The world is a wash in conspiracy theories. When a particular “world” event occurs, two things typically happen. First, we recognize the event itself. For example, Princess Diana died tragically in a car accident in 1997 and we learn the circumstances of the way in which that event came about in journalistic fashion: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Second, in the aftermath, we ask the question, who stands to benefit from this tragedy? Who or whom is better off in this world without Princess Diana in it? And in this respect, there is a wide-ranging list of world events that we label “conspiracy theories” and no amount of evidence to the contrary can erase our suspicions of those who benefit from them.
Did Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on July 19th, 1969? Is the world really getting warmer? And if so, why? Is Big Brother watching you? Is the answer to John Lennon’s death really within The Catcher in the Rye? JFK? 9/11? What’s with the fluoridation of our drinking water? Flying Saucers? The Masons? Secret Societies? The labyrinth of conspiracy theories is endless.
The National Hockey League is not immune to conspiracy theories and there are actually many to go whet the appetite. Again, the same principle applies with respect to “world” events, except we’re talking hockey here. You take an NHL event, a transaction, a trade or a ruling that just doesn’t make logical sense, you delve beneath the surface of the event and ask, “Who benefits?” In this respect hockey is no different than other professional sports like: boxing, baseball, horseracing, basketball, or any other sport. The NHL is, at its core, a highly competitive business. The profit motive, winning, the unwillingness to concede error, and the compromising of honestly (giving way to the appearance of dishonesty and prompting speculation), all play a role in forming what hockey fans see as “conspiracies.” True, or not true (and the reader can be the judge), these are The Top 15 Crazy Conspiracies in Hockey History.
15 Ottawa Silver Seven Salts the Ice in 1904 Stanley Cup
If you read up on the Ottawa Silver Seven squad, you learn two things. One, this team was basically the first hockey dynasty to speak of, winning Cups in the early 1900s with regularity. Two, they did so by basically trying to kill their opponents. Here’s the conspiracy. In 1904, the Toronto Marlies challenged the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. And, according to The Globe and Mail, due to the speed, finesse and skill of the Toronto squad, legend has it that the Silver Seven “salted the ice between periods in order to slow down the swift Toronto players and allow the Seven to retain the Stanley Cup.”
14 The Miracle on Ice
When it comes to conspiracies and The Cold War, nothing is off limits. To that end, lets take a look at America’s greatest hockey moment and ruin it. Cold War anxiety was at an all-time high in 1980, the Soviets were in Afghanistan and word was out that the Americans were going to spearhead a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The conspiracy is this; in the political interests of Mother Russia and her upcoming Olympic platform, the Soviet team created a “Miracle on Ice” in an effort to soften tensions between the two world powers, thereby discouraging a Moscow Olympics boycott by the Americans. Before you dismiss this one there are a couple of things to consider. One, the Russian Coach pulled Tretiak (arguably the world’s best goalie at the time) with the game tied at 2-2, a crazy move that undoubtedly risked him being sent to the Gulag. Second, the Soviets, who were down 4-3 in the third, never pulled their goalie. The embarrassment of losing to the Americans for the greater good of Mother Russia, if you buy this one, was the motivator here. Plausible?
13 The U.S. vs. Russia in Sochi 2014
The Cold War is long over – things seem kosher in the political arena, yet all patriotic Americans know that a Hammer and Sickle resurrection is not out of the question. In Sochi 2014, the Americans undoubtedly had a good hockey team. The Russians had a great hockey team and expectation for this team on home ice was Gold – that’s it. In their preliminary round game against the United States ,the Russians lost in a marathon shootout that highlighted the dangles of T.J Oshie. Before that though, the Russians had scored a goal in the third period that was called back because the net was off. Who knocked the net off? If you ask the Russians, it was American goaltender Jonathan Quick, who managed to escape a "delay of game" penalty. In sum, the goal was called off, no penalty to Quick for dislodging the net, and American referee Brad Meier saw nothing. Conspiracy?
12 Todd Bertuzzi a Scapegoat?
“Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?”
“You’re Goddamn right I did!”
For Todd Bertuzzi, his “incident” with Steve Moore didn’t quite play out like A Few Good Men. After Bertuzzi’s vicious attack on Moore in Vancouver, outraged fans, hockey critics, some fellow players, and even the Canadian Prime Minister wanted to see Bertuzzi hanging from a yardarm. There are a couple of things to be considered in revisiting the Bertuzzi/Moore incident before condemning this guy to life in the stockade. One, essentially the entire NHL knew that on March 8th, 2004 the Canucks were going to go after Moore for his head check on Markus Naslund in their previous meeting. Two, Brad May had also indicated that there was “definitely a bounty on [Moore’s] head.” Actually, Matt Cooke took the first shot at Moore in the game’s opening period, which resulted in a fight that was too tough to call. Three, although Moore had already faced Cooke, Bertuzzi (and others) claim that in the second intermission Mark Crawford said Moore had to “pay the price” for Naslund. Bertuzzi claims he was following orders. How many truths does it take for a conspiracy?
11 Dale Hawerchuk “No Call” in the 1987 Canada Cup
Do you know who Vyacheslav Bykov is? Didn’t think so. When we think of the 1987 Canada Cup, we have the nostalgic memory of Gretzky carrying the puck over the blueline, laying it back to Mario Lemieux and the Magnificent One going top cheese as we defeat communism once again. Where were the Russian back checkers during that critical moment? Watch the tape friends. When the Great One crosses the blueline, the lone Russian defender goes down, perhaps thinking he’d intercept a cross ice pass to Murphy; once he realized that there was no way the history books would want it written that way, he just falls over. The other Russian on the back check is #27, Vyacheslav Bykov and, just as he’s making his way for Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk sets a nasty open-ice hook that lifts him off his feet. No call? Even the most savvy of Canadian hockey fans are likely oblivious to what was going on behind the play in one of the greatest moments in Canadian hockey history. Perhaps, like the refs and they rest of the world, they are watching Gretzky, Lemieux, and the puck. Ultimately, the Soviets blame the refs for their loss. Watch the tape, do they have a case?
10 The Player is a “Player”
Oftentimes in the NHL, players need to be moved, and it isn’t because of poor “on-ice” play, it’s because of poor “off-ice” play – with a teammate’s wife or girlfriend. We’ve heard the stories for years, yet they are always difficult to confirm. Hockey dressing rooms are sacred places and, even when things are going terribly wrong inside them, very few players ever air their dirty laundry in public. For hockey fans, the “tells” are usually trades that make little “on-ice” sense, or a player who walks out of practice with a black eye. Certain players even have “reputations” that follow them from team to team. If you buy into rumours and conspiracy theories, you would honestly think this is an epidemic in the NHL. Boys, beware of the guy doesn’t make the road trip or is deemed a healthy scratch – he may be a “player.”
9 Brett Hull’s Stanley Cup Winner in 1999
If you’re from Buffalo, the expression “No Goal” more than speaks for itself. Game 6 of the 1999 NHL Stanley Cup Finals, between the Dallas Stars and the Buffalo Sabres, was an epic hockey game that went into triple overtime. Here’s the deal. Firstly, this was a great back and forth series that showcased a great goaltending battle between Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek. The controversy is as follows: in the third overtime of game 6, Brett Hull scored the winning goal, but his foot was in the crease – what’s up with that? If you’re from Buffalo, the replay clearly shows that Hull’s foot was in the crease, so according to the rules at the time, it should've been “no goal.” However, with the series essentially over, what was the NHL to do? As it turns out, there was a “memo” sent around to the NHL teams sometime before that suggested that, although the “skate in the crease” rule was clear, if the goal scorer has possession of the puck prior to entering the crease, the goal stands. In short, the Stars got the Cup, the Sabres cried conspiracy, and the NHL changed the rule the following year.
8 Penguins Tank Season in 1983-84 for Lemieux
A player like Mario Lemieux truly comes along once in a lifetime. Of course we had Orr and Gretzky before him – but we’ve had no player of this caliber since. We tend to throw around the term “franchise player” rather loosely in today’s NHL when we really mean “good player” or “first liner.” Mario Lemieux was the last true “franchise player” and he came into the NHL in the 1984 Draft. It’s been widely speculated that the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were on the verge of closing up shop entirely, tanked the 1983-84 NHL season in order to gain the number one pick in the draft. In fact, the Pens went on three separate six-game losing steaks to close out the season and were flatly accused by New Jersey Devils’ management of losing on purpose. The question of “Who benefits?” here is more than obvious.
7 The 2005 NHL Draft Lottery
It’s been speculated that the Pens were at it again in 2005, this time in collusion with the NHL’s top dogs. Due to the fact that the Pens essentially won Sidney Crosby through the draft lottery, rumors of a fix began to circulate. Despite the rumors, the Pens were able to begin anew with another potential franchise player. Long story short, the franchise was returned to prosperity and, with the Magnificent One as Crosby’s mentor, the Stanley Cup returned to the Steel City in 2009.
6 Rocket Richard Riots
When looking objectively (and years later) at Richard’s suspension on March 13th, 1955, it seems appropriate. He did punch a linesman in the face, after all, knocking him out cold, and it wasn’t the first time he had done so. At the game’s conclusion, the Canadiens’ players, as well as the Bruins’ players, were both instrumental in persuading the Boston police not to arrest Richard. The NHL decided that Richard would sit out the balance of the season and the playoffs. However, when the NHL handed out Richard’s suspension, it was, in the eyes of French Canadians, their culture that was being punched in the face by the NHL and Anglophones in general. In the aftermath, with some historical revisionism, Richard’s name was co-opted from the hockey arena to the political arena and the Richard Riots are seen as emblematic of the French Canadian struggle since the Plains of Abraham.
5 The NHL vs. The Vancouver Canucks
In the early years of the franchise, the Vancouver Canucks deserved zero respect. The executive decision to drop the blue, green, and white, which sported the classic rink with the hockey stick logo, was a huge error in judgment. The new color scheme, adopted in the late 1970s, was the dreadful black, gold, and orange colours, were a joke. Today, Canucks’ fans, despite having some of the NHL’s best talent in the Sedin brothers, who have both won the Art Ross trophy and one the Hart Trophy, feel that the franchise doesn’t have the respect of the NHL and it’s officials. At the end of the day, the Canucks’ superstars, says the Vancouver fan base, are far more penalized than the Crosbys and the Ovechkins of the NHL. The uniforms don’t hurt the eyes anymore, so if this is really the case, give 'em some respect.
4 The Gretzky Rule
Prior to 1985, if two opposing players committed infractions while on the ice at the same time, both players would go to the box, thus creating a 4-on-4 situation (different than offsetting penalties, where both players go to the box for penalties occurring at the same time and the teams still play at full-strength). The 4-on-4 setting (and 3-on-3) is where the Edmonton Oilers really excelled in the early 1980s. With a guy in the box from each team, #99 had more open ice to light the lamp, often doing it more than once before the two minutes were up. The beginning of the 1985 season saw offsetting penalties added to the NHL rulebook. The motivation for this rule change was highly criticized at the time as a conspiratorial effort to slow The Great One down. It was therefore dubbed, The Gretzky Rule.
3 Gretzky Trade to Los Angeles in 1988
The fact that Wayne Gretzky wasn’t a career Oiler (or that he didn’t stay in Edmonton well into the 1990s) still baffles the hockey world. In August 1988, the summer after the Oilers had won their fourth Stanley Cup under Gretzky’s captaincy, “The Trade” was announced. Although there were other players moving in the deal and draft picks coming to the Oilers, this was undoubtedly a cash deal – the Kings shelled out $15 million to the Edmonton Oilers for the world’s greatest hockey player. The Great White North universally hated the notion of losing #99 to an American team and it was widely thought that moving Gretzky to an American market was a move to generate interest in the NHL below the 49th parallel. And it didn’t help matters that Janet Jones Gretzky was an actress, who could obviously benefit from a move to Hollywood. Eventually Canada forgave Gretzky and“The Trade,” and the impact that Gretzky had on the American market, became one of the most significant moments in NHL history.
2 Gretzky High Stick in the 1993 Conference Finals
Ok, so the NHL found a way to get Gretzky out of Canada and into an American market, now what? Gretzky was still the game’s best player, producing 168, 142, 163, and 121 points between 1988 and 1992, but the Kings weren't able to advance deep into the playoffs. However, in the spring of 1993, Gretzky and the Kings found themselves in game 6 of the Campbell Conference Final, down 3-2 in games to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Game 6 would go to overtime where the Great One caught the Leafs’ Doug Gilmour with a high stick, which resulted in the most famous “no call” in NHL history. Gretzky would go on to score the game 6 winner and then a hat trick in game 7 to push the Kings into the Stanley Cup Finals. Although referee Kerry Fraser has apologized for his “worst moment” as an official, Leafs’ fans continue to cry conspiracy. In case you forgot, the Kings did fall 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens in the Cup Finals. Many Canadians still feel that, although ecstatic that a Canadian team won the Cup, the NHL didn’t want to see an all-Canadian final in 1993.
What began as a joke in Arizona, the fan-voting of John Scott as an NHL All-Star, quickly developed into one of the NHL’s greatest feel good stories in recent memory, then the story took a spiteful turn into one of the most transparent conspiracies in NHL history, and now appears to be culminating in a Disney-like narrative for John Scott and his family. As it’s been well documented, the NHL (in an effort to generate fan interest) gave the fans a say in who gets to be a 2016 NHL All-Star and the fans said “John Scott!” After attempts by Arizona management and the NHL to discourage Scott from participating in the All-Star game failed, he was then traded as baggage to the Montreal Canadiens and sent promptly to the minors. Next, #FreeJohnScott exploded on Twitter, Coach’s Corner weighed in, Bob McKenzie hinted at conspiracy and transparency on TSN, fans were outraged, and throughout all of that, John Scott remained a class act. Today, the NHL, unless it has something else up its sleeve, has agreed to uphold the fan-vote and allow John Scott to take his family to Nashville and participate in the All-Star game. In fact, John Scott deserves a “can you please come?” from the NHL for the way he was treated - he is, after all, the only reason anyone is talking about the NHL All-Star game, which has been historically uneventful.