Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In defense of John Scott

Everybody in the hockey world knows just why 6'8" 270lb John Scott was signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Sabres--his Bobby Orr-like end-to-end rushes, his Sidney Crosby goal-scoring savvy, his Bobby Hull-like slapshot and his Wayne Gretzky-like ice presence.



Now that I have your attention, despite the fact skating, scoring and stickwork aren't really his strong points, Scott is a good addition to the Sabres.

Yeah, everyone knows that he'll rival former enforcer, Andrew Peters, for the least amount of playing time by a Buffalo player in the last 15 years. But, please, spare me the stats, the Peters comparison and analogies concerning the "enforcer" going the way of the dodo.

And while you're at it, get over yourself and your delusions of a clean, wide-open, free-flowing NHL. Intimidation is still a factor in the NHL.

There are still a number of overage adolescents with anger management issues flying around in an enclosed area. They're armed with sticks and a desire to stay in the NHL by doing whatever's necessary--including, but not limited to, taking out the opposition's best player.

The Sabres have skilled players on their team. But can they really let loose knowing that, at any given moment, Chris Neil is drawing a bead on them or a Milan Lucic is looking to run them over?

Sabres owner Terry Pegula saw this, as did the rest of the Sabres front office, and they decided to do something about it. Enter, arguably, the best heavyweight/enforcer in the game--John Scott.

WGR's Paul Hamilton, was on the radio yesterday and he laid out just exactly what the role of Scott is--he will sit on the bench for most of the game and act as a deterrent.

He wasn't brought in for skill and probably won't find a dancing partner most of the time, but should an opposing player get out of line, he will hunt him down and make him pay, penalty be damned. And, at the very least, every Sabres player will know--from Pat Kaleta to Tyler Ennis, from Robyn Regehr to Ryan Miller--that Scott has their back.

That is his job.

If you don't believe Scott as a deterrent will work, allow's Douglas Flynn to chime in. The day after the Sabres signed Scott, he wrote a piece entitled [Steve Ott,] John Scott have the Sabres loaded for bear.

Flynn knows that Scott will be ready for Boston this season and points to a tweet from the Buffalo News' Jon Vogl concerning the infamous Lucic/Ryan Miller incident. Said Scott, "Hopefully, with me next year, that doesn’t happen. If it does happen, there’s a different outcome."

We'll let Flynn continue with that train of thought:
Scott is no stranger to making threats against Bruins. Back in the 2010-11 season, Shawn Thornton suffered a 40-stitch gash on his forehead when accidentally kicked by a skate in a game against the Blackhawks. Thornton didn't take kindly to being chirped by an unidentified player from the Chicago bench as he skating off the ice bleeding. After the game, he vowed, "If I ever find out who it was I'll deal with it in my own way."
Scott, then with the Blackhawks but not dressed for that game, warned Thornton that if he tried, "I'll kick the [expletive] out of him." Scott was dressed when the Bruins visited Chicago last Oct. 15, but did not tangle with Thornton.

The Sabres have five meetings with the Bruins this season, which constitutes about 10% of their schedule. And this is not to imply that a mere Scott appearance will somehow magically allow the Sabres to dominate their nemesis.

But they should be playing with a little more confidence knowing that someone has their collective backs. And that includes pests like Patrick Kaleta and Steve Ott. Kaleta got under the skin of Lucic last season totally throwing him and the Boston team off of their game. The comfort-level, trickle-down effect works.

Case in point: the 2011/12 Ottawa Senators.

The 2011 Stanley Cup was awarded to the Boston Bruins who employed an old-school style of grit and intimidation that completely handcuffed the Vancouver Canucks. (of note:  'Nucks GM Mike Gillis traded for the Sabres Zack Kassian in 2012, in part to address "softness" issues exposed during their Stanley Cup Final match with the B's.)

During that 2011 off-season, the Sens, seeing the success of their division rival, augmented their line up when they added a tough and gritty bottom-six center in Zenon Konopka. He joined Chris Neil, Zack Smith and Matt Carkner to possibly rank the Sens as the NHL's toughest team.

Don Brennan, the author of the linked article above, saw it playing out like this, "The young, prized prospects in the Senators family grew a little Tuesday morning [with the Konopka signing]. A little taller. A little stronger. A little braver."

The result that season?

The Sens finished second in the Northeast Division and qualified for the playoffs in a rebuilding season when many of the "experts" had them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Rookie defensman Erik Karlsson roamed freely on his way to a 19 goal, 78 point Norris Trophy winning season.

Konopka, Neil, Carkner and Smith allowed the Sens' skill players to play a bit more freely knowing that someone always had their backs. Just like in Boston with Lucic, Thorton, Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid backing their players.

Said Konopka at the time of the signing, “It’s going to be good for the young players, our skilled guys ... definitely make them more comfortable."

Granted, those aforementioned players can actually play a regular shift in the NHL without being a complete liability, but until the Sabres can add more of that, having an enforcer will have to do. Looking back, the Sabres could have used more bulk last season, and it took the Lucic/Miller embarrassment for them to finally get with the program.

The additions of Scott and Ott to go along with the likes of Kaleta, Cody McCormick, Regehr and Mike Weber, all of whom will drop the gloves while playing a regular shift, will go a long way towards making the younger skilled players like Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Myers and maybe even Mikhail Grigorenko feel a bit more comfortable.

Hell, it will probably make Miller feel more comfortable, more able to focus. Same with Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford, maybe even Ville Leino as well.

And that's why John Scott is on the team.

Of note:  Today marks the birthday of Frank Zamboni, who would have turned 112 today.

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