NHL rumors (cont.)
"I'm the least anonymous person in the world," says the man himself, during an hourlong phone conversation, his first public interview in four years. "I show up in press boxes, I walk around. But the Internet is a crazy place. We've had some threats. It's not impossible to find out who I am. But sometimes with the real popular Internet people, things can get weird."
Eklund's real name can indeed be found fairly easily, though SI.com has chosen not to reveal it because it has never actually been confirmed on the record by the man himself, who declined to divulge it to us during our interview. But the main proprietor of Eklund's Hockey LLC is a shaggy-haired, cerebral, fast-talking and altogether pleasant married father of two who genuinely can't understand why some people dislike him so much. He never said he was Bob Woodward, for Pete's sake, and this is just hockey.
"I plainly state that what often you might read on our site is a rumor, and that it might not happen, and in fact probably might not happen," he says. "But I will say that everything I write and what our correspondents are instructed to write is based on what they are hearing in talking to sources. It's a running dialogue of what's happening around the league, behind the scenes. Hockey fans in the U.S. have always had to look for hockey news in strange places, and they're good at it. We came to specialize in a niche, and that's what I always tell people who want to do something big in the Internet -- just pick something, anything, and specialize in that one little niche and you'll do OK."
He has also come under fire for allegedly falsifying his biography. In the early days of his blog, a report surfaced that said Eklund claimed to have worked for the NHL office and as an intern with the Quebec Nordiques.
Eklund, the man today, says those were members of the composite "Eklund" (though a representative of the Nordiques front office says the team never used interns in its years of operation).
There were cloudy assertions in early reports that Eklund wrote a best-selling book, which allowed him to go into blogging with financial freedom.
SI.com did uncover a book entitled A Story to Tell: Based on the Lyrics of Grey Eye Glances (Burt The Dog, 2003) written by the band member stage-name of the person Eklund said. Ranked at 6,748,959 by Amazon as of Thursday, it was likely never a best-seller, but Eklund said he never claimed it was.
There were also reported claims that Eklund falsely stated that he had received a journalism degree from Montreal's McGill University, but he's said that he was only accepted by McGill and never attended, going instead to Temple University. Indeed, listed as a recipient of a journalism degree from Temple in 1990 there is a name like the one suspected of being Eklund's real name.
Not that Eklund is holding anything against his doubters and accusers -- another rap he's faced -- and is vindictive toward those who write bad things about him. He's not ready to sue at the first libelous word with a cadre of lawyers.
"Preposterous," he says. "I've never sued anybody, period. I believe in getting along with people, which is why I never rip anyone on my site. I just don't do it. I think there are so many better writers than me, but who have been trapped in a dying paradigm. You have to do something that makes sense with the medium that you're looking at, the Internet, and that's why I think mainstream people have been handicapped at times, and it sucks because there's some of the best hockey writers in the world who have been getting screwed in the whole process."
When two important, disputed components of his biography seem to check out, Eklund could be rightly portrayed as a victim of jealousy in the business. While much of his running dialogue has been subject to mockery (such as his rankings of trade possibilities, where an (e5) symbol is supposed to be a certificate of gold), Hockeybuzz.com has broken first word of some big trades, including Peter Forsberg-to-Nashville in 2007 and Dustin Byfuglien-to-Atlanta last summer. Still, there have been plenty of not-so-golden, seemingly "done deals" that never happened as well as unhappy mainstream reporters who were left looking like cats chasing their tails while chasing these hot rumors.
"I understand the frustration that many in my side of the business feel toward him," Allen says. "It's weird, because I'm often labeled as the guy who traffics the least amount of the time in rumors, and here I am working with the king of rumors. But I think the guy does work hard and does talk to people in the game."
Eklund says his cell phone bills average more than $2,000 a month from all his talking with sources, partially because he makes many expensive calls to Canada and beyond that are not covered in his minutes plan. But as one of the people who many believe is helping make the mainstream media less relevant -- for better or worse -- he is actually bullish on the future for those who have been practicing good, sound journalism all along.
"Newspapers and television stations that now have Internet aspects to them are starting to take kids who actually went to school studying social networking," he said. "Before, they took people from their newspaper or television divisions to run the Internet, but who didn't understand the Internet. Now, they're hiring people who do, and it's going to change things soon."
With that, Eklund politely said he needed to cut things short and get back to the phones to chase down more trade rumors. But not before one last question to a reporter who covers the game.
"What are you hearing out there?" he asks.