If you’re thinking there’s been something off throughout the 2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you’re possibly more right than wrong, but maybe not fully. A source close to a stepsister’s stepbrother who happens to be a former roommate of someone who once bought a hot dog from a street vendor two blocks away from the Nashville Predator’s practice facility (speaking on a promise of anonymity, of course), told this writer there was definitely “something fishy” going on.

Endless NHL Playoff Market

This source told me she “perceived to have heard” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman bragging about how he can’t stop making money for the NHL. He continues to try and grow the game in places that make no sense because he knows hockey fans are so die hard they’ll pretty much put up with anything. She said he once accidentally sent her a text saying “It’s worth taking a chance I can miraculously make bonus money in ridiculous markets because I know current fans are so stupid they won’t stop watching,” before following up with another text saying “whoppsies, wrong number,” and then a third saying “*whoopsies.”

He apparently decided this year to put that to the real test. He wants longer summers for himself, but doesn’t want to lose the money by shortening the season. He was heard from my source as saying “The playoffs pretty much market themselves,” so he can do less and less work and still come out on top. This year, my source explained, he was going to “take a May vacation and see what happens.”

Safety Risk

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety was “all in”. They’ve already been pushing the boundaries of fan tolerance themselves. My source let it slip that the DOPS in its current form is all a ruse by Bettman to show due diligence in the concussion lawsuit. She revealed what really goes on at Player Safety meetings. “They play Risk. Multiple boards at a time,” she confirmed. They used to play darts, where they’d have a special board with pre-determined verdicts, but they found it difficult to kill time once the decision was made. That’s when someone came up with Risk. “I think it was Sheldon Souray who brought it up. It takes long enough to make it look like real deliberations are going on, plus it’s funny. Playing Risk instead of eliminating it. Get it?”

Once Bettman approached them about possible summers off on top of that, they were so stunned and giddy, concussion spotters would have sent them to a dark room. They were asked to “wait out Round 1 and throw a token suspension out there to make a statement and discourage any future wrong doing, and then pretty much shut it down from there.”

For those keeping score, this obviously explains the harshness of Matt Calvert’s one game suspension for his head shot to Tom Kuhnhackl in the opening series between Columbus and Pittsburgh. They figured there’d be no way anyone would risk another punishment like that, so they could lay on a beach somewhere and not be hassled the rest of the playoffs.

False Flag Fires

No one can blame them for thinking they were safe. No reasonable person could have seen that backfiring, but backfire it did. You see, my source explained the NHL’s Marketing Department “got wind of Bettman’s plan. Somehow they found out about his remark that the playoffs market themselves.” Fearing for their jobs, Marketing employees decided to create some false flag marketing nightmares, and then put out the pre-fanned flames to show how much Bettman needed them. “this was designed to get fans to turn on the NHL, and allow the Marketing Department to swoop in and turn off the anger. They called it Operation Turn On/Turn Off, or TOTO for short.” My source then took a moment to assure me she was only telling me parts of the story that she knew to be 100 percent verifiably factual.

It all started in Round 1, with the Nashville Predators sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks. The Marketing Department was already mad enough at Mr. Bettman for forcing them to endorse and defend the selection of Jonathan Toews for the list of the top 100 players of all-time. They did such a good job diffusing that situation, fans actually started to believe Toews was “better than Sidney Crosby” because of his leadership and his three Cups, “but they didn’t even give us so much as a John Scott hockey card,” my source overheard one of the marketing reps say.

So Marketing arranged for a sweep to make the League look foolish for their choice. There’s not a shred of doubt this plan worked, as evidenced by this sarcasm laced tweet:

Bettman wasn’t the only target of Marketing. They recognized the Department of Player Safety as a known Bettman accomplice, so they hatched a plan to kill two birds with one stone. With the Toronto Maple Leafs proving themselves more than worthy against the perennial regular season champion Washington Capitals, Marketing offered Alexander Ovechkin “an undisclosed sum of money to take a dive on Nazem Kadri.” Sure enough, Ovechkin put himself intentionally into a vulnerable position, took a fall, and feigned an injury to get a longer power play. It was brilliant. It demanded the attention of Player Safety. It planted the seed for the questioning of NHL integrity on bias for superstars. One Marketing exec also let it slip that “having people hate Nazem Kadri even more was just a fringe benefit”.

Some clever fans noted how suspicious it was that Ovechkin stayed down after “taking a quick glance at the clock to make sure it was close to the end of a period”, as per the plan, and forfeited his spot on the power play at a crucial time. But there wasn’t enough evidence to break the story open at that time.

Round 2 almost proved Bettman right. The playoffs did almost market themselves. The Edmonton Oilers were on a cinderella run after advancing over the San Jose Sharks. The Capitals found themselves in the much anticipated return bout with the defending Stanley Cup Champion and playoff kryptonite Pittsburgh Penguins. Something had to be done.

Official Story

“You may have noticed how poor the officiating has been throughout the postseason,” said my source. “That’s by design.” This revelation can surprise no one, and it should actually come as some relief. The Anaheim/Edmonton series makes so much sense now. The goal reviews. The goal reviews. The goal reviews. They all point to one thing: a conspiracy by Marketing to eliminate the heroic underdog Edmonton Oilers and push the villainous Anaheim Ducks forward.

This also explains the Matt Niskanen incident on Sidney Crosby. Hitting Ovechkin wasn’t good enough to really get the star protection debate raging. “As it turns out, people don’t like him as much as we thought.” (Marketing remedied this in clever fashion by creating a very realistic bruise on Ovechkin’s leg, swaying public opinion more in his favour while also debunking suspicion of his dive.)

So they sicked Niskanen on the league darling, Crosby, warning Niskanen to “go easy on him though. We want him back.” He was clearly targeting Crosby all series, and now we know why the refs turned a blind eye. Finally in Game 3, they got their man.

“Player Safety didn’t even know about the cross check until last week,” my source revealed. “It was Marketing who issued the statement saying no punishment was forthcoming.They then fixed the series in the Penguins’ favor, adding drama by making it go to a Game 7.”

Marketing was making itself look amazing even while faith in the NHL and the DOPS was shrinking to new all-time lows. Operation TOTO was having some serious early success, and there were still two more rounds to go! Knowing they had the sure bet, viewer drawing Pittsburgh Penguins, and the new fan favourite Nashville Predators moving on, the Marketing Department plotted its next moves.

Winning By a Head

My source pointed out how “I’ve never seen more head shots in one series than what I saw between Anaheim and Nashville.” This perfectly validates the statement she made seconds before about how she had recently overheard an NHL Marketing Rep saying “I want more head shots in the series between Anaheim and Nashville than anyone has ever seen!”

They also decided to create a panic by keeping the 1-3-1 promoting Ottawa Senators in the mix for one more round. They definitely exploited the fear of fans about how boring a Stanley Cup Final would be if the Senators were in it. In what can only be explained by a second coming of the Black Sox Scandal, the Marketing Department hand selected several members of the Pittsburgh Penguins to throw the first few games of the series.

Phil Kessel was obviously one of them. He spent most of his time on the bench watching Netflix on his iPad, and Don Cherry noticed how he even stopped bothering to warm up. He was exposed on national television! The Marketing Department then paid off some professional internet trolls to ridicule and harass Mr. Cherry, chopping down his credibility. To cast further doubt, they “forced P.K. Subban to sing and dance during warm ups to prove old school guys like Cherry just don’t get it.”

Rookie forward Jake Guentzel is also rumoured to be one of these Penguins moles. He was leading the entire playoffs in goals, but then went mysteriously cold. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan is keeping tight lipped, but if he knows about the fix, he appears to be displeased. He’s decided reduce Guentzel’s ice time for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and one might be smart to wonder if its some form of internal punishment for accepting the bribe. Perhaps he’s making him sit until he squeals on his team mates. Ironically, Sullivan has created such a team unity, team first mentality among his players that even he himself is unlikely to force one of his players to turn on the others for personal pardon.

The Smoking Gun

As if this overwhelming amount of evidence isn’t enough, the smoking gun came in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The plan of spotting the Senators some early series victories almost backfired. It turns out the Senators are actually capable of playing an end-to-end, run and gun style. Unable to score early, the exhausted Penguins found themselves in an unanticipated sprint to the finish line. With the score at 1-1 in the third period, Plan B was put into motion.

On seeing the signal, Kessel, who by previous proof was obviously willing to play along, took an blatant dive against Dion Phaneuf. The corrupt officials were right there to make the pre-planned call. My source swears “if you slow the replay down enough, you can see the official’s arm start to go up before Kessel even starts to fall. How else can you explain such a soft call in a deciding game?”

The Senators managed to tie it one more time, but the Penguins came through in a Marketing Department’s Game 7 double overtime dream (by luck or by intervention, we’ll never know). Yes, it’s safe to say everything is going according to plan for Operation TOTO. As one final dagger, they’ve decided to make the most ludicrous schedule ever for a Stanley Cup Final.

The way the schedule works, even a sweep would take eight full days, with three days in between Games 2 and 3. We all know they haven’t planned a sweep because that would defeat the purpose of a plot to incite a schedule-induced rage amongst fans. That explains the evil genius behind planning Games 5 through 7 to take place over another nine agonizing days, forcing fans to wait a full three days between each one.

If enough fans have already stuck it out this far, and if there’s even one person who supports neither Nashville or Pittsburgh still watching on June 14th, it’s safe to say the NHL’s Marketing Department will have consoled themselves into some hefty pay raises.