Things about to get real ugly for Tocchet

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

A year of whispering, waiting and speculation is about to get very noisy and troubling for Rick Tocchet.

The twisted walls of justice are closing in on him with the prognosis for his future being anything but encouraging.

Tocchet is all but certain to be hauled before a New Jersey grand jury, with his alleged partners in a major league gambling ring ready to sing a tune on him he doesn't want to hear.

Three men were charged last February with taking in more than 1,000 wagers totalling $1.7 million US on professional sporting events over a six-week period culminating with this year's Super Bowl game.

Two of the men have now cut deals -- and part of their plea agreements have come with the clear understanding they will point their fingers squarely at the celebrity name who remains on leave and supposedly under investigation by the National Hockey League.

The state trooper, James Harney, has already agreed to do seven years in prison for his part in the gambling ring. He will testify against Tocchet.

The third man charged, James Ulmer, will plead guilty today in a New Jersey court and part of his agreement he will spend upwards of one year behind bars. He will turn evidence on Tocchet.

That leaves the former hockey star from Scarborough in the unfortunate position of last man standing.

"It's bad news, the question is how bad is it?" legal analyst Rob Becker told Prime Time Sports on the Fan590 last night. "You have to wonder what happens next...

I wouldn't want to be Rick Tocchet."

If the dirty cop Harney has agreed to a sentence as lengthy as seven years, the question is, what offer, if any, awaits Tocchet? And how much time will he be looked upon to serve if he is found guilty for money laundering or any of the other crimes he is charged with.

"This isn't good for him (Tocchet)," Becker said. "It looks like they're going after the famous guy."

Or in the case of basically any hockey player in the United States not named Gretzky, the almost famous guy. And in this case, identified as the Gretzky associate, working for The Great One in Phoenix, allegedly handling bets from Mrs. Great One.

This can't be considered good news of any kind for the NHL, which is apparently are investigated Tocchet themselves but have never progressed very far, choosing to stay away from interfering with the legal process.

But the name Gretzky is certain to come up if this case does proceed to grand jury as expected. In fact, Janet Gretzky, according to New Jersey authorities, will be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury if the case goes that far.

Names undoubtedly will be named. Names we know. Who booked the bets? Who placed the bets? What sport was bet on? What amounts?

A little black book of dirty little secrets is almost certain to be revealed before an audience that won't be tantalized by the exposure that most Canadian hockey watchers will.

The first real target of the investigation was Harney, the former State Trooper. But when he cooperated and agreed to seven years and Ulmer cooperated and will agree today to his plea, that pushed the apparently uncooperative Tocchet into a place with little room for negotiation.

Assuming the case proceeds as anticipated, this could end up as lose-lose situation for the former assistant coach, for the league, for anyone who happens to be named under oath. After the original charges were laid just prior to the Olympic Games in Turin, newspaper leaks and speculation was rampant, seemingly poisoning the State's case. Then everything went silent: Nobody said anything for months. Some speculated the case against Tocchet would be dropped. Some believed that because the State hadn't gone forward against Tocchet, it had no clear cut evidence.

That doesn't seem possible anymore.

"You have to wonder," Becker said, "what happens next."


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