The Root of the Rumor

Let’s assume two NHL general managers are talking to each other about a possible trade, formally or informally. How many other people are likely to be privy to the conversation? From what I know, just a handful. And they’re not likely to let it go any further than that room, which makes one wonder: where do these rumors come from?

The Caps annually convene their hockey operations and pro scouting departments a few days prior to the actual deadline. The boys will be getting into town soon for this year’s festivities. What follows are long days filled with phone calls, pacing, scrawling of scenarios, consumption of various local takeout cuisines and ultimately, decisions.

The Caps have a “war room” especially for this and other related hockey decisioning purposes. The seven, eight or nine guys basically sequester themselves in the room for days on end, leaving late each night and arriving early each morning. There is quite of bit of discussion that goes on among those men over those few days, but I don’t imagine any of them spends any time late at night phoning various members of the North American hockey media/blogosphere to inform them which teams they’re calling, which players they’re discussing and what moves they might make.

I’m guessing it’s fairly similar to this in the other 29 NHL cities, too.

But I don’t know. Maybe not.

Maybe in those cities, the GMs and assistant GMs and pro scouts discuss deals and then “leak” the particulars to office workers, media types, man-on-the-street-passers-by, and the delivery guys who bring the takeout vittles. That way, those people can spread the rumors like wildfire, passing them along to media types and bloggers, who in turn make charts and lists and predictions with them. Then, the NHL fans can fire up their computers, log on to message boards and weigh on whether they’d make that deal or not. The GM and his staff can then read those message boards, and use them as a trial balloon, thus using the sagacity of the masses to avoid a disastrous deal. Smart.

Actually, that doesn’t sound very likely either. So who are these “sources” who claim various deals are imminent, possible, dead, pending, or whatever? I don’t know that either, but they’re wrong far more often than they’re right. If you’re an employee of an NHL club, and you decide to leak some info to an “outsider” so you can appear to be “in the know,” well that’s the expressway to becoming an ex-employee of an NHL club. Nothing I have ever “learned” from various conversations here would be worth losing my job over. Even if it was Mike Wallace or Bob McKenzie doing the asking.

I understand that all this trade deadline rumor mongering is fun. It’s interesting. I’m a fan, too, but when so many of the “talks” that are rumored to be talking place have never even happened, it’s extreme.

You can bet that the Caps will be active between now and the Feb. 27 NHL trading deadline. But that’s all you should bet on. I asked Caps GM George McPhee this morning what was going on. He said it’s just a lot of talking, for the time being. He’s received what he termed “a few soft offers,” but nothing that feels imminent or even intriguing for now. Plenty of time, though. You can tell that by the bluster in the quotes of the “buying” GMs, who are currently blathering on about “prices being too high,” and how “we may do nothing.”

While you’re doing nothing, you might want to note that five of the last six Stanley Cup champions did “something” at the deadline. Just some food for thought. Here’s some more:

Last year’s NHL trading deadline was the most productive in terms of the total number of trades (25) and ranked second in terms of the number of players moved (40). The 2002-03 deadline saw 46 players change addresses.

The trade dealine of 1979-80 is considered the first, and the biggest and most far-reaching deal made was the one that sent plucky center Butch Goring from Los Angeles to the New York Islanders for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis. Goring helped the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles, with the first coming mere months after the trade. Only five players changed hands on that deadline day, but three of them (Goring, Lewis and Ron Low) went on to become head coaches in the league.

That first deadline day also produced a very cautionary deal for the GMs and future GMs. In addition to dishing Goring to the Isles, Kings general manager George Maguire traded away the Kings’ first-round choice in the 1982 Entry Draft to the Buffalo Sabres for veteran defenseman Jerry “King Kong” Korab. The Sabres used the choice (sixth overall) to select high school hotshot Phil Housley, who went on to tally 1,232 points in a 1,495-game NHL career that spanned 21 seasons and eight different NHL teams (including the Caps).

A year later, Maguire again traded away his first-round choice of two years hence, and again sent it to the Kings. This time, he got former French Connection winger Richard Martin for a first-round choice in 1983 and a third-rounder in 1981. The first in 1983 turned out to be the fifth overall, and the Sabres chose goaltender Tom Barrasso. He won 369 games in his 19-season NHL career. Soon after the Sabres strolled to the podium to choose Barrasso, Maguire became the Kings’ ex-GM.

The first actual deadline day deal involving the Capitals was a whopper of a swap. It came on Mar. 9, 1982 when the Caps shipped left wing Todd Bidner to Edmonton for defenseman Doug Hicks. Bidner, who hailed from Petrolia, Ont. (the same hometown as Dale Hunter), never played another game in the NHL after leaving Washington, where he skated in a dozen of them. Hicks tallied one assist in his 18 games in the red, white and blue. Chalk one up for the Caps.

The seeds of Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship were planted some six years earlier, in two seemingly innocuous deadline day deals. First, the Bolts traded defensemen Bryan Marchment and David Shaw and a first-round draft choice (later traded to Nashville) to San Jose for Andrei Naarov and a first-rounder in 1998. Then much maligned Lightning GM Phil Esposito shipped center Jason Wiemer to Calgary in exchange for winger Sandy McCarthy, a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in 1998.

With the first-rounder from San Jose (first overall), the Lightning chose center Vincent Lecavalier. With the third-rounder from the Flames, Tampa Bay took center Brad Richards. Esposito converted a bag of shells and some magic beans into picks that turned into the team’s two top centers.

Sometimes, you can be buying when you appear to be selling.

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20 Comments on “The Root of the Rumor”

  1. A good point. Most of the rumors you hear these days have no truth behind them at all. But while the Caps refuse to disclose information regarding trade talk, some other GM’s seem to be more open to the subject. That is where you get most of the good rumors from. The rest are just made up based on what the majority feels a team should do in order to improve.

  2. dumpnchase Says:

    Believe me, the Caps are just one of 30 NHL teams that refuse to disclose information regarding trade talk. When’s the last time you heard an NHL GM say, “Yeah, we’re talking to the Blues about Guerin, but they want a first-rounder and Jonny Prospect. We’ve offered a second-rounder and Jimmy Suspect. The ball’s in their court.”

    It doesn’t happen. A GM will go as far as saying, “We’re looking for help on the blueline.” He won’t say which teams he is talking to or which players are being discussed though, not if he ever wants to be able to make a deal with that team’s GM again.

    This time of year, you see a lot of media reports about which scouts were in attendance at which games. Here’s an amusing aside to that. Last week, some media sources reported that Caps “scouts” were in attendance at a Minnesota game. Those “scouts” were actually members of the Caps’ game operations crew. They were just there to see how a fellow NHL team does business. The same two guys were in Denver the night before. And they were loving the fact that people were mistaking them for scouts throughout their travels.

    Just because a press box seating chart says “Timmy Teaser, Washington Capitals,” doesn’t mean that Timmy Teaser is a scout.

  3. TheFreeze Says:

    I was curious what the odds were of us Caps fans being graced with the presence of Nicklas Backstrom next season. I’ve heard some good stories about him and am anxious to see him in action. If anyone could update me it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    P.S. – Caps will be Playoff bound next year for sure.

  4. Jstgtpaid Says:

    I see your point and I believe it is true that many of the rumors never turn into reality. But it is very entertaining. I visit some of the trade sites and thoroughly enjoy reading them and pondering the probabilities.

    Talking and reading about hockey is always good. Even the silliest of rumors can spur a meaningful and fascinating discussion about why the trade would be silly. In the end it’s just entertaining hockey speculation…

  5. watex Says:

    I believe you. Its very entertaining how this happens so often.

    In the game I play so much that I’m always on the internet ( ) many rumors in it become true!

  6. Johnny Drum Says:

    Greetings From England!
    Todd Bidner, mentioned in the above”blockbuster” Trade,finished his playing career in the UK,including a spell in my home town of Billingham,Cleveland (300 miles North Of London)…His first season in the UK, 1986,he recorded 71g 52ass in 31 games (ha,ha,honest…goalies were an optional extra in those old UK leagues).
    Talking to some of the players who played with him,he was supposed to have been a very funny guy,and was well liked in the local community.

    I saw him play a few times in the old Billingham rink (seating capacity 700,rising to-705 when they had the drinks machine “re-possesed”)but this was the days wbefore I discovered my beloved Caps…

  7. Cheapseats Bob Says:

    Hows this for a rumor! Zubrus is asking for 3.5 to 4.5 mil for 5 years and his agent says he is good off the ice so he deserves it. What BS! Is Zubrus even a pimple on the butt of Heatly or Datsuyk? Those are they players making that kind of money. He makes 1.85 this year and does not earn that, unless you think turning the puck over is a great hockey skill. So, rumor? What rumor? Zubrus is GONE, say GOODBYE, SO LONG, GOOD LUCK, SEE YA AROUND, HAVE A GOOD LIFE, and hope like heck the Caps can get a center who can hold on to the puck and pass it!

  8. Brian Sambirsky Says:

    This is a very naive opinion. Someone who is selling and wants to drive the price up has every reason to leak that team xyz is talking to him about player abc. By involving the media, the selling team has now created some fan-base pressure for the buying team to respond plus rival teams to xyz may try to intervene which creates a bidding war (ever try and sell a house with multiple offers – the seller is generally pleased at the end). It may not be pretty, but these are details of negotiating. If you think otherwise, you are kidding yourself.

  9. Richard Hansen Says:

    Greetings from Norway !

    I can tell you that Nicklas Backstrom will be a BIG help for the Caps when he come next season. I have seen him play several times and finally Ovetchkin will get to play with a great playmaker who can support him. Its sad to see Ovetchkin play now without any support. Semin is a great goal scorer but he is not a big playmaker.
    Yes i agree – next season the Caps will be playoff bound and Ovetchkin will give Crosby and Malkin a good run at the total point race ( even if he had a big slump now i still think he will win the Rocket award) But this season has been bad…Looking forward to next season.

  10. Billy Armstrong Says:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Zubrus go. He started off like he finished last season, really well. But, he can’t produce anymore and hold the puck anymore. He makes blind passes to the wide open defenders on the other team. I heard rumors of Olie leaving, and that might be ok considering he might be done in the near future. I’ve always loved Olie, but the past two years he’s given up goals he wouldn’t used to give up, granted our defense needs to improve a lot. Before last year, I heard a rumor that we could’ve sent Zubrus and Olie to the wings for Datsyuk and Legace. That would’ve been great because we could’ve got a young goaltender and someone who can hold on to the puck and produce. We need more on the blueline, because they are really unorganized and slow, but along with Backstrom next year we need another playmaker or two. In having a young team, we need some veterans that’ll teach the young players, and produce some points while they’re at it.

  11. shaggy Says:

    Really enjoy your blog and other writings. I generally agree that the theory of rumor is just so much BS that we tolerate as hockey fans. The few that turn out to be “true” are actually dumb luck. Call it the the Miss Cleo school of clairvoyancy: sooner or later your bound to guess right.

  12. dumpnchase Says:

    JstgtPaid, Yeah, talking about hockey is always good. Reading about it is too, if the writing/spelling/grammar is okay and it passes the BS test.

    Johnny D, great to hear from you. I know that Bidner played over in your neck of the woods for more than a decade. I wanted to put a picture of him and Hicks on the site with this entry, but the ones we had just weren’t up to snuff. Hope you and the family are doing well, give them my best.

    Cheapseats Bob, It’s all part of the dance that goes on between player and team come contract time. Zubie is a good guy, good player, and he is good off the ice. Now both sides need to agree on a price for that. If they can’t, then yes, he’s likely gone. Makes too much sense not to trade him if he is not signed.

    Brian, the market will drive up the price easily enough without the need for “leaking.” There is a very, very finite number of potential “customers” here. This is not e-Bay, there are only 29 other teams. Take away the ones that are also in selling mode, take away the ones that just don’t match up needs-wise, and you’re left with just a few. Right now, the Brian Burkes of the world are crowing about how they’re “not gonna pay a lot for this muffler.” But on Tuesday at 2:50, they will. Happens every year.

    Richard, thanks for the info on Backstrom. I think we’re all excited to get him over here and see him play and watch him develop. I wouldn’t say this season has been “bad.” It’s just another rung on the ladder. It has been better than last season, which was better than the one before that. At this stage, that’s the idea.

    Billy, Olie isn’t going anywhere unless he decides he wants to. And the only reason Zubie would go is if he is not signed. Even then, the Caps could re-sign him in July when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The defense is getting better, but I agree that a veteran who could help stabilize things (and maybe play the point on the power play) would be a plus.

    Shaggy, Thanks for the kinds words. Myself and a few friends were saying basically what you’re saying at lunch yestreday. The next step on the hockey rumors website evolution scale is going to be a site that tells you the dates and the players involved in the trades, before the trades actually happen. And if there are draft picks involved, they’ll tell you who will be taken with those picks. I actually saw the following sentence on a hockey rumors site yesterday:

    “Two rumors that I can confirm for you out of Toronto.”

    How awesome is that? Now we’ve got confirmed rumors, which are not to be confused with the unconfirmed variety. You can’t make this stuff up folks.

    Actually, maybe yoiu can. Some guys do.

  13. Kerplunk Says:

    Wait, what? Ecklund isn’t in the know? But he’s quoted so often on the Caps message boards. I don’t understand, there’s no truth to rumors? Didn’t high school teach us the opposite? I have gotten the rather firm impression that the only player anyone wants to trade is Jimmy Suspect. I think most of our firesale resulted in Jimmy Suspect’s, actually. Jimmy’s a good guy. I’ve known him for years. I heard that one day he’ll change his name to Johnny, but now I’m questioning the source of that rumor. One of my sources told me that Brad Stuart had a few years left on his contract when in fact he is an UFA, so that I made an ass of myself on the WashPost blog, asking questions that infact didn’t need to be asked. The kind of people that start rumors are the same that you shouldn’t loan money too. Go figure.

  14. Richard Hansen Says:

    Hello everybody – forgive me when i was saying the season was bad – to be honest i have just recently started to follow the Caps because of Ovetckin and i really dont know so much about their history – Was a Detroit fan in the 90 because of Fedorov (yes i love the russians) but i think that the Caps will be a very interesting team to wath in the future – look av Pitsburgh now with Malkin and Crosby. I live in Norway ( next to Sweden) and has seen Niclas Backstrom play live several time. They call him their biggest talent since Peter Forsberg and i think that says a lot. Just a question if someone have the time to reply an danswear – is there any Caps forum on the internet where i can meet guys like you and talk about the Caps? Norwegian tv do not show the NHL and i have few friends who are interested in the NHL/ Caps. Take care – Richard

  15. Paul Says:

    Great job Mike, 100% agree with your post.

  16. Hordedog Says:

    To Richard Hansen: is the Capitals’ official website, and you can register on their message boards and talk away there with other Caps fans.

    Unfortunately, they do not allow people to register on their Boards using if you only have a webmail based email address. (booooooo! hissss!)

    You can go to and find links to all the NHL team’s official websites, and unless I’m mistaken, they all have message boards.

    Good luck!
    [a Caps fan in Amsterdam]

  17. Richard Hansen Says:

    Thank you!


  18. Alberto Roncajolo Says:

    This year the Caps need to make some trades that will bear fruit heading into next season. At this point last season, the Caps had more points. Our defense still gives up 35-40 shots per game and yet somehow we expect Olie or Brent to stop every single one of them? Come on, lets get real, the Caps are not going anywhere unless we improve our defense…and wait a second, our offense needs to step it up notch. Pucks arent going to shoot themselves into the back of the net. If Zubrus goes, fine, he dissapointed any Capitals fan, but lets get something serious in return for this guy. we cant rebuild a team forever. Fans are growing frustrated by the fact that all we seem to do is rebuild. So lets stop this whole “Olie is too old” stuff, the guy is a top NHL goaltender and still has another year maybe two in him. Does he let in soft goals every now and then? yeah he does…but how would feel taking an average of 40 shots a game?? and the fact that the big O has not been productive lately doesnt help. Lets make a serious trade and lets hope that nexy year things fall into place.

  19. Killah Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. For a rumour to get out to the public, you would have to think that someone would get fired along the way! Imagine your company is working on a product that will generate more revenues for the company, then Joe Coffee-Getter tells his buddy on the outside, now all of a sudden, a dozen other companies are building the same product! Sometimes we forget that the NHL is a business just like any other. That said, I don’t doubt that NHL teams do leak some information to the public to guage public interest in the move, this is only common sense though, almost like product testing if you will? Enjoy the deadline my friend!

  20. trade show bag

    Hi. Very nice blog. I\’ve been reading your other entries all day

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