Showing posts with label Rumours. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rumours. Show all posts

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Locker Room Cancer: NHL Gossip

Heatley cartoon
In any workplace, a person's performance can be broken down into three general categories: competence, responsibilities, and emotions. This also applies in the hockey world.

Competence: does the player consistently perform his role and put in a strong effort?

Responsibilities: does he come to the rink, airport and team events on time? Does he follow the advice of his coaches and try to improve his skills?

Emotions: the big one. How does he interact with other players, the coaches, and even the fans? Does he speak in a professional and respectful way to the media? Can he keep things in check at crucial times during the game and not take stupid penalties? In short, does he play well in the sandbox?

And just like in most job situations, emotions are often the weak point of hockey players. It can be the main reason that a player is shipped to another team. Or at least the tipping point that exaggerates other shortcomings and makes a trade seem like the only way to deal with the problems.

Teams are unlikely to ever come out directly and state that a player had some kind of personality defect that made him an unwelcome presence in the locker room. They may speak in code and say that the player was "not a good fit," but no one is going to air the team's dirty laundry.

Yet the salacious, gossipy type rumours about internal team conflict turn into some of the most popular stories. These types of stories have gained more popularity recently and will receive even more coverage in the years to come. This is for a number of reasons.

First, the rise of the internet, and the increase in the number of sports networks and the resulting 24-hour coverage of all things hockey. No off-season exists for the media outlets that strive to supply a never-ending stream of content for hockey fans.

Also, a realization exists amongst the people responsible for creating content, that gossipy stories are some of the most popular amongst fans. These are the articles that appeal even to the casual fans. It is easier than ever to determine what content resonates with fans and to subsequently justify writing and "researching" more of the same. Click-throughs are easy to measure and so it is a simple matter to determine what "sells."

Though "serious" fans may deny any interest in such prurient topics, you can bet that many of those same individuals have read all the details about the latest melodrama and have formed an opinion.

Conflict sells and is at the heart of all drama, whether fiction or non-fiction. The best regular season and playoff games are themselves stories, with stars, plots and turning points. An easy-to-understand storyline that everyone can relate to, and one that everyone has played a part in, is that of the co-worker who can't get along with others.

What better way to ratchet up the prurient intrigue than for the story to include a highly paid professional athlete who may be on your favourite team, or, perhaps even better, a team that you loathe?

Finally, gossipy stories full of speculation and rumour require far less expertise and familiarity with the game to produce.

To be sure, there are different degrees of gossip, and the vilest insinuations lacking sources (even unnamed) or evidence of any kind will only show up in online locations where there is little or no accountability. But even more reputable outlets are starting to get in on the action.

Leave it to the online hacks or self-proclaimed gossip columnists to get the ball rolling, then everyone can join in the fun with the qualifier that the coverage itself is now a story, and hell, might as well venture forth a smug tut-tutting with some related commentary tucked in for good measure.

Prima Donnas, Punks and Pissants

Just as there are common stories that have been played out hundreds of times with varying details in popular films and books, so too there are some common themes that turn up time and again in NHL melodramas. One of the most common is the "locker room cancer."

The locker room cancer is a player who is a negative influence on those around him and can infect an entire team with an insidious outlook on life and the game. Also known as locker room poison.

What is a Locker Room Cancer?

What does it take for the locker room cancer tag to gain traction with a player?

They are often very good players. A scrub who is also a nasty piece of work in the locker room just doesn't resonate in the same way.

Obviously, the unpleasant personality and/or behaviour does have to exist to fuel the rumours that eventually surface. The behaviour itself could take many forms. From sullen and disinterested, to abrasive and abusive.

A poor stretch of play from the player in question and or the team on which he plays is often a prerequisite for the unpleasantness to come to the surface. Winning is easy. The real test for anyone is when the losses start piling up.

Usually the player has been traded at least once. This provides plausibility to the claims.

The first whispers often coincide with the trade. While the public pronouncements from the team from which the player was traded are always positive, the stories start to circulate. It's "never say anything bad about anyone, ever" for public consumption.

Even though teams pay lip service to that sentiment, too many people are involved with a team for the truth not to come out. The stories have to come from somewhere. For the most part, journalists in the mainstream media don't just make stuff up. Extrapolate, speculate and exaggerate? Of course...filling in the blanks when the full story is not known is what humans do best.

The final factor is that the claims must have an air of truth about them to resonate with fans. How does the player conduct himself on and off the ice? What about his mannerisms and body language?

Anecdotes gleaned from personal contact at autograph sessions, sightings and other non-game situations can play a part as well. It all adds up to a public image. And so, if the stories match up with the public presentation, the claims become believable.

New Beginnings

Luckily for most players tagged as difficult (the locker room cancer is only the extreme), there are going to be other teams willing to give them a chance.  Because it's all subjective. Maybe the other players are the ones who don't know how to interact.

Or maybe it is the coaches or more generally the overall team culture. And of course, even if there is some sense that a team is taking on an abrasive personality, there is always the hope that a person learns and changes over time.

In the end, despite public comments to the contrary, teams may take on a player knowing full well that he is a petulant, glory-seeking prima donna. But that talent is so irresistible that the rationalizing takes over and team management convince themselves that things will be different this time around.

The fans who claim they have no interest in such stories are the rarity or more likely, being disingenuous. Other people's lives intrigue and amaze. Especially when they are rich, talented, and play on the teams that fans love to cheer for. The insight gives a more interesting picture of the players fans love to watch. At the very least, it  provides a point against which fans can rank themselves. "Harummph! I'm too sophisticated to be interested in crap like that."

Amongst all the great games, performances, and playoff races, you can be sure that the coming season will also feature plenty of gossip, rumours and innuendo.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cliff Fletcher Fails as Maple Leafs' Interim General Manager

Leafs logoOf course, his time isn't finished yet. And he well may do something to improve the team and set the plate for whomever his successor turns out to be.

But as far as the all important trade deadline and the potential for increased returns because of the impending playoffs and the added pressure on the league's other 29 GMs, Cliff Fletcher failed like a senile old bastard who'd been out of the game for nearly 15 years and had lost all his hockey contacts and abilities to influence people. Oh, wait...

Let's take care of the requisite spreading of blame that is essential when assessing blunders in this truly hopeless franchise. The clods who hired Fletcher were as clueless as anyone regarding what it would take to make some immediate improvements. They looked at the last whiff of decency the team had emitted and went out and got the person who had some hand in those years of success.

Now, onto Fletcher's failed attempts to right this sinking ship. A goal that was unrealistic to start with but still provided some leeway for moderate gains and improvements.

The public tone set by Fletcher early in his current, temporary tenure was wrong-headed. If any market's media hounds can be used as a club to bludgeon players into seeing the light and waiving their "I'm a petulant mule and I ain't budging" clauses, then Toronto is it.

Fletcher essentially prostrated himself at Mats Sundin's feet and said "Hey big boy, I've got a kind of twisted man-love fixation for you, it thrills me to think I helped bring you here, and if the 80 million you've bagged as a member of this team ain't enough, I'll protect your ego from the slings of these nasty individuals who actually want a winner out of this dysfunctional franchise."

Fletcher introduced no strong story-lines into the melodrama. Nothing that fans and journalists could latch onto. Nothing that could be used to spin the fact that the very best thing for the Leafs as an organization was to convince Sundin that it was time to move on. Instead, it was the tiresome mewling about how everyone should respect the Swede who has grown sadly familiar and comfortable with chronic losing.

Yes, we all know it's his right to refuse to waive his no trade clause. No one's arguing that. And so too it is the right, nay the duty, of those in control of the team—who are charged with making it as competitive as possible—to put enough pressure on him so that staying is less comfortable than leaving.

But the meaningless narrative about respect, rights and tens of millions of dollars worth of loyalty ruled the day. Stoked by columnists who admit they are personal friends of Sundin, Fletcher's voice became almost non-existent in the whirlwind of saccharine and overly dramatic posturing.

No-trade and no-movement clauses are the antithesis of team sports. The ultimate act of putting the cart rammed full of cash and benefits before the tireless horses these prima donnas should become before they insist on being anointed icons and legends before they prove themselves. (No doubt this notion applies to varying degrees. A player such as Sundin has of course long since proven his worth and is one of the greatest Leafs players ever.)

They say, "I will not be subject to the vagaries of injuries, the shifting winds of team chemistry, declining play or the potential to acquire a reputation as an all-round nasty individual."

Of course, the fact that they have become relatively widespread is a testament to the strides made by players and their increasing leverage in negotiations. Who wouldn't leap at the opportunity to have more control over their future?

But the whole concept flies in the face of an organization controlled by an owner and manager determined to do whatever is necessary to build a championship team. And so they must be taken on by players with the full knowledge that the only time they will ever become an issue is when these situations arise. They are inherently contentious and conflict-creating instruments.

No doubt some blame has to be accepted by the general managers in the league who bend to the wishes of players out of the fear that they will bolt to another team. As many others have already pointed out, some of their excuse-making on the issue falls a bit flat.

John Ferguson Junior recently stated that he had no choice when it came to many of the players who demanded no trade clauses in their contracts. He claims that if he hadn't agreed...they would have gone elsewhere.

"You'd better give me a guarantee that I never have to leave this place I love and cherish so much...or else I'll leave!!"

The whole concept of playing with a desperation that makes it a moot point seems to be getting lost on both sides of the negotiating table.

If a player is willing to push for a no-trade clause, he must also accept the fallout if it comes to a showdown. Just as a player is tacitly stating, "My personal wishes supercede the goals of this organization and by association, many of its fans ," management must actively respond with whatever is in the best interest of the team. Just as a cop will continually ramp up the level of force when a suspect resists, with the logical end result being death, a manager must use threats of marginalization and potential humiliation or at least make it clear he is willing to consider such a direction.

Fletcher did neither and casually acceded to the wishes of the players whose refusal will now stall the Leafs' rebuilding. This fact seemed to have dawned on Fletcher (along with his now sadly inappropriate handle "trader Cliff") at a press conference, where he expressed some of the callousness and urgency that should have been present from the beginning.

Leafs fans better not dream of champagne anytime soon. The only thing they'll be sucking on for a long time to come is tired old sentiments and empty promises. And as they do, perhaps they can be at least satisfied in the knowledge that a handful of players were able to write the script for their final days in the league without concern for one of the great motivating forces that has long been part of professional sports.

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.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Eklund the Hockey Blogger

Eklund toiletIn the past few years, many posts related to potential trades on hockey discussion boards have been qualified with statements along the lines of: “I know this is from Eklund but…” For some, a fatigue has set in and they might as well write: “I know I read this on a shithouse wall but…”

The hockey blogger known as Eklund has an air of farce about him these days. I sense he is approaching a kind of critical mass in terms of how much credibility he lacks and how many people consider him a fraud. His apparent willingness to lie about his credentials in the early going of his online career will turn off even more people. This article goes into some real detail in terms of just how insanely far away he is from being a journalist in any sense of the word. One only has to stop and ponder for a moment how it would be literally impossible to apply the necessary due diligence that serious reporters rely on to the sheer volume of his rumours.

He is nothing more than a clearing-house for all information related to trades in the NHL. Fair play to him for putting in the time and energy to make that a reality. However, far too often he insinuates that he is the one breaking the news. He is now simply one of the highest trafficked sites for people looking for information on the topic. That he is plugged into dozens of media outlets 24 hours a day (and has cultivated some real contacts because of his manic efforts) means that his site is the first place people may learn of a move, not necessarily the first place to report it.

There is still a large mass of people eagerly lapping up his postings as the recent announcement that the Montreal Canadiens have signed Patrice Brisebois attracted more than 700 posts to his comment pages in short order. Then again, for someone who has shown himself to be somewhat lacking in ethics when it comes to boosting his own profile, and for a person who obviously appreciates the truism that a crowded pub attracts more customers, how do we know if all those posters are legitimate?

It’s clear that he is shrewd when it comes to marketing himself, playing on people’s hopes and spinning himself as some kind of connected individual within the ranks of the NHL. His identity has been an open secret for some time and the whole "anonymous" schtick just comes across as puerile now. Perhaps that’s appropriate as his fan base appears to me to be somewhat juvenile, naive and lacking in a healthy sense of skepticism. Another element sees it as an intriguing human interest story and a glimpse into the psychology of spin, manipulation and the herd mentality of so many people (or perhaps they use that as a cover and are ashamed to admit they visit Eklund’s site...)

Dwayne Klessel (Eklund’s real name) knows the power of quantity over quality and shamelessly pads out his site with horrifically written blogs rammed full of grammar errors, spelling mistakes, malapropisms and skewed syntax. He also has some blogs penned by very good writers who are syndicated columnists in major newspapers. They too recognize the traffic that Klessel’s sensationalistic tabloid style speculation generates.

Most serious journalists will continue to ignore him while others may start to resent him and stick a few knives in, giving him more publicity along the way. Eklund, too, may sense a change in the wind and may move onto a new phase in the life of his celebrity status. Or, having found a shtick that creates more interest than anything else in his trick bag, he may stay with it to its logical conclusion, whatever that may be.

While followers of Eklund may not learn anything of significance about dealings in the world of professional hockey more than a few minutes before anyone else, at least they have learned that, in fact, a broken clock is sometimes not even right twice a day.

(originally appeared at