NASHVILLE -- Greetings from Music City, where NHL All-Star Game festivities kick into high gear today in advance of Sunday's 3-on-3 division showdown.
The players and coaches will meet the media today in Bridgestone Arena, starting at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, and Ryan O'Reilly is here representing the Sabres. The focus is almost certain to be on Pacific Division captain John Scott, the former Sabres enforcer who was the beneficiary of the bizarre fan vote that got him into the game -- and then the victim of what looked like an orchestrated trade by Arizona to Montreal's AHL team in Newfoundland to keep him far away from here.
In the end, the league decided Scott's invitation would stand but the hockey world was left buzzing yesterday by Scott's first-person essay on Derek Jeter's Players Tribune site. Specifically, this excerpt is raising plenty of eyebrows.
"If the league thought this was an embarrassment, pretty much all of the players I’ve encountered have thought otherwise. I’ve gotten texts from so many guys saying the same thing: 'You should go.'
"And that didn’t happen because of the internet. I busted my ass to be one of them. I’ve skated every day since I was three years old to be one of them. I’ve persevered through Juniors roster cuts, Alaskan bus rides, Advanced Dynamics exams, and — yes — fights, to be one of them.
"But I’m one of them. And that means a lot to me.
"It means a lot to my family.
"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."
Wow. I'm looking forward to hearing from Scott and will have plenty of thoughts on the matter for a column in Saturday's editions of The News. Nary a mention of Scott among 10 All-Star stories on the front page of NHL.com this morning or its All-Star portal. Uh-huh.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will have his annual State of the Game session with reporters here Saturday afternoon, and you would think the league's role in L'Affaire Scott would be a big topic. The players will compete in the annual Skills Competition here Saturday night at 7 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN.
The game, a 3-on-3 matchup of divisional showdowns, opens at 5 p.m. Eastern Sunday, also on NBCSN. Remember the format: The Atlantic Division stars meet the Metropolitan Division stars in a 20-minute game, followed by the Central and Pacific Divisions. The two winners then meet for the championship, with $1 million split among the players.
Metro Captain Alex Ovechkin of Washington and Chicago's Jonathan Toews both begged off the game Thursday and won't attend. That means they're both suspended for their teams' first regular season game when the schedule resumes next week. The Caps said yesterday Ovechkin has been battling a lower-body injury, while Toews played just over 10 minutes in Chicago's loss at Carolina on Tuesday because of illness and he has opted to stay home as well.
As for the Sabres' O'Reilly, he's going to take home a swag bag that will include a customized guitar. You would expect nothing less from this town.
O'Reilly leads the Sabres in scoring with 17 goals and 40 points but had a mostly miserable January, scoring two goals and posting a minus-14 rating. Still, he's been by far the team's best player for long stretches and earned the top grade in John Vogl's midseason report card of every player on the roster.
You can also see a photo gallery of the report card by going to this link.