I've been covering the National Hockey League on the internet for 8 1/2 years now, and in all that time I've never run across a blogger as beloved or as reviled as Eklund.
For those of you unfamiliar with Eklund, he bills himself as an anonymous long-time fan of the NHL claiming to be privy to contacts at various levels throughout the league, from whom he posts trade and free agent information on his blog on his website Hockeybuzz.com.
Since he first made his appearance in the midst of the NHL lockout he's been a lightning rod for controversy. And there appears to be no middle ground amongst hockey fans who follow him. He's either loved or hated.
I first became aware of Eklund during the lockout when one of my readers sent me a link to his first blog. I checked it out a few times but to be honest I didn't believe he was on the level, especially since his track record for his predictions at that time wasn't that great. I dismissed him as just another "wannabe insider".
As time and the lockout wore on, however, several of my readers noted the information on his blog improved, particularly in the week leading up to the certification and implementation of the new CBA. It was obvious to me that whoever was feeding him this info was indeed "in the know", as occasionally he was beating the media by a few hours in breaking some lockout stories.
Regardless, I still didn't take him seriously, expecting that once the lockout was over he'd fade away and declined to acknowledge his blog's presence.
When I got word in the summer of '05 that he was now moving into the trade and free agent rumour business I paid closer attention, since he was now heading into the same line of work as myself. I've learned over the years to keep an eye on potential competition and how their work might impact my own.
It again became apparent that he appeared to be getting information from credible sources, particularly the Peter Forsberg signings and the "Hossa-Heatley" trade, although overall his track record was no better or worse than the media's.
Now this may shock some of you, but it was around this time that I began to have a bit of a history with Eklund.
It began in late-August of 2005, before the launch of "Hockeybuzz", when I tipped him that a rumour he'd received from one of his sources was false. I won't go into the details but he was grateful for my unsolicited assistance.
You may ask why I bothered to help out a potential competitor, particularly one whom I'd earlier dismissed as a lightweight pretender. The reason is I like to help out folks in the NHL cyberspace community in any way I can, particularly those just starting out, as some folks helped me when I first started out. I saw the opportunity to save Eklund from serious embarrassment just as he was starting out and wanted to help him.
That started an infrequent exchange of e-mails and phone conversations between us, nothing serious, just casual chatter between two hockey fans.
On two occasions last year, in January and again in September, he offered me opportunities to contribute to his website, which I seriously considered, but ultimately I politely declined because I'm very happy "doing what I'm doing" as John Lennon once sang.
He understood, and we still carry on our occasional conversations. I recently had a good-natured debate with him regarding a rumoured Flyers-Oilers swap which was recently podcasted on his site.
Folks occasionally ask my opinion of him and I usually dodge the question, but I've decided to address this and get it out of the way once and for all.
I don't believe he's a fraud. I believe the number of NHL reporters and commentators who regularly contribute to his blog gives proof to his legitimacy with the media.
No fraud, no matter how skilled, could attract professional hockey writers and reporters to regularly contribute to an anonymous blogger's website unless he or she had genuine connections in the business and a support network to pay them. Those guys aren't stupid and wouldn't risk their careers and reputations on a nobody. As for his other NHL contacts, I'll simply have to take his word for it.
His constantly changing bio on his blog was done to protect his identity, but it has become a point of derision amongst some bloggers. I believe he's making a mistake by maintaining his anonymity, particularly since the longer he stays in this business the less likely he can maintain that status, but that's his choice to make.
Yes, I know his real identity, and no, I'm not telling, respecting his request for anonymity. Quite frankly, it was never an issue for me because it had no impact on what I do.
He's been criticized for charging readers for "insider info", but he's not putting a gun to anyone's head and forcing them to do it. It's their money and if they want to spend whatever amount for his information, that's their business, not mine or anyone else's. There's far worse to spend money on. If those folks have a problem with it, they'll take it up with Eklund.
I'm not suggesting Eklund should be exempt from criticism. He has to expect it, just like me and anyone else who posts in a public domain like the internet, and he has to be prepared to handle it and address it as he sees fit.
Should he post up something I consider far-fetched he certainly won't get a free ride from me. I have called him on some of his rumours in the past on my blog and will continue to do so.
That being said, I am a little taken aback by the hatefulness of some of the criticism he gets. Indeed, sometimes it seems less like criticism and more like venomous vendettas to ruin him.
It's not as though we're involved in debating the Middle East situation or the existance of God. It's not as though he's dealing drugs or charging for bogus stock market tips. It's not as though he's publicly running down other hockey sites or personally disparaging those who run those sites.
He's merely posting NHL player movement rumours, folks. He's not hurting anyone by doing that.
I don't consider Eklund's site a threat to my own. Judging by the traffic numbers to my site (unique visitor numbers can be accessed by clicking the small link at the bottom of my main page), as well as the personal numbers held by my web host, I don't have a thing to worry about.
And really, why should I? The internet is big enough for all of us to co-exist. There's plenty of elbow room to go around. Furthermore, Eklund has never made a single disparaging remark toward me, my website or my work. He's not stealing readers from my site anymore than I am from his.
If anything, there seems to be a fair number of our readers who regularly follow both our sites.
I won't post links on my website directly to his blog whenever he posts a rumour, because I only post those which appear in the media. However, I have posted links to those posted by those accredited NHL reporters who contribute to his site, and will continue to do so.
Ultimately, it's up to hockey fans to decide if they like Eklund's work or not. They'll decide the success or failure of his blog and site, just as they will mine and everyone else who posts about the NHL. What a rival thinks has little, if any, bearing on it.
Eklund does his thing, I do mine, and we get along fine. Live and let live.
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