First of all, well done to Gary Bettman. After the initial statement from the league from Bill Daly made is sound as if the NHL would assume its typical ostrich position on a situation, Bettman has taken action and promised cooperation. The indefinite leave of absence for Rick Tocchet, during which he cannot talk to anyone connected to the NHL, was absolutely the right decision.
But now, Bettman's decisions are going to get a lot more difficult. It's easy enough to banish Coyotes assistant coach Tocchet, not exactly a household name and alleged to be a leader in a gambling ring that may have involved links to organized crime. Now, however, Bettman must deal with Tocchet's boss, the Great One himself.
According to a story in The Star-Ledger (NJ), Wayne Gretzky did, in fact, know about Tocchet's gambling ring (despite denying any knowledge of the situation when it first came up with reporters on Tuesday) and is caught on wiretaps talking about it before the charges came down on Tocchet and allegations that Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, bet through Tocchet came to light.
Now the last thing the NHL (and Team Canada) wants is anything that can hurt the reputation of Gretzky, and Bettman and the rest will want to stand by his side. But how can they ignore the fact that he may be called to testify in front of a grand jury, that he is caught on tape discussing the situation and that he is not only a head coach in the National Hockey League and its most famous player of all time, but also a part owner of the Coyotes? They can't.
Unfortunately, Gretzky is about to be swallowed into the circumstances around him. It is exactly why his wife should have found another way to get her gambling fix, if the allegations are true, because the risk to her husband and his entire life was just too great to take.
Gretzky's standing will be different, too, from any players found to have bet through Tocchet. While gambling on sports is not the brightest thing for an athlete to do -- any time the questions of even possibly betting on your own game comes up, the games' integrity is already in doubt -- it is not against the rules for an NHLer to gamble on football or basketball or any other sport than hockey.
Of course, illegal activity, illegal gambling could fall into a different category. But the fact is, if the players were simply giving their money to Tocchet and didn't know anything but the spread on their games, their punishment must be less severe than that of Tocchet's. But it's going to take a long time to sort out these facts, and what is Bettman to do in the meantime?
If he's lucky, Gretzky will do the right thing and step down before Bettman has to say anything. Gretzky must say that, while he didn't place any bets and while he doesn't believe Tocchet or Janet bet on hockey, he cannot compromise the league in this way until the investigation has been completed.
This is not an admission of any guilt other than by association and the guilt of tarnishing the league's image by that association. He must step down, saying he doesn't want to be a longer-lasting, bigger distraction to his team as they try to make the playoffs. He must give up his control of Team Canada for Turin, citing the same idea of distraction and not wanting to hurt the image and reputation of Hockey Canada.
Is any of this fair? Probably not. But it is what the situation has become. It is as bad as it can get for the NHL . . . unless there's another taped conversation or two out there that talks about betting on hockey or passing along inside information.
Then 2006 becomes 1919 and any strides the NHL has taken since the lockout are immediately lost.
PHT: After the Rangers and Bruins face off in Game 3 of their series (7:30 p.m. ET; Live Extra, NBCSN), the Kings and Sharks play (10 ET; Live Extra, NBCSN) Game 4 of theirs.
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