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A Plea For Sanity At The NHL Trade Deadline

One random guy seven months ago guessed.  He was better than every "insider".
One random guy seven months ago guessed. He was better than every "insider".

Friday saw a bevy of moves in advance of the trade deadline and signaled an early beginning to the NHL's silly season. All of the early trades involved significant talents and were considered major trades by most media sources:

When the day began, the Senators traded young goaltender Brian Elliott to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Craig "Last Year's Fad" Anderson. Shortly thereafter, Toronto sent Tomas Kaberle to the Boston Bruins for former Camrose Kodiak (I imagine this means Ben hates him) Joe Colborne and Boston's first round pick in this year's draft. The Bruins then continued to deal by sending Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler to the Atlanta Thrashers for Rich Peverley and AHL defender Boris Valabik. Then late in the day, two more traditional "deadline" deals were made as Eric Brewer and Ian White were both moved for picks and prospects.

Shortly thereafter, the Blues sent Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to Colorado for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk in what was likely the most significant trade of the day. It was a bonanza for the cottage industry built around the trade deadline - insiders and trade gurus were tweeting and posting throughout the day and NHL fans were whipped into a frenzy by all of the roster movement.

But consider this - no one, not trade rumor sites, not internet "insiders", not Mark Spector, not even Bob McKenzie, called those trades. They may have reported them earlier than others, but in the weeks since the all-star break, with trade rumors becoming increasingly persistent, no one called these specific trades. Okay, this guy called the Johnson trade in July, but I digress. This is significant - for all of the hundreds of thousands of words, posts, tweets, threads, and articles written about the trade deadline, no one got it right.  It proves those in the know, executives and personnel people, don't make a habit of leaking information to trusted media members, let alone the internet army of "insiders".

The desire of the average hockey fan to want their team to make changes, acquire better players, and rid themselves of bad players is admirable. The delight experienced in delivering the scoop on any story, and being first among a group of people, whether it's a small group of friends or a national audience, is palpable. Nailing a trade rumor is akin to breaking the biggest scoop in hockey - in the rush to be the first, fans will repeat a rumor sourced from anywhere. Combine a couple of hundred thousand rumor-mongering fans and the NHL trade deadline makes the National Enqurier seem like the New Yorker.

But for all of the rumor-mongering, called shots are incredibly rare. This is important to remember. Trusted sources like Bob McKenzie don't predict trades (in fact, McKenzie spends a lot of his time discrediting alleged "insiders"), rather, McKenzie and other folks who are connected to teams and players mention conversations and ideas. They may talk about a player being asked about, or a player who's name came up in a conversation between team executives, but "Martin St. Louis to Chicago for two firsts" isn't something you'll see from people actually in the know. Their names and reputations are on the line and irresponsible rumor-mongering like that mentioned above is only going to turn them into a laughingstock.

Contrast that behavior with the horde of internet "insiders", once relegated to quack status in the dark corners of message boards and blogs, they've become prevalent through the use of social media and the average fan's need to be on the ground floor of a scoop. These "insiders" are nameless and faceless, hiding behind monikers that often involve the words "inside", "insider", "report", and "source". Hiding in anonymity, they fill comment sections, message boards, blogs and twitter with one ridiculous suggestion after another, hoping upon hope that an unwitting fan will stumble upon the information, look at the moniker and naively assume the writer has ascertained insider status, and forward the information to a host of other believers. They have no body of work to check against and no reputation to protect, so irresponsible rumor-mongering has no downside for them, and the upside is new media fame, it doesn't matter if it's infamy - fame is what matters.

The "insiders" seek to bring legitimacy to their facade by using two methods, sometimes subtle, to draw the reader in and establish what looks to be relevant information from an unknown source. First, the "insiders" use purposefully nebulous language when framing their "inside information". This language is commonly known as weasel words:

Weasel words is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated.

"Insiders" use this often. "Many sources saying...", "Some are saying...", "Chatter coming through..." are all examples of weasel words. The second method "insiders" use to try to legitimize their standing is to use attributed and sourced information first reported by a legitimate news source without giving attribution to that source. It is done purposefully and pointedly in an attempt to become the name behind the information. If you want to see how information is bastardized from actual reporter to "insider", look no further than the latest update on the Oilers dealings on the trade market. Pittsburgh Tribuine-Review writer Rob Rossi wrote an update yesterday (one in which he outlined his stance against rumor-mongering) that mentioned the steep price Steve Tambellini has established for Ales Hemsky. Rossi is a legitimate source, plugged into the Penguins at multiple levels and plugged into the NHL at various levels. Rossi's information on Hemsky immediately became fodder for "insiders" who started posting, tweeting and commenting, about the steep price for Ales Hemsky, but the attribution was missing. Instead of Rob Rossi's name, things like "According to a source close to the Penguins..." and "Sources say..." were attached to the asking price information in a lame attempt to be a source.

Anyone not willing to put their name behind their work isn't an insider, nor do they have access to inside information.  This isn't a case of hundreds of deep throats spread throughout every hockey organization in the league, it's a case of certain rumor mongers taking advantage of the gullible nature of fans and their willingness to believe that something big is happening. Fans need to do the hockey world a favor and see these ridiculous rumors, recognize the source (and its lack of sources!), smile about the absurdity of it all, and move on to the next discussion. Spreading this information brings legitimacy to dishonest people and increases the noise-to-signal ratio to such an extent that actual writing and discussion is drowned out. Besides, with Bob McKenzie spending hour-after-hour every day debunking rumors, his family has sent word that they miss him.


Editor's Note: I refuse to link and/or cite examples of any of the topics mentioned above. The people who do these sorts of things don't deserve extra views. Feel free to search for terms and topics on your own. I realize this leads to me using the aforementioned weasel words in this story, but a couple of quick searches can confirm what I've written. A rumor monger using the same weasel words does so in order to avoid validation.


NHL Trade Rumors and Hockey Blogs - SB Nation NHL Trade Deadline