It is almost like stepping into another dimension.
According to the television analysts, the mainstream beat writers, and other people really plugged into what’s happening in hockey, it’s a quiet time for the NHL. There are a few long-rumored deals that are being quietly discussed: Shane Doan is still an unrestricted free agent, multiple teams are apparently interested in Jay Bouwmeester, that sort of thing. Typically, the names being discussed are the same names that were being discussed back on July 1, when free agency kicked off.
However, a crop of purported NHL insiders spins a very different tale, portraying a league where trade talks for high-calibre players are constant and unending. They number at least in the dozens, possibly even in the hundreds, and the stories they start have made them wildly popular with a subset of hockey fans.
Photo: Vincent Diamante/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0
According to one, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks were involved in trade discussions about two weeks back that would have seen Ryan Getzlaf go to Toronto for a package of players. When a Toronto beat writer told him there was no substance to the story, he emphasized that the deal was “highly secretive.” Others wrote that Toronto was in fact talking to Colorado about Paul Stastny. Another agreed that the Leafs were talking to the Avalanche about a center, but named that center as Ryan O’Reilly. The suggestion that the Leafs were actually looking at a goaltender – commonly reported scenarios involved either a three-way trade with Florida and Vancouver or a deal with the Los Angeles Kings for backup Jonathan Bernier – also found a few proponents.
Where does this information supposedly originate? With "contacts" around the league. These insiders almost to a man claim to have some sort of current or former NHL background. Some allege that they are players, others player agents, others coaches, others front office personnel with either individual teams or at NHL headquarters. Still others – particularly those who focus on one team – simply state that they have a trusted source ensconced in that team’s management structure.
The suspension of disbelief required to accept all of these claims is baffling. NHL teams would need to be littered with personnel willing to leak confidential information to social media for no better reason than the love of leaking confidential information. Additionally, the fact that the various mainstream reporters miss this news needs to be explained somehow – and there is no especially logical explanation for why a dozen unidentified characters can all break the same story after talking to their people, yet somehow the major scoop can go entirely undetected by the professional media as a whole.
Then there is the other problem: failure. Anonymous insiders routinely get facts wrong, report contradictory information, or waffle on a story. A good example was the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter by the Minnesota Wild, without question the biggest free agency coup of the summer. After the fact, Wild beat reporter Michael Russo revealed that both Parise and Suter had all but settled on Minnesota as their destination by the night of July 3. At that time, conventional wisdom was that Detroit would land Suter and Pittsburgh would sign Parise, and conventional wisdom was what the ‘insiders’ reported, almost without exception parroting those rumours. As mainstream reporters started to point to Minnesota as the destination for both players, the purported insiders started changing the story, weaving a tale of broken verbal agreements and even including comical asides – one said that Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was “RAGING” after Parise “lied to him.”
Despite the anonymous nature of these supposed insiders, the often wildly inaccurate reporting, and the long line of respected journalists willing to discredit them, they remain popular. While the majority are short-lived and never really impact the collective consciousness of hockey fans, some are incredibly successful. Eklund, the original anonymous insider, can boast more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and a steady stream of traffic to his website. He’s even reached the point where he can earn a press pass to NHL games and major events like the World Juniors. Most don’t reach that level of success, but a follower count north of 10,000 people* isn’t uncommon.
For years, whimsical fans have floated unrealistic trade proposals. Somewhere along the line, the people behind these anonymous accounts learned that there was an audience to be had if they were willing to turn those unrealistic trades into a sort of reality, lending credence to the idea that their teams really were working hard on those outlandish deals.
Really, that’s the reason why these sort of fake insiders persist. If it was really about fact, logic, or track record, they’d have long since gone the way of the dodo. That isn’t what their popularity is about, though: it’s based on telling people things they really want to believe. And as long as people want to believe something, they will find a reason to do so.
* Twitter follower counts should always be taken with a grain of salt – particularly when suspicious things happen. One prominent rumour account lost 18,000 followers – 36% of his base – in an incredibly short time period amid allegations that he’d been using fake accounts to make himself appear more influential than he actually was.