The first NHL All-Star game came from a place of charity. In 1934, the Toronto Maple Leafs played the league's stars in honour of Ace Bailey, who had been forced into retirement with a fractured skull. Three years later, the Montreal Canadiens great star, Howie Morenz broke his leg and shortly afterwards died of a pulmonary embolism. The Montreal All-Stars played their NHL counterparts to raise money for the deceased player's family. And one last time, in 1939, the Habs played the NHL All-Stars, this time in memory of Babe Siebert, who had drowned during the off-season. In those early days, the Canadiens were the good-hearted guys who used the game they loved to help others in need.
When the NHL All-Star game became official in 1947, the players skated for bragging rights. In 1969, for the first time, the participants got a cash bonus: $500 per winning player, $250 for the losers. Not too many years after that, with money involved and nothing special about the event, everyone stopped caring about the game. In the big picture these days, it's a gimmick weekend with no purpose other than for the league to promote itself. (That so many of the gimmicks are ill-thought-out, ridiculous or boring is beside the point.) The players who don't attend the game get a much-needed mid-season holiday. Those who do go just try to have a bit of fun with their families and avoid getting hurt. Nobody cares who wins. This year, Jaromir Jagr, one of the all-time great players has even been on Twitter begging fans not to send him.
That's why it's so disappointing to see Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens organization make asses of themselves over something as unimportant as the All-Star game.
This year, the game is sillier than ever with its 3-on-3 format. So perhaps it wasn't all that surprising to see Arizona fans rally behind 6'8" goon John Scott. Wouldn't it be funny, they thought, if we all pulled together and sent this guy to the All-Star game. What a joke!
To his credit, as the online votes multiplied and it looked like he was actually going to be voted in, Scott played along. Sure, it was a bit embarrassing to know the whole thing was a gag, but Scott talked to his teammates and other players who told him to live it up and enjoy the moment. Then he was named Captain of the Pacific Division squad, and he really did start to do so. He even had some t-shirts printed for his teammates, from their "captain."
That's when the NHL decided the whole thing was a disgrace that had gone too far. As Bob McKenzie tweeted on Friday, "John Scott was previously asked by both NHL and Arizona Coyotes to bow out of the NHL All-Star Game. He refused. Trade likely takes care of that."
Ah, yes. The trade. The one thing Habs fans knew for sure when Bergevin announced he'd sent Jarred Tinordi to Arizona for Scott and a scrub D, was that the Canadiens organization does not need John Scott. The guy was sent immediately to St.John's and Bergevin mumbled some nonsense about him bringing "experience to our group of forwards with the Ice Caps."
Now, Scott's All-Star status is unclear, but it's unlikely he can play in the game if he's no longer with a Pacific Division team or even in the NHL. As Adrian Lee wrote in Maclean's this week, the NHL's inability to take itself less seriously has resulted in a greater embarrassment than the original appointment of Scott to the All-Star squad ever could have been. He and the fans broke the league's staid Code and now Scott is paying the price. The question is, what on earth motivated Bergevin to take part in the whole farce? What does he get out of it, one might wonder. We won't be told.
What we do know is in an effort to protect the honour of a meaningless league sideshow, the lives of real people are upset by the NHL and by Bergevin. Scott is thousands of miles away from his pregnant wife and, as the Calgary Sun's Michael Platt wrote, his family is afraid Scott's tenuous hold on an NHL spot is over and his career at an end. They say he feels exiled and embarrassed.
And Scott himself? He met with reporters last night after his first game in St.John's. Of course the first question he got was whether he can still play in the All-Star game.
"I haven't heard anything from the league or anyone, so I really don't know where that stands. I obviously didn't want to get voted in that way, but the fans wanted me in and they voted me in so I just went with it," he answered. "I was going to go with my family, enjoy the whole experience and have some fun. It was a big surprise. I was happy with it."
And those funny t-shirts he'd made up for his Coyotes teammates? Scott says, "I'll probably just send them back." He had no comment on his discussion with Bergevin and the plans the Canadiens have for him, which was probably the classy way to answer that question.
John Scott might not be a goal scorer or a future Hall-of-Famer, but he's a guy who had to work very hard to grind out a place in pro hockey. He had grace enough to accept the fans who took advantage of the NHL's naive All-Star voting system. In exchange, the league big-wigs punished him and his family, and Marc Bergevin helped them do it. That this should come of a game with its roots in kindness and charity is a damn shame.