Being a credentialed member of the MSM means having access to information, sources and decision-makers leading up to the annual NHL trade deadline.
As the batting average of most MSM outlets historically shows, there’s a quantum leap between access and actually uncovering accurate information about who is talking to whom about player trades. We make weather people seem like Nostradamus. We’re as good at predicting the future as Miss Cleo. There are lots of reasons for that.
General managers seldom show their cards to even the most trusted reporters while potential deals are in the works. Unless they owe a scribe a favour, and that does happen, what’s in it for them? They lie through their teeth, or mislead by omission, even if they do take your calls or you corner them in the rink.
While countless deals are at least casually discussed and pro scouts dispatched as part of due diligence — look, Team A has had so-and-so at three straight games watching Team B — only a minute percentage end up resulting in a trade. A righteous scoop about mutual interest the first week of February often turns to nothingness by the deadline.
Outside a handful of really plugged in people, how many reporters put in the necessary hours working the phones with GMs, agents and scouts? How many beat writers work their GMs and hockey-ops people every chance they get? Some do. Many don’t.
Add it up and you get what we have now with three weeks to go before the February 28 trade deadline — a lot of rumours based on hunches, guesswork, speculation and information from "unnamed sources." A lot of stuff gets thrown against the wall, but very little sticks. All of it, these days, gets "Tweeted" and passed on immediately.
How much of it ever pans out?
PASS IT ON
Even at my most plugged in on the beat with the Edmonton Oilers, I ended up with a whole bunch of nothing way more often than I nailed a trade ahead of time. I’m not talking about making an educated guess that turns out, which happened now and then, but knowing for certain a trade would be done. Rare as a skinny sportswriter.
Phone your GM. Phone the GM you think he’s talking to. Talk to the agents. Talk to the players. Work the scouts in the press box and media lounge home and away. Call reporters in the other cities. Eyeball the seating charts in rinks on the road. On and on. Trade rumour websites? There were none. Just as well.
It’s not the worst way to make a living, but I can count on one hand the deals I pegged — Sergei Samsonov and Jaroslav Spacek come to mind (does half the Erik Cole to Carolina deal count?). It’s a helluva lot of work and a helluva lot of fun a lot of the time, but the return on hours spent? Minimal.
How many scribes and websites forego the legwork and opt to, ahem, borrow the real dope provided by the plugged in few? How many pass along the information somebody else has uncovered as their own or simply regurgitate it? The legit and the bogus is all readily available in a blizzard of Tweets and texts as the deadline nears.
The guys with real information and real sources, we know. At the top of the list, there’s Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie at TSN. Ryan Rishaug gives fans of the Oilers an inside track. Nick Kypreos at Sportsnet gets his share. There’s Pierre LeBrun at ESPN.
As for beat writers with individual teams, fans here are lucky Jim Matheson at The Journal digs as diligently now as he did when you had to find a news stand in whatever town you were in to grab a hard copy and read up on what was going on. Internet? Twitter? No. There’s Mike Russo in Minneapolis. Iain MacIntyre in Vancouver. Kevin Paul Dupont in Boston. Not a complete list, but the guys in-the-know I read.
Even for the few at the centre of the information heap, getting it right more often than not gets sketchy as the trade deadline approaches. In terms of having a real handle on what will happen between now and the deadline, most of the rest of us might as well be blogging from the bush in northern Manitoba or reading tea leaves.
Like Glen Sather and Kevin Lowe before him, Steve Tambellini is proving access to information and to the people who make the decisions can be overrated at times. The NHL trade deadline is one them.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.