It's the day when Canada's sports TV networks resemble the departure lounge at Pearson airport in Toronto. NHL trade deadline day is like a 10-hour Guinness World Records effort to see how many sports reporters and former players can be stuffed into a television studio. If only they had as many stories to stuff into those studios in the early hours of the annual marathon starting at 8 a.m. (all times Eastern).
The full-bore efforts of TSN and Sportsnet have become institutions over the past few years as fans shuttle back and forth between the two, hoping to get the breaking news. But has Twitter changed the habits of puckheads? Do fans start on the social media sites, then migrate to the TV networks for news and analysis of a deal?
We decided to track deadline day 2012 via Twitter to see whether the dynamic is changing. If you don't need to hang on every word by the panels, can Twitter serve as your need-to-know link? One thing that didn't change was the dead calm of the early hours as both Twitter and the networks paddled in circles waiting for a general manager to act.
Sportsnet's Arash Madani summed up the breakneck pace from Columbus. "@ArashMadani Update from Columbus: A janitor has just brought a mop and bucket to the bench area. #InvestigativeReporting #Frenzy."
Over at TSN, the Tradebreakers panel looked like PBS pledge takers on Lawrence Welk night as they waited for phones to ring. But Bob McKenzie's family was active: "Shawn McKenzie @ShawnMcKenzie89 "I think my Dad traded me and my Mom to Columbus for any information on Nash. #shouldhavesignedfamilynotradeclause."
It wasn't till 10:20 a.m. that Renaud Lavoie, a reporter for RDS, gave even a sniff of news on Twitter: "Andrei Kostitsyn learned he's traded to Nashville, but is waiting for official words by #predators or #canadiens." After a polite pause of a few minutes, both networks piled into the story, confirming by 10:35 that the Kostitsyn indeed would be reunited with brother Sergei. Advantage Twitter– it saved you at least two hours of your life.
Leading blogger Puck Daddy to suggest: "@wyshynski NHL should institute a 2 week trade blackout prior to the deadline. If Carter dealt today people would be buzzing – snoozing instead." Then another long pause on substance.
With hope fading for a trade, Sportsnet's Mike Brophy fulfilled the network's Brian Burke Must-Mention clause for the 11 o'clock hour: "@sportsnetbroph Burke suggesting he has spent a lot of time building depth in organization and won't blow it up today. In other words, don't expect too much." Sure. Followed moments later by Sportsnet partner Ian Mendes: "@ian_mendes Burke tells Tony Ambrogio that he turned down an offer for James Reimer three days ago. Still believes he's Leafs goalie of the future."
While Burke can't be silenced, Rick Nash, aka Man of the Day, goes Deep Throat, Mendes says. "So Rick Nash isn't speaking to the media today? We are deprived of "no comment" sound byte – which sadly would make for interesting TV."
ESPN's Steve Levy notices the dead calm up north. "@espnSteveLevy "Wonder if our canadian friends r thinkin "next year why don't we just start the show at 12 noon and c how that goes" #tradecentre."
For the second trade of the day, Nick Kypreos scoops himself by tweeting that the Detroit Red Wings traded Mike Commodore to the Tampa Bay Lightning two minutes before he announces it on-air. Commodore is told he's just the second deal of the day. Stunned. Followed in rapid-fire (hee-hee) by Oilers.com with the Tom Gilbert-Nick Schultz blockbuster between the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers.
At 1:10 p.m., management in the Vancouver Canucks war room is shown throwing a football. Management in Toronto Maple Leafs war room is shown passing a kidney stone. Twitter can't compete with visuals. Here's why Leafs are vexed– they were sending Keith Aulie to Tampa in 20 minutes for Carter Ashton. That would make anyone serious. Twitter reports the Ashton site on hockeydb.com immediately crashes from Leafs Nation searches.
And on it goes. By the 3 p.m. deadline there are only eight deals, but a strong finish – including the Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres shocker – ends up with a total of 10 hours and 15 trades. Without hockey trade coverage itself, The Score charted the day's restricted chatter.
But the day with its lengthy dry spells still proved a disappointment as a TV special. Do diminishing returns mean that the sports networks might want to back off next year? "We are still focused on today's events," Sportsnet spokeswoman Jennifer Neziol said. "It is too early for us to be making any plans regarding the 2012-13 NHL Season." TSN did not reply to Usual Suspects by press time.
It's clear however, that hockey fans using Twitter were either ahead or even on almost all the big news of the day. The lack of TV analysis and endless panels, however, can't be matched. For now, it's a peek into the future but not a final answer.