Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Sultans of Swap: Online NHL Trade Rumours

Rumour bloggers have become standard on most of the commercial websites that focus on the NHL.

Look at the transactions that have occurred in the NHL this season and you will find little of consequence.  As of today, the only trade that has taken place between two teams was on November 8th when the Colorado Avalanche acquired goaltender Jason Bacashihua from the St. Louis Blues for future considerations.  Colorado promptly sent him to Lake Erie of the American Hockey League.

Yet the rumour mongers are never lacking for any fodder to stoke their claims. And herein lies half the explanation regarding the proliferation of trade discussion in the internet age.

It's all about content.  In the never-ending quest for narratives, angles and column inches to be devoured by fans, rumours provide the foundation for some of the easiest stories to churn out.

It is important to note that within the fraternity of trade forecasters, there are those who engage in at least some due diligence and then there are those who offer up a never-ending stream of scenarios based on nothing concrete except for the desire to draw attention and provoke debate.

Speculation is really a better description for the kind of discussion the first group engages in.   They look at a team that is clearly in need of improvement at one position or more and use that as a starting point to ruminate on potential trades. The level of active discussion with other teams may be a fact confirmed by management, supported by leaks or simply assumed to be true based on the degree of urgency for making a move.

Sizing up possible trades in this situation is really a matter of matching up two teams in the market and looking at whether there is a logical fit for negotiating a deal.  The speculators rely on statements made by an expanding ring of influence moving outwards from the management of the team to those media insiders closest to each club, to un-named sources to the pronouncements of the most trusted pundits in the business.

Whenever any conjecture is verbalized by those with some credibility, the rumour mongers latch onto it and give it a good and thorough looking into.  Does it make sense for both teams?  Will either club have trouble absorbing the contract of the player rumoured to be coming their way?  What role would each individual have on a new team and how would they fit in with different team-mates?

The other type are best described as fabulists who air out their crack induced musings for  those undisturbed by lack of credibility or the absurd nature of lopsided proposals.   The appeal of their predictions is in the volume and the guarantee of more to come.  Each subsequent fiction disappears into the mist only to replaced by another, all with the intent of sending credulous dupes gibbering off into cyberspace to spread the word.

The only proviso in going public with such outlandish propositions, is that someone somewhere has previously uttered the names of the two teams and the supposed players involved in the same breath.  It is irrelevant whether that person was an NHL GM or an imaginary friend.

The very nature of rumours provides the best cover for any lack of success in breaking trade proposals that go on to become reality.  The dollars at stake and the risks involved means that the bulk of discussions between teams never results in any transactions being made.

But for those really interested in potential trade discussion, veracity doesn't really seem to matter all that much.  It's nothing more than a parlour game for most.  With the mention of each tantalizing possibility, fans start to consider what it could mean for their team.  Could it be the final piece needed to send them to the next level?  A new personality added into the mix, a change, something to talk about with your mates.

Like many pastimes in life, following professional sports is a kind of escape from reality (though some would say it is as real as anything in their lives.)  The minutes of the games in a season aren't enough for many and, just like fantasy hockey or reading books about the sport, rumours and gossip are a way to extend that passion further.

Together with filling that need, rumours also prey on hope and allows those following the news that to feel that they are in on some privileged info (despite the fact that thousands of others have read the exact same bit of shocking news.)

With the ever increasing number of media outlets, bloggers and sources for acquiring information and staying entertained, those who instigate, promote and report on NHL rumours aren't going anywhere.  As the online cesspool of speculation expands, there will always be those who try to bring some legitimacy and standards to the task while others will shamelessly feed on the demand with little concern for accuracy.

There's alway room for more.  If you have a shrewd sense of observation and the ability to cultivate contacts or if you own a trained ape and a set of darts, you can get started today.

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