Conspiracy theories are incredibly interesting. While many of them are downright crazy, some actually make sense if you take a deeper look at the situation. Either way, the theories give people a different way to think about certain issues and provide a talking point for internet bloggers and coworkers around the water cooler. The entertainment of conspiracy theories becomes even more evident when they are about an issue that many people are very passionate about: sports. While there are dozens of conspiracy theories in every sport, some of the most interesting, and far-fetched, can be found in the hockey world. From rigged All-Star games, to match-fixing, to gambling issues, the NHL has its fair share of contentious controversies. These potential conspiracy theories can be found, along with a back story and some analysis, in the list below.
15. The NHL All-Star Game Is Rigged To Include Black Players
This first entry is a bit of a stretch but is still something that is thrown around by conspiracy theorists in the modern day. The idea of it does make sense, as having more players of any minority in the NHL’s star-studded mid-season festivities would serve the league twofold: it would make them look more inclusive in the eyes of society as many folks think of hockey as a “white man’s sport”, while also promoting the game to minority fans in the process.
The recent evidence of this theory is there, as Afro-Canadian defenceman P.K. Subban has been selected to the past two All-Star games. This season, he was named the captain of the Central Division’s squad and while he did have a great year, the fact that he was apparently chosen by fan vote over big-market Blackhawks stars like Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin or Blues’ sniper Vladimir Tarasenko while playing for the smaller-market Predators seems a bit suspicious. Other black players such as Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien, and, less recently, Jarome Iginla, have been named to All-Star teams when there could have been more deserving players filling those positions. While it is difficult to prove and most of the minority players who have participated in the NHL’s All-Star contest have had decent stats to back up their selections, this conspiracy theory does have some legs to it and it really would make sense for the league to do such a thing.
14. Janet Gretzky’s Gambling Allegations Were A Cover-Up For Wayne
Janet Jones is an American actress known for her roles in dance movies. She appeared in many big-screen films, workout films, and a TV commercial. She also married the world’s greatest hockey player, Wayne Gretzky in 1988 and have five children together. In 2006, Janet got into some trouble with gambling, but there was something fishy about the allegations she faced.
During this time, a half-dozen NHL players were among the people who were implicated in a sports-based gambling ring allegedly financed by the Phoenix Coyotes’ assistant coach. At the time, the Coyotes’ general manager and Gretzky’s former agent admitted to placing a bet on Super Bowl XL through Janet. Mrs. Gretzky released a statement claiming she did not place wagers on her husband’s behalf. It was fairly suspicious that Janet was placing bets in a gambling ring where a bunch of NHL players got implicated. Although she said that she did not place it on his behalf, the majority of people think it is odd that someone like her would participate in such activities.
The theory that Janet took the fall for Wayne could actually be true because in the face of the law, there is such thing as spousal privileges. Janet could have simply been saving Wayne from getting kicked out of hockey, and because of Wayne’s incredible talent and legacy in the game, saving his bacon could have been priority #1.
13. The NHL Is Bailing On The 2018 Olympics To Protect Team Canada
The NHL has said that they will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games that are taking place in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This is likely due to the fact that it would be expensive to send million-dollar players halfway around the world, that there is significant risk of injury which could affect the player’s club team such as John Tavares’ injury did in 2014, and that the NHL does not serve to gain much financially from allowing their players to participate. There are some fans and conspiracy theorists, however, that believe there is a deeper meaning for the league’s reluctance to compete in South Korea. According to them, the NHL is trying to protect an aging Team Canada from being beaten by the younger, up-and-coming American squad.
As evidenced by the World Cup of Hockey, Canada was without parallel in late 2016, but as the theory suggests, the squad will have much of its core nearing their early-to-mid 30s by 2018 and will be well past its prime. Meanwhile, the U.S. squad will have a much younger core of Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau leading the way. The theory that the league is trying to protect the hockey-mad Canadians from an upset at the hands of their inter-continental rivals by boycotting the 2018 Games is a bit of a stretch but arguments could be made that it is a factor in the NHL’s decision.
12. The 1999 Stanley Cup-Winning Goal
In the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres were battling for the cup. The series was competitive. Finishing the series in Game 6, the Stars controversial win is still known today. This was due to the 1999 season implementing a rule that if anyone is remotely in the crease, there will be no goal.
During Game 6, in the third overtime period, Stars’ player Brett Hull went on to score the Cup-winning goal while in the opposing team’s crease. This controversial goal was awarded, with the rules bent to allow it. The NHL said they sent a memo clarifying the “skate in the crease” rule allowed goals in situations where the goalscorer maintained control (not possession) of the puck prior to entering the crease. In this situation, Hull kicked the puck with his left skate while outside the crease into a shooting position. There were many instances over the regular season that prove the NHL’s statement incorrect. This led to the removal of the rule from the NHL rulebook shortly after the ending of this season. After Hull had a subpar season, this game-winning goal led to the Stars one-and-only Stanley Cup win. The theory is that this goal was allowed in order for Hull to win his first Stanley Cup, and an excuse to overturn this rule for future instances.
11. Wayne Gretzky’s Trade From Edmonton To Los Angeles
It’s the trade that changed the hockey world. In 1988, while still in the prime of his career at age 27, Wayne Gretzky was dealt (along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski) by the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings for two middle-six forwards, three 1st-round draft picks, and $15,000,000. While the prevailing story as to the reason for the trade is that Oilers owner Peter Pocklington had a number of failing business ventures and needed the money, conspiracy theorists have a different take on the matter.
Many say that the deal was forced by the NHL in an effort to promote hockey in the non-traditional California market. Edmonton was already an established hockey hub and Gretzky leaving would not change that. However, the benefit of The Great One plying his trade in SoCal was huge. L.A. quickly became a contender and within five years there were four new American teams added in non-traditional markets. Whether the conspiracy theory is true or not, the NHL certainly benefitted from the deal and it very well could have been their doing.
10. NHL Goalies Are Paid To Match-Fix
This conspiracy theory is nearly impossible to prove. However, the fact that similar incidences have occurred in other sports in the past means that it is certainly a possibility. Baseball had the 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal, during which players on the Chicago White Sox threw games because they were paid by the mob to do so. Basketball has also had its share of fixing-gone-public, with players and referees alike admitting to missing shots or blowing calls because they were paid by outside sources to do so. So, then, why would hockey be any different?
While it is possible that forwards or defencemen could be paid to make bad plays or intentionally miss shots, no player has as much effect on a hockey game than the goaltender. If he so chooses, he could allow goal after goal and cause a blowout to occur. Most NHL goalies are good enough that this would draw great suspicion but one five-hole squeaker here and there to fulfill a betting line is less noticeable. The theory that NHL goalies could be paid by outside sources to let in goals is entirely possible and it is fair to say that it has likely occurred at some point in the league’s 100-year history.
9. John Scott’s NHL All-Star Saga
John Scott’s 2015-16 season was without parallel. Though he only put up 1 point in just 12 NHL games that season, jokesters took advantage of the fan vote used to select All-Star Game participants and got the 6’8” goofball into the mid-season classic as the captain of the Pacific Division squad. Because he clearly didn’t belong at the festivities and was taking a spot from a deserving NHL superstar, the league tried to get him to forfeit his spot. He refused and shortly thereafter he was traded to Montreal and sent to their AHL affiliate in St. John’s.
While this might very well have just been the Arizona Coyotes making a simple trade, the details around it have led conspiracy theorists to speculate about the league’s involvement in the deal. They think that the league forced the ‘Yotes to trade Scott to a team in the Atlantic Division and then forced the Habs to send him down to the AHL. This way, it should have been illegal for Scott to participate in the NHL All-Star Game as the captain of the Pacific Division. No matter what the league tried, Scott still participated and even potted two goals on the way to a win and MVP honours. But to think, the feel-good moment for the hilarious giant was almost ruined by what conspiracy theorists believe was the NHL’s tampering.
8. The NHL Playoffs Are Rigged To Keep Big-Market Teams In Longer
This is another theory that is nearly impossible to prove but is also entirely possible. The NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are a difficult journey for any team to get through, requiring the squad to get through four 7-game series. While the Cup has been in the hands of the Blackhawks, Kings, and Penguins more often than not in the past 8 years, the NHL still has the most parity out of all major North American sports.
With this being said, there are obviously some teams that the league itself would prefer to do better than others for financial purposes. A big-market team like the Leafs or Blackhawks winning games does more for the league than a team like Phoenix or Florida winning would. Because of this, one could believe that the NHL, potentially in cahoots with the referees, might take action to ensure that more popular teams have deep playoff runs in an effort to boost TV ratings and merchandise sales. This conspiracy theory could be completely ridiculous to some, but to others it does make sense and has a very strong possibility of happening.
7. The NHL Has Planned Lockouts To Make Fans Appreciate The Game More When It Returns
There have been three lockouts and one strike in NHL history. The first strike occurred in 1992 which cut 30 games out of the 1991-92 season. The first lockout was in 1994-95 and caused the cancellation of many games, shortening the season to 48 games per team with no inter-conference games. The 2004-05 season was lost altogether to another lockout. Finally, the most recent lockout was in 2012-13 season, which was shortened to 48 games per team with no inter-conference games.
The first lockout during the 1992 season was due to the implementation of a salary cap. The second lockout was the 2004-05 season when commissioner Gary Bettman attempted to convince players to accept a salary structure linking player salaries to league revenues. The 2012-13 lockout was with regards to the player salary and movement rights. These lockouts were all due to salary-based reasons initiated by the NHL. Some may say this is a way for the NHL to create more love for the league and teams. The lockouts either prevented the season from occurring, or shortened the season. Over time, these lockouts facilitated fans to become emotionally invested. Thus, they say that when the season resumes, fans have more appreciation for the game when it finally does return supporting this conspiracy theory.
6. The Draft Lottery Is Fixed By The NHL
The NHL draft lottery is a technique used by the league that gives different NHL teams a spot for choosing players in the Entry Draft. The teams who do not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs have a “weighted” chance of winning the first overall selection and thus it is known as a “lottery.”
While the NHL tries to make us believe that teams have a fair chance of winning the draft “lottery”, some believe that the reality is that the league itself hand-chooses who is going to pick when. They argue that this choosing of the draft lottery is orchestrated by the NHL in order to regulate and stabilize teams, as well as making sure that potential star players don’t go to bad hockey markets. They say that the lottery is simply an illusion that makes it seem as though teams who do not make the playoffs have an equal opportunity to win one of the top three picks. Many fans point to the Edmonton Oilers as strong evidence of this, as they “won” the draft “lottery” 4 out of 6 years from 2010-2015, giving them an abundance of first-overall picks. The recent evidence is there to prove this theory correct, and it would make sense from the league’s standpoint to try to keep big-market teams successful.
5. Canadian Teams Get Calls In Their Favour To Boost Playoff Ratings
Looking at the viewership of the 2015-16 NHL playoffs compared to the 2014-15 playoffs there is a huge difference. When no Canadian teams made the playoffs, there was a 61% drop in viewership compared to the previous season when there were five Canadian teams participating.
Canada is the birthplace of hockey, leading to not only more players of the game, but also more viewers. TV broadcasting stations benefit from having Canadian teams in the playoffs in order to generate more revenue on their behalf. The NHL also has much to gain from Canadian teams making the playoffs. They are able to produce more advertisement revenues for the playoffs because they know they will be generating money from the views Canadian teams get. Therefore, it can be argued that calls during the season can be made on Canadian teams’ behalf, leading to the conspiracy that it this is done because the NHL wishes to gain playoff ratings.
4. NHL All-Star Selections Rigged By The League To Make The Game More Fun
This list entry is similar to the first in that it suggests that the league riggs the NHL All-Star Game voting. However, this time instead of race being an issue, its star power. While the fan vote does have a lot to do with who gets into the All-Star game, the league itself has the final say in announcing the rosters for each division’s squad.
Conspiracy theorists and fans alike argue that the NHL’s picks are not always fair and are often more representative of who they think will make the game more exciting than who actually deserves to be there based on the season they are having. A great example of this is Jonathan Toews last season. Even though Toews only had 20 points going into the All-Star break, the league’s idea of him as a superstar led them to pick him as a participant over players such as Artemi Panarin who had 41 points at that juncture of the season. The evidence is there from previous years as well, and as much as the league may say that they take both fan votes and players’ stats into consideration when selecting the All-Star squads, there will always be arguments that players get the nod even when they don’t deserve it just because of their previous reputation or star power.
3. The Pens Won The Lottery For Sid Crosby So They Could Stay In Pittsburgh
Before Sidney Crosby came to the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ were in a tough position, filing for bankruptcy protection during the 2004-05 lockout season. The team began to decline after the retirement of Mario Lemieux. They did not win a Cup, nor were they truly contenders, from the early-1990s on, entering a drought through the early 2000s. The unpredictable order of the draft lottery (as the season prior was not even played) for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft awarded the Penguins with the first round pick.
In this Entry Draft, the Penguins acquired Sidney Crosby. From this point forward, the face of the Penguins’ organization changed forever. Crosby was destined to be a star from the moment he began in minor hockey. After Crosby’s three-year entry-level contract was completed, the Penguins signed him to a five-year, $43.5 million pact, becoming one of the highest in history. Crosby’s time with the Penguins has not only led to the squad staying in one location, but his appearance has also led to higher audiences and the building of a new arena with a 30-year lease. In turn, we can say that the draft lottery was simply luck, or the league arranged for the Penguins to win, in order to keep them in Pittsburgh.
2. Referees Call Penalties To Make Games More Exciting
This is a theory that has been thrown around among conspiracy theorists due to referees being very inconsistent with their calls. There are set NHL rules that are implemented by the league, but referees seem to call penalties sometimes late in games to make them more exciting. In the game of hockey, supposedly illegal actions such as slashing and hooking occur on almost every play, but they only seem to be called as penalties when it’s convenient.
In NHL history, there have been some mind blowing calls, between crease violations, off-sides, interferences, and so-on. In a lot of high-intensity games, some may say that referees are known to make a call for the mere goal of creating hype and excitement. People can look at a play and blatantly see that there was no call to be made. With that being said, speculation arises, thinking that there is another theory for referees’ actions. Although there are set rules and regulations, arguments can be made that this conspiracy theory is quite accurate and legitimate, in-turn leading to the belief that referees rig a game by calling a penalty to maximize excitement.
1. Teams Tank To Get Higher Draft Picks
This theory is among one of the most relevant in the NHL today, as many say that it is obvious that tanking occurs but no one wants to admit it. Tanking is when a team knows that they’re doomed to miss the playoffs, so they choose to lose games in order to gain a higher draft pick. Teams in the rebuilding process, or ones who know that this is not their season, tend to be lower on the totem pole, leading to the tanking of their season, in order to gain a franchise player in the draft.
The majority of teams, though, won’t admit that they are tanking the season to gain a player. An example of this is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2015-16 season. They traded away the majority of the players that weren’t part of their young core. They looked to build a young team, gaining prospects or draft picks in exchange for their veteran players. After these trades, the Leafs did the worst during the season, getting the biggest chance at the 1st-overall pick. They won the 1st-overall pick, choosing Auston Matthews, who became their star player this past season. Due to the team’s “tanking” and gaining a franchise player, the Leafs made the playoffs, one year after being in last place. Some say this is action occurs by most teams when they realize their team is not likely to make it far in a season. Though no one will come out and admit it, and the league itself is trying to put measures into place to prevent it from happening, the idea of “tanking” will always be an issue for fans and conspiracy theorists alike.
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