(Ed. Note: Headed up to Montreal on Thursday, which means our draft coverage gets in-depth and intense tomorrow. If you're up there, please hit us at email@example.com and be sure to follow the fun on Twitter. Thanks as always for reading.)
If one thing emerged from the Blogs With Balls conference in New York City this month, it was the blurring of the lines between "traditional" media and "alternative" media. Newspapers have blogs. Bloggers work for newspapers. Everybody's trying to keep up with the technological revolution of social media like Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and we all like booze. Blogs With Balls taught us that, too.
The lines weren't always blurred. They were pretty damn stark, in fact, for years. But mainstream acceptance, credentials for events, citations as news sources ... it's all happening for the alt-media today thanks to the outstanding work of the writers, the bloggers and the fans who can't stand being given either label.
There are still rough patches, battles fought for respect and unfortunate generalizations made. (Lord knows I'm as guilty as anyone of that last one. Note to Self: Not every newspaper writer is stone-faced in the press box. Just more than a few of them.) But the gap has closed dramatically, to the point where blogs are influencing not only traditional media but the very leagues they cover.
Coming up, 10 stories, trends and scandals* from the last season that captured this moment in one way or another.
"JAGR CLOSE TO SIGNING WITH EDMONTON OILERS: SOURCE" was the blaring headline from Edmonton Journal blogger David Staples, as his Cult of Hockey site went out on a limb and reported that Jaromir Jagr was to leave the KHL for the NHL back on Feb. 10. This info came from "Euro-hockey expert Peter Adler."
The Oil pushed back hard, claiming (anonymously) that the report was "bogus." Pierre LeBrun of ESPN confirmed that the Oilers were pursuing Jagr, but that it was likely he would be staying in the KHL. Staples would end up getting publicly filleted by an Oilers beat writer, and the reality of re-entry waivers seemed to put a damper on the rumor as well.
Staples went on to post questions about Jagr's value to the Oilers and mediations on the business of trade rumors before reaching a moment of sweet personal vindication on March 20, when Jagr himself confirmed the original blog rumor. It was a gusty post from Cult of Hockey, and they never backed off the scoop despite mainstream backlash.
9. The "Hockey Scores" Movement
A.K.A. "What if 30 seconds of cats meowing and babies crying wins the Hockey Night in Canada song contest?"
CBC Sports asked fans to send in songs for their "Canada's Hockey Anthem Challenge," in which a new "anthem" would be selected and played during Hockey Night in Canada. (This contest was born after the HNIC theme was acquired by a rival network following a royalties dispute.) At one point, thanks to the support of blogs, a Facebook group and the Something Awful forums where the sensation was born, "Hockey Scores" was the most well-reviewed and viewed entry in the user-generated contest.
Logan Aube, the creator of the track, provided the delightfully convoluted inspiration for "Hockey Scores" in our interview:
"My love for hockey is reflected quite well in this piece I feel. The intense percussion symbolizes the hard-hitting excitement of the sport, while the cat samples are used to demonstrate the feline qualities players must possess: speed, cunning, agility, and fearlessness. The other animal noises reflect the rich domestic history of the sport; I remember my grandfather who grew up on a farm used to freeze a rink in their field every year so that they could play the game, while the animals watched on.
"The happy child was used to symbolize the child-like wonder many Canadians feel every time they turn on this great game. The climax of the piece brings it all together, bringing the excitement to its peak and then finishing it off with a buzzer. Goal!"
Alas, something called "Canadian Gold" ended up winning the contest. Not a single cat sample or gunshot in the mix. Snore.
8. Versus embraces bloggers
Versus, the NHL's cable partner in the U.S., had been reaching out to select bloggers with "exclusive" content and assorted swag for some time. Last season, however, a redesigned Versus.com aggressively courted independent hockey media to counterbalance the mainstream journalists (Adrian Dater, Chuck Gormley) it had writing on its NHL page.
Among the bloggers that signed on with Versus were Jon Swenson of Sharkspage; Mike Chen of Fox Sports and Kukla's Korner; Reasonable Doubt from Melt Your Face Off; the bloggers from Hockey's Ladies of Greatness; and Bryan Thiel from the Bleacher Report. In the playoffs, Versus.com entered into a content sharing deal with Hockeybuzz.com.
The experiment never reached its full potential, as the "experts" on the site were more prominently displayed and the blog content was too infrequent. But as Versus attempts to convert cynical fans, and hockey bloggers forever seek a larger audience, it was a noble if flawed attempt at a mutually beneficial relationship.
7. Hockey Night in Canada Invites the Bloggers To Leave Their Basements
Yours truly, Paul Kukla from Kukla's Korner and Tom Benjamin from Canucks Corner appeared on "Hockey Night in Canada" before the start of the playoffs. While the structure of the segment can be debated -- the "can bloggers be trusted?" discussion undermined everything that followed -- CBC Sports deserves a massive amount of credit for including the alternative hockey media in its preview gala. **
6. Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory Of Jack Edwards
Once upon a time, Jack Edwards was an ESPN commentator whose occasional forays into cliché and hackneyed lingo were a source of amusement and ridicule for hockey fans.
But as the Boston Bruins play-by-play man on NESN, Edwards is ... well, still a source of amusement and ridicule for hockey fans. But one that's become a sensation among bloggers for surreal moments of candidness during games.
Like comparing a Bruins' win over the Montreal Canadiens to the Revolutionary War; or his maniacal cackle while pointing out "the irony" of Philadelphia Flyers fans getting upset over a hit from behind; or when he played Tim Gunn on the Habs' throwback jerseys:
But for all the knocks on Edwards for his blatant homerism and forced humor, there's also a blogger cult that's formed around his act. Like when a Bruins message board member created "Jack Edwards Bingo," and Hub Hockey brought to the masses before NESN picked up the meme for themselves.
Yes, once again it's time for the squeamish to avert their eyes:
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore's infamous money shot was published by Canucks and Beyond before going completely viral. It was a personal photo taken after Commodore won a Super Bowl pool while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, and posted to the Facebook account of a longtime friend who snapped it.
Soon, Commodore's photo was being discussed in the Columbus Dispatch and goofed on in the Jackets' locker room. Jokes aside, Commodore had to get the word out that it wasn't actually a photo snapped after he left the Ottawa Senators and signed a big free-agent deal with Columbus.
So even after the Jiri Tlusty(notes) nude photo scandal *** with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the previous season, the embarrassing photos of hockey professionals still became news in 2009 (think Carey Price and the cigarettes, for example). As Commodore would later tell us: "We had a media day here, about how to handle the media. It was nice timing with that picture coming out. That is now Exhibit A."
4. The Dangers Of Live Blogging in the Oilers Press Box
David Berry was working for Vue Weekly, an independent news and arts publication in Edmonton, while blogging for the Edmonton Oilers fan site Covered in Oil. He was credentialed through Vue, but was live-blogging a game between the Oilers and Colorado Avalanche in late October for CiO when an Oilers PR staffer pulled him aside.
Berry was threatened with removal from the arena for blogging in the press box under another credential; as Berry would explain, the PR worker said "that the Oilers didn't grant press passes to bloggers unless they were employed by the organization or the NHL, and that I had abused my press pass and wasn't allowed back." Berry, who also believed Covered in Oil's caustic commentary was a factor in the situation, stepped away from blogging after the incident.
The situation became a touchstone moment for many hockey bloggers and new media types, with no fewer than two dozen blogs chiming in on the controversy. Out of Left Field blogger Neate Sager had a superb post about the affair and journalists who work more than one gig.
The controversy raged for several days, as Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports penned a passionate rebuttal to many of Berry's defenders and the Oilers stated their case to the media. The end result was a wide-ranging discussion of media rights, blogger access and what is or is not considered "in good taste" when writing as a credentialed member of the media.
3. All-Star Voting Scandal!
The fact that the NHL decided to open up its All-Star Game voting totals in a real-time format was blog-influenced: The scars from the Vote for Rory outrage ran deep, and this was the League's way to ensure everything was above board.
That was until the Web-based voting was hacked by fans, most notably Montreal Canadiens fans, leading to dramatic shifts in the vote totals from "robo-voting" and the NHL actually stripping away votes from all-star candidates after backlash arrived from the blogs and mainstream media.
2. Twitter, Tweetups and "Brian Burke"
Chris Johnston of The Canadian Press said this week that the CP's official stylebook has added "Twitter, Twittered, Twittering." Well, he didn't so much say it; he tweeted it.
A year ago, this all would have read like gibberish to most of us. Now, Twitter is an essential part of the alternative hockey media. It's a place for breaking news, a place for live-blogging events and, perhaps most of all, an avenue for social networking that takes the old, moldy message boards into a stripped down new model of efficiency and speed.
The "Tweetup" has officially replaced the bar crawl as the preeminent way to bring local puckheads together. Who knew?
Of course, another use of Twitter became a huge blog story this season: parody and satire. "Fake" Twitterers, from players to executives, spewed sometimes ridiculous (and other times line-blurring) messages to followers. The pinnacle of the art form in hockey was the infamous "Brian Burke" Twitter account by Toronto Maple Leafs blogger Down Goes Brown, featuring lines like "After the game, the Pens called and offered Crosby and Malkin for Schenn. Told them to call back when they were willing to offer fair value."
This, of course, led to the Globe & Mail actually debunking this obvious parody and some other unpleasantness involving another Internet parody.
Twitter as comedy, Twitter as communication, Twitter as community. It's everything to everyone. And it's changed online journalism.
1. The Rise of SB Nation
Every weekday, we have a collection of Puck Headlines from other news sources. During the course of the last year, it's been amazing to witness how many of the blogs we frequent for news and views are now under the umbrella of SB Nation's hockey blogs.
"The largest and fastest-growing network of fan-centric online sports communities," SB Nation hired James Mirtle to bring his hugely successful, groundbreaking blog to the platform and recruit other team-specific blogs to the network. The results speak for themselves: 30 teams represented, many by the best blogs on the Web for these franchises:
The majority of the blogs have staff writers along with editors, as well as reader contributions. Their writing has filtered out onto several high-profile sites through content sharing agreements, including Yahoo! Sports and NHL.com during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Several of the blogs have been credentialed by NHL teams and for the 2009 NHL Draft.
Other sites have attempted blog networks like this. None have succeeded in bringing together the number of must-read bloggers as SB Nation has. The rise of this collection of talented writers is the story of the season in the electronic hockey media.
* Yeah, Dmitry's Semin thing could have made the cut, and so could The Hockey News finding us less influential than 99 others. But we're actually too self-loathing to be that self-congratulatory. It's just been an honor to have a hand in popularizing some of these stories this season.
** Fake laptops and all.
*** Search at your own risk.