Archive for Sunday, February 12, 2006

Commentary: A great shame for ‘The Great One’

February 12, 2006

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Wayne Gretzky and his wife really need to talk more. They say communication is good for a marriage. I believe most of us would know it if our wives placed at least $500,000 in illegal bets during the past several weeks, including $75K on the Super Bowl - especially if the guy taking the bets happened to be a very close friend and confidant.

That's, like, dinner-table conversation or something, eh?

"How was your day, Wayne?"

"Oh, pretty good for a guy who's supposed to be 'The Great One,' a Canadian legend, but somehow finds himself coaching a .500 hockey team named 'Coyotes' in the bleeping desert. How was your day, Janet?"

"Boring. Bought an outfit. Had a pedicure. Gave your assistant coach 10 large to lay on Wake Forest getting 61â2. Could you pass the poutine, please?"

Gretzky comes off looking terrible in this gambling-ring scandal that implicates among others his wife, Janet Jones, the occasional actress of little note, and his top Phoenix assistant, Rick Tocchet.

Tocchet, himself a notable former player who scored 440 goals across 18 seasons, already has been suspended by the NHL and criminally charged with money laundering, promoting gambling and conspiracy.

The unfolding drama sullies and quakes a league still recovering from its season-killing lockout - and the timing could not be worse.

The scandal breaks on the eve of the league's Winter Olympics break, shadowing the Canadian national team - of which Gretzky is executive director - all the way to Italy. And you've got to figure the unfolding investigation will stretch into spring and dog the NHL right through the Stanley Cup playoffs. A state grand jury subpoena with Gretzky's name on it seems a near-certainty.

Meantime, supposedly six to 12 active players were involved, too, and until they are identified, every player is suspect. (And if we hear six to 12 do we believe the number really is that small?)

There is no indication yet that Gretzky was directly involved. He denies the common supposition that he placed bets through his wife, although that denial must be weighed in the context of what appears pretty clear now:

The Great One is a liar.

Gretzky claimed Tuesday he had no knowledge of the gambling ring or his wife's participation until Tocchet informed him Monday night.

Oops. Wrong answer, Wayne.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., now reports, citing law-enforcement authorities, that wiretaps found Gretzky discussing the gambling syndicate run by his friend. He knew about it. Obviously, then, he surely knew his wife was a part of it.

The scandal's darker side is that police link Tocchet's operation to organized-crime families in Philadelphia and South Jersey. (Tocchet spent all or parts of 11 seasons playing in Philly. Hmmm.)

The odds are pretty good that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might have awakened sweating last night from a dream in which Tocchet was presenting a signed Gretzky jersey to a smiling Tony Soprano in the back of the Bada Bing!

This isn't a black eye for Bettman's beleaguered league. It is that, plus a bloody nose, broken teeth and, just for good measure, a busted kneecap.

Gretzky told reporters Tuesday: "The reality is, I'm not involved, I wasn't involved, and I'm not going to be involved."

Bulletin to Wayne:

You're involved.

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