The Anti-All-Star

Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a seven-part series here on Jet City Ice, providing you with a guide to the Pacific Division teams, those that our beloved Seattle franchise will see most frequently during the season. The Coyotes will move to the Central Division to make room for the new Seattle team, but we include them here anyway because you deserve to know just how flagitious a team this is.

NHL Seattle Arizona Preview
Behold, the NHL’s toilet bowl…

So I’m not going to rail on about how the NHL yanked a perfectly good, well-supported team out of a Canadian city and plunked it in the middle of a fucking desert, only to have the entire thing go decidedly in the shitter less than 10 years later. I’m not going to bluster about the league demanding that the team tell staggering and easily refuted lies about its home game attendance — even over the public address system inside the nearly empty arena while the game was in progress — to maintain the illusion that the team was selling tickets and had the support of the community. And I’m not going to grouse about a team so bad for so long that players and agents refused to take meetings with them during free agency, knowing that they were the NHL’s equivalent of the Ebola virus.

No, today I’m going to tell you a different story. You’ve heard part of it before, you may have even been a part of it when it was happening. But you don’t know how the Phoenix Arizona Coyotes played a part in one of the most unbelievable, disgraceful, and downright heinous chapters in NHL history.

* * * * *

It’s 2015. The NHL season is going along at its usual pace, and the All-Star Game looms on the horizon. As is tradition, this year the NHL has thrown more format changes and fan voting restrictions into the mix. The All-Star Game will actually be a tournament, each division fielding a squad; the games will be played 3-on-3; and fans will only be able to vote in the captains of the teams from each division.

If you follow the NHL at all, you know that the All-Star Game has turned into a complete farce in recent years. Way back when, it used to be… you know, a game. Two teams playing each other for 60 minutes with one of the teams coming out on top at the end. There was little or no defense and the score was frequently 12-11, but it was an actual game of hockey.

But somewhere along the line the accountants got involved. They brought in the marketing people. Then came surveys, and questionnaires, and focus groups, and on and on. It was no longer about hockey, it was about profits.

The long and short of it is, the “game” is now a circus. It’s a weekend-long fan festival with the most marketable, fan-friendly players from around the league out on the ice goofing off for an hour or two. If you saw the All-Star Game from 30 years ago and the one that happened this past season, you’d wonder what the hell happened.

They’re so intent on pleasing fans and gaining a bigger audience I’m surprised they don’t have the Game of Thrones cast on one team and Pokemon characters on the other.

So in 2015, just after the All-Star Game parameters had been announced, two of hockey’s web media glitterati were doing a podcast together. Greg Wyshynski had Jeff Marek on his PuckDaddy podcast, and they were lamenting this exact situation. Why the limited fan voting? Why 3-on-3? Why a tournament instead of a game? And what the hell has happened to this thing?

You know, they mused, if they are going to turn this event into a spectacle to rival that of an Amsterdam brothel, then we ought to show them what we think of it. We ought to vote in somebody who shouldn’t be there. You know, just to piss them off.

Somebody who can’t handle 3-on-3. Somebody who can’t skate worth a crap. Somebody who only plays a few minutes a night. Somebody who, under other circumstances, wouldn’t get any closer to the All-Star Game than watching it on TV. The Anti-All-Star. We need that guy. Who should we get?

And they arrived at a name: Arizona Coyotes’ winger John Scott.

John Scott is 6’8″ tall. John Scott weighs in above 250 lbs. John Scott at full stride would still have trouble beating most Pee-Wees from one end of the ice to the other. John Scott plays maybe 1/4 of the schedule each season, and only plays 5-8 minutes a night when he does crack the lineup. Why? Because John Scott is an enforcer. A fighter. A goon.

For Wyshynski and Marek’s purposes, John Scott was the perfect choice. He was the greased pig let loose in Toys ‘R’ Us on Black Friday, and if these blogger/mavens could rally enough fan support via their respective web platforms, they could vote him in.

That’s exactly what happened. That’s when things got ugly.

* * * * *

Gary Bettman is the NHL Commissioner. Gary Bettman is a greedy, arrogant, egomaniacal, slimy gerbil fucker. Gary Bettman is the most vile piece of walking human trash you’ll ever meet in your life. And when John Scott got so many All-Star votes that they turned off the part of the web page that displays how many votes he had accumulated, Gary Bettman knew he’d been screwed. But he still had a few tricks up his sleeve, and he wasn’t going down without a fight.

During the voting, Bettman — through his henchman and bag-man Bill Daly, another pickle-dicked shit-stain — had Arizona GM Don Maloney and the Coyotes PR folks put the screws to John Scott about releasing a statement. Something along the lines of, “Thanks for the votes of support, but the joke has gone too far; I won’t be going to the All-Star Game, vote for some of my teammates.”

Scott wasn’t comfortable with declaring that he wouldn’t go, but he did agree to release a statement indicating that he thought some of his teammates were more deserving than he was, and that fans should vote for them instead. As far as voting was concerned, the statement from Scott changed nothing. The votes for him had continued to pour in, enough to make him #1 among all players in both conferences, and establish him as Captain of the Pacific Division.

But now that voting had ended it was time for Bettman to play hardball. Coward that he is, however, he wasn’t going to get his own hands dirty. So Daly got on the phone with Maloney; buttonhole Scott, make it clear that he shouldn’t play in the game, and get him to back out. So Maloney had a chat with Scott, but wasn’t able to change his mind.

Bettman, infuriated, then tried to strong-arm the guy directly. Scott gets a call from Daly, and after the same routine of suggesting and cajoling wasn’t working, Daly got personal (paraphrasing below):

“Is your dad alive? What would your dad think about you playing in the All-Star Game under these conditions?” Scott was still unmoved.

“What about your kids? Do you think they’re going to be proud of their daddy when he’s playing in the All-Star Game as the butt of somebody’s internet joke?”

That was too far. Scott went off. Full throttle, both barrels, no profanity was too vulgar. As well he should have. When the dust settled and the appropriate apologies communicated, John Scott had not changed his position. This, he figured, was the only chance he’d ever get to be an NHL All-Star, regardless of method or motive.

So on January 6th, 2016 the NHL released the final rosters for the All-Star Game. The fan-voted captains for each division’s team were shown with an asterisk. John Scott was among them. And despite the frantic attempts to get him to voluntarily back out, as far as he was concerned, Scott was going to play.

* * * * *

Playing professional hockey started out as a lark for John Scott. He never played Junior, he was never drafted. He got an invitation to try out for the Houston Aeros out of the blue while playing at Michigan Tech University, and to his shock, made the squad and turned pro.

Being an enforcer was never the career he intended to have either. He grew up in the modern era of amateur hockey — mandatory helmets and shields/cages. So while he had his share of scraps in the USHL and of course in Houston, he wasn’t put into the role of a genuine enforcer until he was called up to the NHL.

During the summers between his AHL seasons Scott had gone back and completed his Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan Tech. He figured his time playing hockey wasn’t going to last forever, he wasn’t Sidney Crosby, he wasn’t going to make enough playing hockey to retire on; he’d better have a way to support his family when this comes to an end. He just expected that after the AHL he’d be a cubicle jockey working on car designs for General Motors.

Moreover, Scott is a family man. In January of 2016 he, his wife, and their two daughters are living in Phoenix, and have moved — as a family — to all six of the NHL teams that Scott has played for to that point in his career.

Also of note: I want you to go look at Phoenix, Arizona on Google Maps and get a feel for where it is. Zoom all the way out so you see the rest of the continent. All right? Now, proceed.

On January 15th, Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney pulls John Scott aside before practice. He had traded Scott to the Montreal Canadiens. Shortly thereafter, the news actually got worse — Montreal had demoted him to their AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland. They needed him there immediately. The plane left in just a few hours.

Go look at the map again, and find St. John’s, Newfoundland. Seriously, go find it.

Scott didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to his family, he had to give his wife this news by phone from the rink. He had no choice but to pack up his gear and head to the airport — leaving his wife behind to mop up what she could of their life in Arizona, and find a way to get herself and their daughters dislodged from Phoenix to go meet him 3000 miles away in Santa’s Scrotum, Canada.

In January.

With two kids under 5 years old.

While 8 months pregnant.

With twins.

For some perspective: the cities of Honolulu, HI; Fairbanks, AK; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Bogota, Colombia are all closer to Phoenix than St. John’s, Newfoundland. That’s your Jet City Ice geography lesson for today.

It was clear on its face: this was Bettman getting revenge. There was no way he was going to let the hulking embodiment of his most painful and widely reported public humiliation set foot on the All-Star Game ice. And if he had to destroy a man’s career and ruin his family’s life in the process, so be it.

And Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney went along with it.

“Whoa!” you say, “Trades happen all the time! This is business! Scott was plainly a valued resource and necessary piece to a complicated puzzle! There was no sinister motive here!” I thought the same thing. Then I looked at the other players involved in the trade.

These players were, in fact, the key to the trade. They were so prominent, so talented, so integral to the future of the clubs that acquired them that, as a group, those three players (not including John Scott) combined for just 38 NHL games since the trade — and I mean when all three seasons are added together between the day of that trade and the moment you are reading this.

One guy was such an eminent young talent that he never played a single game in the NHL, not before the trade nor since. I believe right now he has a job replacing broken smart phone screens at a strip mall outside Flagstaff.

So, as I said, these players were the key. And by that I mean, they were completely expendable. They were just the kind of players that could be cobbled together into a bogus trade that was assembled at a moment’s notice; players that nobody would miss, nobody would use, and nobody would give two shits about. They were the supporting characters in the lie that was constructed with the clear and undeniable purpose of dismantling John Scott’s career.

This had Gary Bettman’s putrid stench all over it. And think about it: if Bettman just wanted Scott out of the All-Star Game, and the most expedient means of doing so was to just demote him to the minors, he could just have Maloney do that — demote Scott to the Coyotes’ minor league affiliate, which at the time was the Springfield Falcons. Springfield, Massachusetts, as if relocating him and his family 2,200 miles away wouldn’t be enough of a blow.

But no — Bettman wanted to eviscerate somebody. He demanded retribution. He required his pound of flesh for what he and his pathetic, fragile, leviathan ego believed was a personal slight against him. So he set in motion a plan to very literally ruin a man’s entire life, including those of his wife and kids. He arranged a trade between Phoenix and the team whose minor league affiliate was the farthest away from Phoenix he could find. The trade was orchestrated specifically for that reason and with that precise intent. That’s just a very small part of what makes Gary Bettman lower than the shit I scrape off my shoe at the dog park.

As an aside, if you are ever within arm’s reach of Gary Bettman, you are duty-bound as a human being and hockey fan to stab him through the eye socket, and leave his limp body hanging by the ankle from the top of the nearest flagpole. For this, God will secure your place of honor at His side in heaven.

But then there’s Don Maloney. The Coyotes’ GM exhibited a level of courage equivalent to a six-year-old girl by acquiescing to Bill Daly’s mobster tactics while the All-Star voting was still in progress. But to voluntarily become Gary Bettman’s cock-holster and help orchestrate the destruction of John Scott’s career and the unraveling of his family’s life? That puts him, and the Coyotes organization as a whole, squarely and permanently into that special category of the most reprehensible, execrable, and undeniably abhorrent things known to man.

Don Maloney would be relieved of his duties as Coyotes GM at the end of the 2015-16 season. Fuck that guy. Fuck him with a rake. And fuck the Coyotes while we’re at it.

* * * * *

I don’t want to leave you on down note; there is a very happy ending to this story.

An in-depth review of the NHL by-laws revealed nothing specifying the exclusion of a player from the All-Star Game following demotion to the minors. There was also no precedent, this had never happened before. So while there was no rule explicitly requiring John Scott’s inclusion, there wasn’t anything stopping him from going either. Once the hockey media uncovered this fact, then the internet took over again.

While getting John Scott to the All-Star Game was an effort championed by what I call secondary media — Twitter, Facebook, non-broadcast sports outlets, and blogs like this one — once Bettman tried to ruin Scott’s career the mainstream media got involved — ESPN, TSN, and even the major broadcast networks in the U.S. and Canada (save NBC, who had the NHL broadcast rights — the pussies). The bad PR the league was getting for this move became overwhelming. The only person standing up for the league’s actions (in his ill-tempered and round-about way) was Don Cherry. And you know if Don Cherry is on your side, you really must be fucking up bad.

Amidst the rising tide of bad press, the failed attempts at spin control, and the NHL’s continued insistence that John Scott would not be playing, somewhere out in the Twitterverse the #FreeJohnScott hashtag was born. Once it took hold, and stories about Scott’s unlikely ascent and the league’s vindictive actions moved from the Sports section to the front page, there was no more wiggle room for the league under the crushing weight of public opinion. Finally, on January 19th, the NHL announced that John Scott would be allowed to captain the Pacific Division team at the All-Star Game.

It was all over but the crying. And Gary Bettman needed a tissue.

* * * * *

I can’t do justice to what happened on All-Star Weekend itself. This video will do a much better job. Keep a special eye out near the end for the two nominees for Best Supporting Actor in our story: Bill Daly, the butt plug-looking motherfucker with the MVP plaque; and Gary Bettman, the neckless Gru impersonator handing out the $1,000,000.00 check. The smiles on their faces say one thing, and one thing only: we’re pathetic cowards.

Watch for #88 in white, Brent Burns, Scott’s teammate from San Jose.

John Scott’s wife gave birth to their twin girls the following week, and a week after that Scott was back riding the bus with the St. John’s IceCaps, alongside players barely north of half his age. The decision was made for his family to remain at their home in Michigan, instead of trying to obtain visas and start their lives over in the eastern-most city in North America. That decision by itself was telling of Scott’s future plans.

In three months John Scott had gone from workaday NHL enforcer to All-Star MVP to aging curiosity in the minors. His wife, struggling to maintain some semblance of order handling four small children by herself, grew weary of the new arrangement, as did Scott himself. One night his wife was too exhausted to corral the kids for their usual “good night” from their daddy on FaceTime, and he thought to himself, “What the hell am I doing?”

There was a call-up to play one game with the Canadiens on April 5th in Montreal. The 9 minutes he logged during that tilt would be his last. He did not sign a contract for the 2016-17 season, and on December 7th, 2016, John Scott officially announced his retirement from the NHL.

* * * * *

So what started out as a lark for John Scott turned into an NHL career spanning 9 seasons. His salary from wrangling paperwork at GM wouldn’t have come close to the $4 million he earned on skates. And while he wouldn’t necessarily have been paid every cent of that (two-way contracts pay you at different rates for NHL and AHL games, and you lose some cash when you’re suspended), he’s good with numbers, and I expect he’s been smart with his money. His 286 games played qualify him for a full NHL pension, so he’ll always have at least a little something coming in to help pay the bills.

Today, Scott, his wife Danielle, and his now five daughters live on a lake outside Traverse City, Michigan. Now that he’s done with hockey he can think about getting back to the kinds of things normal people do. He’s just 36 years old. He’s got his whole life ahead of him: a wife and family, a home, money in the bank, and a college degree. He is no longer the hulking bruiser standing ready to hop over the boards and beat somebody into a crimson stain on the ice.

Now, he’s the absurdly tall, furry guy standing in the lobby of his daughter’s dance studio, “waving to his little princesses every five seconds.”

* * * * *

I encourage you to read John Scott’s articles in The Players Tribune here and here, and listen to the RadioLab podcast here, from which much of the source material for this article was gathered. There are even more details to this story, including a face-to-face meeting between John Scott and Gary Bettman on the eve of the All-Star Game.

You might also want to go find the article about him falling through the ice on the lake in back of his house earlier this year. The big idiot’s lucky to be alive…

Author: Tim Currell

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