The foreman of the NHL rumor mill
Hockeybuzz.com's Eklund is passionately disliked by traditional media members
His site gets millions of visits, but precious few of his rumors turn out be true
Eklund says he posts what he and his scribes hear, but sources are rarely cited
On the day of the NHL's trade deadline last year, more than 600,000 people who were hungry for the latest comings and goings scrolled through 3.9 million pages of a blog that came into existence six years ago, one that's owned and operated by a 43-year-old Pennsylvania native who:
* Does not use his real name.
* Is not an officially accredited member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
* Looks like a cross between Corey Feldman and Oliver, the briefly-adopted seventh child of the Brady Bunch, and is often seen wearing a porkpie hat and 1980s-era skinny ties to games on the occasions that he is given a press pass.
* Wrote eight years ago, under a different name than the one he uses for his blog, a self-published book about his small-time band's song lyrics.
While dozens of fully-accredited, double-and-triple-checking-their-sources reporters toil away for endangered old-school media companies that still live by journalism's get-it-right mantra, the mysterious man known as "Eklund" from the site Hockeybuzz.com has blown past nearly all of them in daily web traffic by largely peddling rumors -- about 98.5 percent of which, according to some analysis, never actually come to fruition.
Is it any wonder that the name "Eklund" stirs heated, passionate dislike among many in the traditional hockey press -- and even in the so-called new media? For someone who is considered at the forefront of today's new-school media approach, Greg Wyshysnki -- the editor of Yahoo's popular hockey blog Puck Daddy -- sounds very much old-school when he talks about his distaste for Eklund's brand of reporting methodology.
"We typically don't link to Hockeybuzz," says Wyshynski, who penned a frank appraisal of Eklund for FanHouse in 2007, "because I don't necessarily agree with the way they approach editorial. One of the major, major problems I think we have right now in hockey media is credit and citation. A big part of the rumors game is, if you're not first, then there's no reason to do it. And a lot of the times, being first is pretending to put your head in the sand and not citing your sources. I think his site, and sites that ape his site, propagate that problem where everybody's got to make pretend that they're sourced as well as the guys that really are sourced."
Among Eklund's bigger supporters, however, are some of hockey's most prominent, best-sourced old-school reporters. But there is a very large caveat with two such veterans -- Kevin Allen of USA Today and Tim Panaccio, a former longtime reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer and now CSNPhilly.com -- in that both have working agreements with Hockeybuzz.com to provide written or broadcast content. But even before they joined partial forces with Eklund's rumor mill, Allen and Panaccio say they were swayed by his entrepreneurial spirit and new ways of thinking about hockey coverage.
"I was with him early on, before I even wrote for the site while at the Inquirer," Panaccio says. "He was ahead of his time with sports blogging on hockey. He tapped into a public consciousness both here in the U.S. and Canada, and you can't dismiss the traffic the site gets or the fact that Hockeybuzz hit their 20 millionth unique visitor this month. Say what you want about the site as rumor mongering, but he has proved there is an appetite out there for hockey rumors. And that's what troubles so many journalists. They don't see the site for what it is -- rumors to feed a hockey-crazed public.
"I told him I watched Social Network and thought about him. There wasn't a single character in the movie worth liking. But what I saw were a couple of visionary guys. Eklund is just that: A guy who had a vision for a hockey website with new technology. He's a helluva lot nicer than the people who were behind Facebook, too. I think if more journalists met him in person there would be less resistance to Eklund the man."
Allen, the chairman of the same PHWA that refuses to admit Eklund as a member because of his insistence on keeping his real identity secret, admits to plenty of previous and still-occasional reservations about associating his own name with a man whose accuracy rate on reported news, so critics say, is very questionable at best. Yet Allen, at USA Today since 1983, was slowly won over by what he said was a combination of Eklund's personal charm, passion for the game and new ways of thinking.
"I actually have a good time with him," says Allen, who does a weekly podcast with Eklund for Hockeybuzz. "He and I disagree often on the way he does his business. I don't condone everything he does, but we're friends and I can tell him that. But I'm also very respectful of the fact that he did something that few others have done. He's created a successful business out of a real industry, and carved out a pretty big niche. There are other guys dealing in rumors who haven't had the success that Eklund has had. Maybe the world is evolving a lot more to the way that Eklund does business than the way I used to do business."
Such words are no doubt a stake through the heart of the many traditionalists who revile the typical Hockeybuzz-style news flash, which often begins with something like "Just got off the phone with a trusted source who says something BIG is about to go down in Pittsburgh!" or "Something MAJOR may be going on between L.A. and Atlanta, updates coming soon!"
Most Hockeybuzz rumors, believed to come from the occasional GM, a handful of agents and players, and assorted members of the media, end with a sad fizz, never coming true. One blog named Hockeybuzzhogwash.com compiled a list of what it said was every hockey rumor on Hockeybuzz.com in 2008 and found for every one rumor that ended up being true, 30 did not, with an overall accuracy rate for the year of 2.3 percent.
"I really feel sorry for the people who put faith in what he says, but I guess they will soon realize what is going on," said Paul Kukla, proprietor of one of hockey's busier blogs, Kuklaskorner.com. "But then, another group of young fans comes around and the cycle starts again."
Believe it or not, "Eklund" started out not as a single person, but an umbrella pseudonym (in honor of former Flyers forward Pelle Eklund) for a Philly-area band named Grey Eye Glances -- an indie rock troupe whose other main passion was hockey. Several members occasionally hung out with players, and some purportedly had previous working ties to the NHL.
Around the time of the NHL's lost season in 2004-05, the group became frustrated at the dearth of news surrounding the state of negotiations between the league and players, and thought, "Why not start our own website to fill the void with what we know might be going on?"
Thus, "Eklund's Hockey Rumors" began in 2005. Thanks to a largely snoozing U.S. mainstream media that sent most of its hockey reporters to cover bowling or high school basketball during the lockout, the site quickly became a hit with fans starved for something, anything hockey news-related. It didn't seem to matter that not much of anything was accurate. People just seemed to use Hockeybuzz.com to project their hopes for the NHL's return, or to confirm their suspicions that the end was nigh.
Traffic has only grown like a redwood since. Sites likes Kuklaskorner currently pull in a respectable 19,000 unique visitors per day on average during the season, Hockeybuzz.com usually averages into the low six-figures -- and the numbers skyrocket during the couple of weeks preceding the trade deadline.
According to figures from Google Analytics obtained by SI.com, on Feb. 22, Hockeybuzz.com had 350,295 unique visitors and 1,172,220 page views. From Jan. 24 to Feb. 23, the site generated 7,067,017 unique visits and 22,997,841 page views. Eklund is so hot that plans have just been finalized for him to cut an album with Flyers game-night singer Lauren Hart, a project tentatively titled "Eklund and Hart."