There are some awfully suspect situations that have played out in the NHL over the years that just don’t pass the smell test. Be it exceedingly unlikely draft lottery results, ambiguous rulings at pivotal times in a game or unscrupulous outcomes to major off-ice dramas, some things just can’t be explained in reasonable, rational terms. After all, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck.
Then again, sometimes fate has a funny way of reminding us that coincidence is a real-life phenomenon, and while some things might seem a little odd on the surface, there’s actually nothing nefarious going on under the surface.
There’s no doubt that controversies abound across the league. And with folks far and wide coming down hard on all sides of the issues, it’s prime breeding grounds for conspiracy theories to rear their nasty heads and blur the lines between fiction and reality.
While true that each theory can present a certain level of intrigue, many are utterly preposterous – though a few do make some very plausible points. Here are eight of those NHL conspiracy theories that might actually be true and seven others that are pretty clearly, false.
15 True: The Entire Arizona Coyotes Saga
Look, hockey in the south is one thing – Dallas, Nashville, Los Angeles and even South Florida have all managed to make it work in one way or another. But plopping a former Canadian NHL team in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by retirement communities and football-crazed locals was never a good idea.
Yet, despite continued basement-level attendance numbers, an awful on-ice product and round after round of ownership and arena disputes, the NHL (read: Bettman) wasn’t going to get egg on its face and let the team move out of town even though it had become an outright failure.
The NHL has done a lot of stuff in the dark of night to keep the Coyotes in Arizona. And it’s awfully curios that the time during which the league owned and operated the team was the only time the Coyotes won the Pacific Division and advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
14 False: The NHL Rigged the 2005 Draft Lottery To Save The Penguins
Admittedly, this whole situation looks bad on paper. The Penguins were in financial ruin in 2004 and badly needed saving if they were to remain in Pittsburgh. Then, like an angel sent from Hockey Heaven, the 2004-05 lockout gave them a shot at winning a second-straight draft lottery (which they did) and the “Crosby Sweepstakes,” which no doubt, would put butts in seats and recoup lost revenue for years to come.
A new lottery system and a “closed” draft didn’t make for the best optics in the world, but no matter how fishy it may have looked, lotteries are based on chance – meaning no matter how unlikely a scenario is, there’s always a possibility of it happening. Plenty of good teams have failed or folded over the years without the league stepping in on their behalf, so why would it have done so with the Penguins? The Pens got lucky. That’s it.
13 True: Quebec City Was Never Really Considered For Expansion
The NHL went through the motions to make it look like both Vegas and Quebec had a chance at landing an expansion franchise last year, but behind closed doors, the choice was already made.
There are countless reasons for choosing Vegas that have nothing to do with Quebec’s ability to support a franchise, and it should have been obvious from the start. Foremost, the NHL’s conferences were already unbalanced. It needed more teams in the West. Second, Vegas has never had a major pro franchise. It’s a shiny new city with glitz, glamour, a wealth of potential and a chance to reach new fans. Quebec? Been there, done that. Third, the NHL had intentions on double-expansion to both Seattle and Vegas to balance the conferences but were disappointed when Seattle couldn’t get its you-know-what together. Vegas made more sense from start to finish, and Quebec never had a chance.
12 False: Pekka Rinne Fixed 2017 Stanley Cup Finals
Pekka Rinne, goaltender for the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators went from posting two shutouts and a .976 save percentage in a first-round sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to allowing eight goals on 36 shots through his first two games against the Penguins in the Finals.
Apparently, once again, according to conspiracy theorists, the NHL was rigging the system for Pittsburgh, and Rinne was their undercover operator. He was “letting” the Pens score and win games despite their being far out-played in the first two contests. Sure.
Well, in Games 3, 4 and 6, Rinne posted an average .962 save percentage and sure looked like he was trying to win. Granted, he allowed three goals on nine shots and was pulled after the first period in Game 5, but a game-fixing goaltender for a Cinderella eight-seed competing for its first Stanley Cup is preposterous.
11 True: Martin Gelinas’ Disallowed Potential 2004 Cup-Winning Goal
Late in the third period of a tied Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, Calgary Flames forward Martin Gelinas scored what should have been a Cup-clinching goal. It happened so fast, though, that apparently none of the 19,000+ people in the Saddledome saw the puck cross the goal line before Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin kicked it out.
Play continued until an offside call 20 seconds later, but there was no review, no call down to the on-ice officials, and the puck was dropped for the ensuing faceoff like nothing had ever happened.
The Lightning would win in double-overtime and then go on to win Game 7 and the eventual title. But why didn’t the league review the Gelinas play? Replays clearly show the puck completely crossing the goal line, and even the ABC commentators said it was a goal. Was the NHL conspiring to help a new-market team win a Cup?
10 False: Officials “Missed” The Brett Hull Skate-In-The-Crease Goal On Purpose
On the other side of the coin from the Gelinas conspiracy, the Brett Hull Cup-winning triple-overtime goal in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals was counted as a good goal despite many arguing it should have been disallowed.
Back then, offensive players weren’t allowed to be in the crease when a goal was scored from outside of the blue paint. That rule was moot, though, according to the rules, if the player in question was “in possession” of the puck at the time of the shot and the subsequent goal.
Conspiracy theorists will say that Hull’s skate was inside the crease (it was), that he didn’t have possession of the puck before the shot (he did) and that the Stars’ celebration was so quick and overwhelming that the officials opted not to disallow the goal. Those theorists would be wrong. It was good. Period.
9 True: Drug Use Is Rampant But Underreported Among NHL Players
You don’t hear about problems with PEDs and controlled substances in the NHL at anywhere near the rate you do with sports like pro football or Major League Baseball, but it’s there. Whether the league’s substance-testing programs are flawed, not random enough or simply lacking in effectiveness, the issue is widely underreported, according to several past players who have since fessed up and current ones who have offered testimony on an anonymous basis.
According to many – and freely admitted by the league itself – cocaine use is skyrocketing. It’s the drug of choice because of the buzz it provides and the lack of a hangover. Other drugs like marijuana and pills are also reportedly running rampant at player parties and in hotel rooms across the league. Cover-up or not, this is a major issue that seems to have been swept under the rug.
8 False: The NHL Unfairly Selects Players Of Race For All-Star Games
The idea behind this ridiculous theory that’s been tossed around the interwebs the past few seasons is that the NHL rigs the All-Star Game selection process to unfairly favor black and minority players in order to appear more “inclusive” and to appeal to minority fan bases in order to increase their following.
Now look, obviously the vast majority of NHL players are Caucasian and there are relatively few players of color. That’s mostly a product of purely cultural and geographic differences. But that doesn’t make the league's somehow “racist.” And to suggest that they’re covering up their sins by elevating less-skilled-but-minority players to the mid-season showcase is utterly absurd.
Each and every All-Star, whether black, white or green, has legitimately earned his roster spot. Argue stats, performance and intangible attributes all you want, but never has race been a factor. There’s nothing to gain that way.
7 True: The Real Reason Behind The Gretzky Trade
There seems to be some merit to the perceived “real” reasons behind the Oilers’ decision to trade Wayne Gretzky to the Kings in 1988. After all, who in their right mind would trade the greatest hockey player ever just months removed from a fourth Stanley Cup championship in five years?
The official story is that then Oilers owner Peter Pocklington was broke and needed some cash just to keep the team afloat, so he traded three great players for some draft picks, a couple of no-namers and $15 million.
Many think the NHL forced the deal between the Oilers and Kings to bring publicity to major-market Los Angeles., a non-traditional hockey town, and to prop the sport up in the U.S. Well, following “The Trade,” four new expansion teams were awarded to U.S. markets within five years, and the NHL really took off in the States. That’ll make you think.
6 False: Bettman Has It Out For Canadian Teams
Right, the NHL commissioner, whose livelihood is centered on the success of the league, has a secret grudge on all seven teams based in the country where hockey is the national pastime and where the game’s most passionate fans reside. That makes TOTAL sense.
Granted, no Canadian team has won the Cup in more than two decades (the being 1993, when Bettman had only been on the job for a few months), and nine of the last ten expansion teams have been awarded to American cities, but the NHL is a business, and business is good in the States. That doesn’t mean Bettman has it out for Canada.
Obviously Bettman isn’t anybody’s favorite person – and some of his actions have been quite peculiar – but it’s not like he’s rigging games against Canadian teams or making bad business decisions just to spite the country. That proof doesn’t exist.
5 True: The John Scott 2016 All-Star Game Ordeal
No, the NHL doesn’t plant minorities in the All-Star Game, but yes, it will take actions to prevent bad players from getting there. The John Scott saga wasn’t John Scott’s fault. The NHL brought it upon itself when it opened up a fan-vote to fill out the 2016 All-Star rosters.
What started as a troll job ended as a feel-good story, no thanks to the NHL. After Scott ironically received the most votes in the contest – despite being a less-than-mediocre goon – the league called him and asked him to decline. Then, the Coyotes demoted him to the minor leagues. Then, they orchestrated a shady trade to send him to the Canadiens, who also promptly demoted him to the minors. It was an obvious ploy to use the rulebook to circumvent the fans’ vote and make him ineligible to be an NHL All-Star. Luckily, the NHL failed in its endeavor.
4 False: The NHL Fixed The Draft Lottery To Award The Oilers First Pick Four Times In Six Years
Make up your mind, people. Either Bettman and the NHL hate Canadian teams, or they don’t. If they did, why would they rig the draft lottery to award the Oilers four first-overall draft picks in six years between 2010 and 2016? This whole idea is laughable.
First of all, the league wouldn’t be that obvious to give the same team four first-overall draft picks in six years. Secondly, would really they want that much talent to go to a relatively small, northern market instead of, say, a Southern-states teams who could use all the help and publicity it can get?
The current draft-lottery rules still leave a lot up to chance, no matter where teams finished the previous season. And as we’ve discussed before, when there’s even the slightest chance, the most unlikely situations can still happen. Nothing nefarious happening here, other than maybe a flawed lottery structure.
3 True: Bad Teams Tank On Purpose To Win Higher Draft Picks
So, as we’ve learned, finishing last in the standings doesn’t guarantee a first-overall draft pick. BUT, the worse a team finishes, the better their chances to win that elusive pick. Coaches and GMs know this, so when a season becomes unsalvageable, it’s well-documented that clubs will purposely put a bad product on the ice in order to lose more often.
It’s not like they’re fixing games, but teams will call-up minor-league players who have no business on NHL ice, “rest” stars that probably don’t need it and even trade away veteran talent at curios times for nothing more than draft picks and prospects.
It can become quite farcical – especially like in 2015, when the Sabres traded both their goalies away – but like so many other things, it’s a business decision, and sometimes you have to surrender the current season in hopes of greener pastures in the future.
2 False: The NHL Bailed On The 2018 Winter Olympics To Protect Team Canada
Team USA was looking really good heading into Pyeongchang in 2018, so it’s been rumored that the NHL opted not to allow their players to participate in the Olympics in order to save face for a Canadian team that likely would not have fared well.
Rubbish. The simple explanation is that the positives of all the top NHL talent playing an international tournament in the middle of the NHL season don’t outweigh the negatives.
After five times participating in the Games, the NHL hasn’t gotten the bump from being on the international stage it thought it would. It has nothing to do with Team Canada or Team USA. Plus, stopping league play for over two weeks and putting star players at potential risk for injury just isn’t smart. The league knows it, and the fans know it. Case closed.
1 True: Officials Give Crosby Special Treatment
Maybe it’s not a conscious thing on the part of the on-ice officials, but Belle of the Ball Sidney Crosby hands down reaps the benefit of more non-calls, protection and instances of “looking the other way” than every single one of his opponents combined.
Take for example his axe-swinging incident last season, when he literally chopped off the fingertip of Senators defenseman Marc Methot with a two-handed slash. No call. Or how about last March, when he quite obviously speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly right in the nether regions? No call. And the disciplinary board didn’t deem it worthy of review.
Then there was last June’s Stanley Cup Finals incident, when he tackled P.K. Subban behind the Penguins goal and proceeded to repeatedly smash his head into the ice. Both players got matching minor penalties despite Subban being the hapless victim. These are just a few instances of Crosby benefitting in situations where others would undoubtedly be punished.