SUN Hockey Pool

D-day looms for Tocchet

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM ET

Almost 21 months since he left it, there apparently still is a position awaiting Rick Tocchet behind the Phoenix Coyotes bench.

The question is when will he be allowed to fill it?

Only Gary Bettman has that answer, naturally, and it should be delivered shortly.

It will be fascinating, to say the least, to see how Bettman will deal with Tocchet, who has been on an unpaid leave of absence from the Coyotes since February 2006, when he was first accused of being part of a sports gambling ring. Since then, Tocchet has pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy and promoting gambling, in the third degree, and received a sentence of two years probation.

All that is left is for Bettman to announce what, if anything, the league will do with Tocchet, now that its internal investigation is complete.

It's hard to know how Bettman will rule. With everything that has happened in the world of sports, leagues appear more willing to send strong messages to their athletes, coaches and officials about proper behaviour in the arena and outside of it. And the public appears to have a healthy interest in seeing those messages delivered.

But as it applies to Tocchet, what is appropriate punishment from the NHL?

Is it the 21 months and 117 games he already has missed? Is it the remainder of this season? Is it a lifetime ban? We all know that having players, coaches or officials associating with criminals and gambling on sports is a serious issue for a league and the integrity of its competition. That Tocchet himself apparently didn't bet on hockey or take bets on the NHL is a positive for him, but the association is brutal nonetheless and the doubts about his integrity will always remain.

In the end, you could argue that Tocchet has suffered enough, that his reputation has been damaged and he should be allowed to get on with his life. You could argue that Bettman doesn't need another pound of flesh, that the past two years has been sufficient punishment. But you can make that argument, or reach that conclusion, only if you have seen contrition on his part and have received an assurance from Tocchet that it will never happen again.

On the heels of Tocchet turning up in Las Vegas a while ago at a poker tournament, which wasn't the wisest decision he has ever made on the heels of a really bad one, the league needs to know and believe it won't happen again, that there never will be any kind of association with gambling, legal or obviously otherwise. Tocchet has to accept and understand that he is being held to the highest standard, that he has to fly straighter than anyone else, otherwise the next time will be the last time for life.

The question now is whether it requires more time for Bettman to get those assurances and to be confident in them, or whether he has them now?

- To be filed under the category of, here we go again, comes word out of Montreal that a separatist lawyer named Guy Bertrand has been openly critical of Canadiens captain Saku Koivu for, you guessed it, his lack of fluency in French. Seems Bertrand was unhappy that during the Habs home opener, when Koivu introduced the team on a pre-taped video on the scoreboard, that he did so entirely in English.

"I have the right to be served in my language," Bertrand was quoted as saying. "He has been playing for 12 years (in Montreal). He is married to a francophone. It demonstrates contempt for our language. It is not respectful ."

Bertrand should be made aware of a few key points. As already had been pointed out, Koivu's wife is actually from Finland, like him. Koivu also had the choice of using two official languages, meaning he had three choices: French only, English only, or to use both. They were choices and he was not obliged by law to select the first or third, especially if he wasn't comfortable with the language.

If the name seems familiar, Bertrand is the fellow who wanted Quebec to have its own team at the upcoming world hockey championships. Seems like he should be locked in a room with Liberal MP Denis Corderre. He's the guy, who last spring asked Hockey Canada to remove the captaincy with Team Canada at the world championships from Shane Doan, unless he apologized for making alleged slurs against francophones in a NHL game in Montreal. Doan, of course, vehemently denied the allegations and was exonerated by the league.


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