Bad news for NHL? You betcha!

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Daniel Alfredsson wasn't biting. "So," the Senators captain was asked yesterday, "did you take the points in the Super Bowl?"

"What's the Super Bowl?" he deadpanned.

You couldn't blame players for skating gingerly around the subject of gambling after waking up yesterday morning here in the media capital of the world to see their sport on the front pages, for all the wrong reasons, of course.

The news of charges against Phoenix Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet in connection with a gambling ring with ties to organized crime was the subject du jour at Madison Square Garden.

The New York Post played up the Janet Jones angle -- Wayne Gretzky's wife may have placed bets -- with the headline "Gretzky bettor half on thin ice."

The story was also front-page news in the New York Times.

"When you see it leading off CNN or Fox Sports, you know it's a big story," said Alfredsson.

Authorities have been making the point there doesn't seem to be any evidence that any of the half-dozen NHL players who supposedly made bets with the Tocchet ring were wagering on hockey.

That's good, I guess, but little comfort.

What if a player never bet on hockey, but found himself in way over his head after a losing streak?

What if the folks with whom he was wagering demanded he pay up or erase his debt with a little favour?

The integrity of the game comes into question.

Half a dozen players and an owner apparently placed bets with the ring, according to authorities. An associate coach of one of its teams is now alleged to have links to organized crime.

How does a league overcome that kind of credibility gap?

That gap will make the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the sidewalk if it turns out current players or an owner bet on hockey.

That an associate coach could be involved is bad enough. That it's Gretzky's associate coach makes it worse.

SQUEAKY CLEAN IMAGE

Gretzky had enjoyed a squeaky clean image and is regarded as the game's current icon. It is possible he didn't know his best friend was involved, but a lot of people will view that possibility with a great deal of skepticism.

Senators coach Bryan Murray was asked about the Tocchet situation yesterday after the morning skate.

"It's really unfair for me to comment. I've got no details," he said. "Let's talk about hockey."

There's the problem. Nobody is going to want to just talk about hockey, not for a while.

At a time when the focus should be on all that's great and good about this game, which will be on display next week at the Olympics in Italy, it is instead on the biggest bad news to hit this league in years.

The talk is about which players were laying bets and the talk will continue until the next bomb hits, when the authorities name names.

The other skate is yet to drop. It's only going to get worse from here for the NHL.

You can bet on that.


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