Hockey fans flooded the NHL All Star voting with support for journeyman enforcer John Scott.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Jaromir Jagr is arguably the greatest European-born player in NHL history. Patrick Kane has won three Stanley Cups in six years with the Chicago Blackhawks. Alex Ovechkin is among the most dynamic scorers of his generation. And John Scott, well, he's a bit of a goon.
Yet, all four men were voted captains for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game by hockey fans.
Three of those players are prolific puck magicians. The fourth beats up people on the ice and was waived three times by the Arizona Coyotes this season. Despite all that, Scott, the people's champion, will be at the All-Star Game in Nashville on Jan. 31, striking either an incredible democratic victory for sports fans across the world or simply turning the event into a complete mockery.
Either way, you're probably going to hear about it. And that, in itself, is a win for the NHL, whose signature Winter Classic event is even experiencing a decline in interest.
Scott is not a gifted offensive player. He's an enforcer. He's a 6-foot-8 fighter who can't skate all that fast, has only scored five goals in his career, and is averaging just over six minutes on the ice in the 11 games he's played this year. He is, by no means, an All-Star in any traditional sense of the term.
"It's one of those things where I don't want to be a joke, I don't want to be an embarrassment, I don't want to kind of embarrass the game in that way," Scott has said. "But I talked to some people, I talked to a lot of former players, and everyone said have fun with it."
By all accounts, Scott seems like a pretty good guy. That runs consistent with enforcers in hockey: good, fun dudes who have an ugly job that has led some to depression, addiction, and brain injuries. They are the best teammates. They are humble and sweet away from the rink, but when you take a run at one of their guys, they turn into Rottweilers. Hockey lore is ripe with tales of players meeting for a cold one after beating the snot out of each other on the ice. Scott, who has fought a lot in his career, fits that mold.
It is the image of Scott, wearing a t-shirt with himself scoring one of his rare NHL goals that exemplifies the guy's charm. He seems like a pretty good-natured guy about all this, and that's what made him such an intriguing candidate.
"The reason it worked is because John Scott is a likeable guy," says Yahoo! hockey writer Greg Wyshynski, one of the people responsible for all this and a key leader of the revolution. "Isn't that the kind of guy you'd love in the All-Star Game?"
But really, how the hell did this happen? How did a goon with as many goals in his career as a guy like Kane scores in a week become an All-Star?
It's the internet's fault. Or, depending on how you view it, it's the internet's greatest sports victory.
The NHL permits fans to vote for any players they want to serve as one of four divisional captains in the All-Star Game. It's a simple process. Fans go online and click on the players they want. They are free to vote as many times as they want. There are no ballots to punch holes in or write on. Point and click. That's it.
Looking to breathe new life into a stale and tired All-Star event, the NHL in November announced a new 3-on-3 tournament format, made up of three 20-minute games played by divisional all-star teams. Adding some incentive, the winning team will split a $1 million prize.
The topic was a central talking point of the Marek vs. Wyshynski hockey podcast that week, and co-hosts Jeff Marek of Sportsnet in Canada and Yahoo!'s Wyshynski riffed on players that would be fun to see in the 3-on-3 format. In jest, Wyshynski blurted out Scott's name, mostly because of what he might look like trying to keep up with faster, more skilled stars.
"Oh my god. John Scott, All-Star," Marek said. "Just so when anyone has him on a radio show, they can say, 'Former NHL All-Star John Scott.'"
Little did they know, but the two hockey talkers thus began a coup d'état of hockey's highest ranks. On one level, the #VoteforScott campaign was fueled by fans who wanted to make their voices heard. And stick it to the NHL.
"The NHL has marginalized the fan vote for an event that is unquestionably held for the fans every year," Wyshynski says. "It used to be that the fans voted in 10 players ... and that number has dramatically dwindled over the years."
On another level, there is some pranksterism at play here, too. In 2007, the grassroots Vote for Rory campaign tried to get journeyman Rory Fitzpatrick voted to the All-Star Game. That campaign featured Vancouver teammates wearing t-shirts endorsing their man and a series of creative "attack" ads posted online. Still, many hockey purists from Wayne Gretzky to Don Cherry called Vote for Rory a "joke."
"It was getting behind a blue collar, journeyman candidate to represent that kind of player in the All-Star Game," Wyshynski says. "There's always a contingent just trying to see if they can make some chaos in the voting process, but I think for a lot of people that backed that campaign, it was, 'Yeah, let's reward the lunchpail guy for once,' and he sort of encompassed that feeling."
"The difference between that and the Scott thing is the Scott thing was much more of a goof," Wyshynski says. "Let's vote the class clown as homecoming king."
When Scott's name was floated on that history-making podcast, a new revolution was born.
"We need another Vote for Rory," Marek said. "Send that man to Nashville."
The NHL did not respond to a request to comment on this story, but the league has not stopped Scott from appearing in the All-Star Game and seems to be OK with a non-traditional role player participating in the event.
"A few of us from the Vote for Rory thing were wary of the NHL being able to do whatever the hell it wants with the votes, based on the fact that Fitzpatrick should have been an All-Star that season," Wyshynski says. "We thought at the end they were just going to play around with the numbers."
To the NHL's credit, nobody seems to have messed with the votes.
"I think they probably thought it would have been a ton of bad publicity if they found a way to discredit his candidacy," Wyshynski says. "Here's the thing: people who have been voting for John Scott are hockey fans. I mean, hockey fans are the only ones who know who the hell John Scott is and what it means to vote him into the All-Star Game. These are your most engaged, die-hard customers that are going to your site every day and casting a vote for this game. Most likely, they're the only ones watching this game. So the idea that you'd turn your back on them and try to undo what they've done doesn't bode well for people engaged in that event."
The John Scott campaign was organically pushed along by podcasts and hockey bloggers, and really caught fire when it was picked up on Reddit. NHL All-Star Voting took place between Dec. 1 and Jan. 1, and during that time, the hulking masher from Alberta received more votes than any other player. It also helped that fans typically have a soft spot for tough guys.
"There's an entire genre of player that's gone by the wayside, which is the enforcer or the goon," Wyshynski says. "And some of these players are some of the most beloved, most popular players in hockey in the last 20 years. Bob Probert. Tie Domi. Stu Grimson ... these are legendary, fan-favorite names. John Scott is representative of that type of guy."
There's a fine line between putting a blue collar player in an All-Star Game and him embarrassing himself. Some have said that this could be construed as a form of cyber bullying. But Wyshynski says if Scott does anything during the skills competition or the actual All-Star Game, "it's going to be a folk hero moment."
In hockey, nobody gets louder cheers than an enforcer. When a tough guy actually scores a goal, it's typically bedlam on the bench because his teammates are so happy for him. On the All-Star stage, Scott is going to have plenty of chances to bring people out of their seats. He may even provide the world with a Marek Malik moment, a reference to the most memorable NHL shootout goal ever scored when the Rangers' lumbering defenseman put the puck between his legs and scored a circus goal.
The only thing better than the goal Malik scored was announcer John Davidson squealing in disbelief because nobody expected that from a guy like him. Just like nobody is going to expect much from Scott at the All-Star Game.
Weeks before the event, you could argue that Scott is already making it more fun. Jagr, who is 43, joked that he was more afraid of Scott than the up-tempo 3-on-3 format.
While Jagr and other players have embraced the idea of NHL All-Star John Scott, some media folks like Ken Campbell at The Hockey News have blasted the prank and have urged Scott to decline the invitation. This, of course, is an event that features players wearing superhero capes and masks and has been torched every year because it has become unwatchable. Last year, Grantland published a piece titled "The Apathy and Absurdity of the NHL All-Star Game."
"You have an event in the NHL All-Star Game where the punditry and certain fan bases drop trou every year to shit all over it as far as it being a joke event or boring, a waste of time," Wyshynski says. "You had people literally saying that they should scrap the All-Star Game and just not have it anymore. Now all of a sudden, it's this paragon of virtue. Now we need to protect the sanctity of the All-Star Game? OK.
"Now you have a guy in John Scott, who for years people have been calling a joke, that he shouldn't be in the league," he says. "And then you have people writing he should have the dignity to recuse himself from playing in the All-Star Game, despite the fact that fans voted him in. That doesn't really square with me, either."
So what's next? Will NBA fans send a benchwarmer like Philadelphia's Christian Wood to the All-Star Game? The more appropriate comparison to Scott going to the NHL All-Star Game is if NFL fans voted offensive lineman Nick Mangold to start at QB for the AFC in the Pro Bowl.
"There's a certain merry pranksterism that goes with being a hockey fan that I don't know if it necessarily lends itself to other sports," Wyshynski says. "I think the conditions were right for something to happen this year because of the 3-on-3 and because the idea of someone who isn't that fleet of foot competing in it was fun to see. There's always been a candidate that's sort of gotten these campaigns, whether it was a joke or because people think a guy deserves it, but it takes a very special set of circumstances for this to succeed and this year just seemed like it had it.
"I don't think there's going to be another John Scott in subsequent years," he says, "mostly because I fully think the NHL is going to make it so you can only vote for a finite number of names and John Scott would be relegated to being a write-in."