Those who follow hockey know that there has been a long tradition of starting rumours about players sleeping with other players’ wives. It seems like every time a star player got traded there were whispers that the cause was either the player had slept with a teammates wife, a teammate had slept with the traded player’s wife, or some combination of the two. If you had a friend who lived in that city he would swear that everyone knew that the rumour was true, but of course there would always be at least three degrees of separation between him and the actual source. The rumours have just been limited to players. When a highly successful coach was suddenly fired in one NHL city, rumours circulated that the real reason was an affair with one of the star player’s wives.
What was once merely confined to sports bar gossip has suddenly become mainstream news. First, Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks felt the need to go public to denounce the local rumours he had torn the locker room apart by sleeping with a teammate’s wife. Then just a couple days later TSN, the Canadian version of ESPN, inexplicably aired a tweet suggesting that Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupol had slept with teammate Dion Phaneuf’s wife, actress Elisha Cuthbert. TSN later issued a formal apology for somehow letting such an inappropriate tweet air during their trade deadline coverage.
The question is, why is this happening? One explanation would be that hockey players are all a bunch of amoral, conscienceless cavemen who would sleep with any woman who batted an eye at them. That may be true, but I doubt that they would be any more so than professional athletes in the other major sports leagues. The other explanation could be that both hockey players, and perhaps more importantly, hockey fans, are far more gossipy than in other sports. I suspect both may be true, but it is the gossipy nature of hockey fans that is the primary cause.
Hockey, unlike the other big three sports, remains much more regional in nature and much more dominated by regional coverage, particularly in the United States. If you are a hockey fan most US cities, you are listening to much more hockey discussion at your local sports bar than you are on television. Hockey gets the most prominent coverage of any sport in Canada, but outside of Toronto and Montreal, most teams play in relatively small cities where half the population is probably only a couple degrees of separation from someone connect to the hockey team. Montreal and Toronto are very large cities, but the passion for hockey there creates a form of mania that is fertile ground for all forms of gossip and rumours. All this has combined with social media to make the NHL the most gossipy of all the professional sports leagues.