Saturday, November 20, 2010

Anatomy of a trade rumour – Carey Price wants out?

Way back in the not so long ago… hockey fans had to rely on local papers, television and sports-radio during the week for trade rumours that were supposedly circulating around the NHL. I always looked forward to Saturday nights and CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada in the hope that someone would mention a rumour involving the Montreal Canadiens during one of their segments. Of course, back then reporters like Al Strachan still had credibility outside of Ontario. Proof-positive that ignorance truly is bliss.

Today, with the Internet convergence of every form of media, old and new, you’d think it’d become easier for fans to trace a rumour back to its source, not harder. If only. What’s preventing this search for knowledge is the ever-shrinking Internet attention span, caused primarily by information overload. Most don’t take the time or have the patience while others just don’t have the time in their lives to be bothered. Besides, rumours are best savoured in the dark.

The bulk of trade rumours start as speculation pieces or voiced opinion about players who don’t actually play in those cities. It’s always been that way but it was almost impossible to know until recently, not unless you had access to media monitoring rooms at work that collected papers from around North America. Who didn’t, right?

From the moment a rumour is floated, it begins to morph. Important qualifiers are dropped along the way and it’s not long before the original source isn’t mentioned at all or it no longer matters if it does. It’s all part of the ratings game since rumours are in fact a form of currency, traded among old and new media for mutual benefit. After all, nothing generates web hits and ratings like rumours.

The most recent example is the rumour that Carey Price wants out of Montreal. If you’re like me, this came completely out of the blue and ran contrary to everything I’ve seen and heard since Carey Price finally signed his 2 year extension, 77 days after Jaroslav Halak was traded. Where did it come from and how did it start? Speculation from Toronto.

Bill Waters, a man whose reputation precedes him, currently has a radio show on AM640 in Toronto and late Friday afternoon interviewed Montreal’s Pat Hickey. To quote Bill:

“Pat, I was watching the game… they gave him a standing ovation and one of his defensive mates… I mean, you couldn’t read lips but he’s obviously said… Hey Carey, they’ve given you a standing ovation… and he did that chicken man act inside his… ah, moving his arms up and down and I said to myself, I said self, that’s a strong indication that he really doesn’t give a damn whether they cheer for him or not. Is it also an indication that this is his last contract in Montreal, or have I jumped to conclusions?”

Yes Mr. Watters, you have. Creative license, speculation and opinion blended together to create a rumour where none existed, nor had reason to exist prior. Personally, I thought Pat Hickey did a great job setting him straight and thought little of it, until today.

Cue the teasers like “Price unhappy in Montreal?” The usual suspects floated it and popular sites like HFboards had 12,000+ views on the subject, including many members of the media who lurk there for rumours and story ideas. And it’s only spread from there. The few who actually listened to the interview have been drowned out by those who generate trade proposals from a Pez Dispenser and the “it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not” crowd whose mainstay is expressing opinion as fact.

So, here we have a rumour that had no reason to exist. Complete fabrication that was immediately debunked by a very well-informed member of the Montreal media who covers the Canadiens. And it still spread. Pass the Pez please.