilized his size and fists to carve a niche for himself in the league, and he continues to find a team each season, having played with Minnesota, Chicago, the New York Rangers, Buffalo, San Jose and Arizona. By all accounts, he’s also a fantastic locker room presence.

Still, probably not a guy who’s going to be selected to an All-Star Game, right? He’s played in 11 NHL games this season, tallying a single assist. So, no … unless the league tries to prop up interest in its nearly-meaningless exhibition by allowing fans to vote for the four team captains. Which it totally did, with no real restrictions.

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And so, a grassroots campaign quickly rose to vote Scott into the game as the Pacific Division captain. That campaign was picked up by various larger outlets, and it was suddenly something that couldn’t be ignored. Scott wasn’t thrilled with it at first, but he embraced it over time, backed by his Coyotes teammates and former teammates, as well as the thought of enjoying an All-Star Game with his wife and two young daughters.

Scott ending up winning the Pacific Division captain vote. And, besides some fans who claimed the move was making a mockery of a game that, again, is essentially meaningless, it was a nice win for an everyman in the sport. But league officials certainly weren’t enjoying it, and that’s where things get really messed up.

From the outside, all we saw at first was Arizona trading Scott to Montreal on January 15 as part of a three-team deal, and the Canadiens immediately tossing Scott to their AHL affiliate, assuring Scott would not be able to participate in the All-Star Game. This created a minor uproar, and the NHL later said Scott would still be the Pacific Division captain for the game.

Then, Scott released his column through The Players’ Tribune. And, holy hell, does it make the league look absolutely awful.

While players in the league were supporting Scott and urging him to attend the game should he be chosen for it, the league was quietly, at multiple points, trying to keep Scott away from the game. During the voting process, he played along, initially encouraging fans to vote for players who have better statistics and more starpower.

“So when they asked me to make a statement — nudging the fan vote in another direction and denouncing the John Scott ‘movement’ — I did it without hesitation. I told the fans, ‘Listen. I don’t deserve this. Vote for my teammates.’ And I was telling the truth.”

That didn’t work, obviously. So the league proceeded to make the situation worse.

“So when someone from the NHL calls me and says, ‘Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?’ That’s when they lost me. That was it, right there. That was the moment. Because, while I may not deserve to be an NHL All-Star, I know I deserve to be the judge of what my kids will — and won’t — be proud of me for.”

It’s important to note, these are Scott’s words alone, and the league hadn’t responded to them at the time of this post. But what does Scott have to gain by lying about this? He’s already made it abundantly clear he doesn’t really care what people outside his family think of him. He doesn’t want to be some sympathetic figure. He just wants to do his job and play the game he loves, and he wants to accept an opportunity the fans afforded him.

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  • “But while I don’t deserve to be an All-Star, I also don’t think I deserve to be treated like I’ve been by the league throughout this saga. I’m an NHL player — and, whatever my set of skills may be, that I’m an NHL player is no accident.”

    Scott is absolutely right about the way the league has (according to him) treated him throughout this process. Personally, even though the trade involved three teams, I think Scott’s movement to Montreal/Saskatchewan was quietly orchestrated by the league to keep him out of the game. And while that’s very conspiracy-theorist of me, I’m not jumping into that boat without backup. Like this quote from Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin:

    “The timing, that was the timing to make the trade with John Scott. That has nothing to do with the Montreal Canadiens with the All-Star Game. I made a trade that at the time, I had to make that trade. I have a reason that I can’t really tell you why, but if I could, you would probably understand.”

    A reason you can’t tell us about, Marc? No, that’s not suspicious at all in a situation like this.

    How about this quote from Arizona General Manager Don Maloney:

    What’s interesting is Maloney admitted the Coyotes thought about waiting (until after the All-Star break to trade Scott).

    “We did. But, things can change. What if someone else is interested? What if he gets hurt? You can’t take the chance.”

    What if someone else is interested in five-goal, six-assist John Scott, who was scratched more than he had played this regular season? Okay, Don.

    Regardless of any underlying reasons for the Scott trade, the NHL took the most low, pathetic and oblivious road possible to try and protect some perceived sanctity of an exhibition game. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but considering this league is run by Gary Bettman — who has shown a pretty clear disregard for players’ well-being during multiple lockouts and while trying to ignore obvious links between hockey’s hard-hitting ways and traumatic brain injuries, I can’t. But it’s still disgusting.

    Now, the league gets to go into damage-control mode on one of its more-important weekends, and all because it couldn’t bear to have someone not like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and the like in the All-Star Game. All because it was scared of what the most casual of casual fans might think seeing a 6-foot-8 enforcer trying to skate with some of the league’s best in a 3-on-3 setting.

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    Instead of accepting what it helped create for a single season and making adjustments next season — something like setting standards for who can be selected as captain in the online voting, for example — the NHL made an even bigger mockery of its All-Star Game, pissed off a bunch of fans and probably some players and made one of the league’s nicer guys, along with his nine-months-pregnant wife and two young children, relocate to damn Saskatchewan.

    Of course, the NHL Shop has already sold out of Scott shirts ahead of the All-Star Game, and more eyes are going to be drawn to the All-Star Game because of this mess, so the league still wins. It was probably the plan all along, right, Gary? I at least hope Scott gets a standing ovation from those in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena upon his introduction.

    Next: The Dennis Wideman Situation