My gig here is to discuss the media, and their role in the current world of sports coverage. So, based on events occurring today, I thought I'd address one of the big negatives - maybe one of the biggest problems - of many mainstream writers in the age of the Internet. Sometimes, to stay relevant, a beat writer or a columnist will attach his name to a rumor started by someone that is just not true, and posted only for website page views. It's sad that it happens, infuriating to fans, and another death knell in the mainstream newspaper's monopoly on covering big-time sports.
For those of you who aren't regular hockey aficionados, it's high time you learned the name Eklund. Eklund is the internet pseudonym of a man named Dwayne Klessel. The way the "Eklund" thing started is a very murky origin story, more confusing than a comic book character's. Greg Wyshynski wrote a now mythic piece on the hockey blogger back in 2007 for Fanhouse:
Eklund was the byline, but the information about high-level ownership meetings and inside scoops from the NHLPA came from a consortium of plugged-in individuals that wanted to break through the spin machine and speak directly to the fans. The biography on the site was crafted together from different members of this League of Extraordinary Eklunds.
It is my belief that the "blogger by committee" apparently ended when HockeyBuzz started, although Eklund would neither confirm or deny that. Eklund said, on the record, that he writes every blog that appears under his shadowy picture -- and next to what is the "correct" biography for the current incarnation of the anonymous hockey blogger.
At this point, I need to be completely fair: Eklund seems a very nice man, despite reports to the contrary in that and many other blogger's accounts. He has been extremely nice to both myself and my blogging efforts, and is always friendly to me on Twitter. That said, you know what you're getting when you head to Hockeybuzz.com, his website of record: Hockey rumors that are occasionally true, but most likely complete and utter bunk.
So what? There's nothing wrong with adding a little trade rumor spice to the, at times, dull and interminable NHL season, right? Well, perhaps. The problem, however, lies in when NHL writers who do have credibility take Klessel's usually deliriously inconceivable rumors and give both website publicity and - perhaps even worse - newspaper ink under the headline of it being a "Report" that someone may get traded.
This is incredibly unhealthy to a lot of people. It gives die hard fans fits because they know it's untrue. It gives casual fans the wrong idea about an organization (Talk to any casual hockey fan at your local watering hole in the next few weeks, see if they mention this rumor), and it embarrasses both intelligent hockey writers and intelligent bloggers.
The rumor Eklund posted a couple of days ago went as follows: the Devils are interested in trading greatest goaltender of an era/immediate Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur to Washington for enigmatic Caps winger Alexander Semin. Here's how Klessel came to report it on HockeyBuzz:
It was first told to me as a speculative/theory about two weeks ago...but now I am hearing it from others as well..If nothing else it is interesting to say the least.
Here is the scenario as it appears to be starting to come together.
1. The Devils want to keep Kovalchuk.
2. Martin Brodeur is not a given to keep playing much longer, and will be hired the second he retires to work in the Devils front office.
3. Kovalchuk would consider staying if the Devils would go out and get Semin to play with him.
4. Brodeur would agree to play one (possibly two) years in Washington. Firming up their goaltending situation and making the Caps the HUGE favorite to win a Stanley Cup. Then he could return to work for the Devils, who would be in a much better situation.
5. Semin is a great player, but the Caps are not opposed to moving him for Brodeur. Interestingly, the Caps signed him to a very short deal.
Doesn't sound exactly credible, does it? While some of the logic may be there (Brodeur would make the Caps an immediate Stanley Cup favorite, Kovalchuk and Semin are both Russian ... and stuff) it just isn't feasible that GM Lou Lamoriello would trade such a hallmark of this club. Lamoriello does things a certain way. Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko weren't traded toward the end of their runs (Mind you, Stevens was injured and forced to bow out) and Lou knows nothing if not loyalty. Also, Brodeur is relatively cheap, all things considered, and trading him for a forward who dogs it at times is simply a downgrade in value, regardless of if it keeps Ilya Kovalchuk.
Sadly, the mainstream media has decided to give Eklund credibility and report it. Unsurprisingly, the New York Post - which features writer Mark Everson, who has a long reputation of writing things just to annoy the Devils fanbase he serves - posted it under a staff alias as a "Report". Surprisingly, the place they cited as a source was not HockeyBuzz, but NJ.com, where Rich Chere - the man who has covered the Devils for the Newark Star-Ledger since the team moved here from Colorado - posted a mere denial of the rumor.
Here's what the Post says:
The report says, "Devils management has indeed discussed the possibility of trading Brodeur in an attempt to acquire a first line center, although he has a no-trade clause in his contract and would have to approve a deal."
Nowhere in Chere's article does it say this. So, is the Post flat out posting heresay? Or did Chere change his original story? Let me know in the comments if you have anything.
UPDATE: I've been told that the NJ.com report did, in fact, include the words the Post quoted in it's story. So Mr. Chere changed the story once he got reaction from Lou Lamoriello.
So, let us recap here: a blogger posts a rumor, a writer posts a denial of that rumor (with quotes from Lou Lamoriello) and a paper posts a link to the denial that calls it a "Report" and a possibility. Everyone loses here. Eklund looks bad now that he's been called out, Chere looks bad for even having to bring this up, as well as changing his story. The Post looks awful, because ... well, they gave this stupid rumor credibility to an audience that doesn't really follow the Devils too closely. Even hockey scribe Larry Brooks called the rumors "absurd".
But the real victims here are Devils fans. They know better than to believe something like this, as they've been through trade rumor rigmarole again and again. But writers know that after the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, a Jersey hockey fan could conceivably expect anything, and they're taking advantage of that. Devils fans should continue to know better than these clowns.
I'll give CBC reporter Elliotte Friedman the last word, as it is one that should be heeded:
Lou Lamoriello, just now: Reports of trading Brodeur are "not factual, totally untrue." Has never considered trading Brodeur and never will.