Posted: Thursday February 9, 2006 12:46PM; Updated: Wednesday March 22, 2006 11:32AM
TURIN, Italy -- With the fallout from Rick Tocchet's alleged involvement in a gambling ring cascading upon him, Wayne Gretzky -- who rarely took a misstep on the ice -- should seek cover. He could be making the worst move of his storied career if he gets on an airplane for Turin.
Maybe Gretzky, the Phoenix Coyotes coach, realizes it himself. The Team Canada executive director, because of his ties to Tocchet in Phoenix and the alleged involvement of his wife, Janet Jones, would be the biggest story at the Olympics the second he arrived in Italy, subsuming the tournament itself. Not that Gretzky would be worried unduly by a media mob. He has handled questions and attention with an unparalleled deftness throughout his public hockey life.
But these questions would be about the possible negative effect on his team, and therefore his country. Gretzky always has been smart enough to see the biggest of pictures. He might have been the face of the game in the 1980s, but he never thought he was the game. If the gambling probe threatens to put him in that position -- and refusing to comment on the story won't make it go away -- he would be wise to take a pass.
Let's put it another way. If Gretzky does arrive on schedule -- and according to a Hockey Canada spokesman on Thursday morning, that certainly was the plan -- the happiest hockey player in Italy would be Todd Bertuzzi.
You think anyone is going to bring up Steve Moore?
Certainly Gretzky would be loath to stay away. He has been a pillar of the national team since Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson was clever enough to give Gretzky the reins in 2002. Canada won its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years at the Sal Lake City Olympics -- Gretzky's all-the-world-hates-us media rant was a galvanizing moment -- and it repeated the success at the 2004 World Cup. He helped restore Canada's birthright, a significant part of the legacy of the man who had some of his best moments on the international stage. Although he principally has lived in the United States since his 1988 trade to the Los Angeles Kings, for many he remains the most important Canadian of the past 30 years.
Gretzky made Team Canada a winner. For once, his presence might have the opposite effect.
As the New Jersey investigation lurches forward, Gretzky is on the fringes, singed by his associations. The Newark Star-Ledger, which has been way out on front on this story, quoted law enforcement sources in Thursday's editions as saying wiretaps have caught Gretzky talking about the gambling operation that allegedly involves Tocchet, his friend and his assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes. (On Tuesday, Gretzky said he had no knowledge of any gambling allegations until Tocchet informed him Monday night.) The authorities also will be investigating if Gretzky placed bets through his wife, who, the newspaper reported, wagered $500,000 in the past six weeks, including $75,000 on the Super Bowl.
And there is a parallel investigation, one announced late Wednesday by Commissioner Gary Bettman. Rather than rushing to distance the league from Tocchet, which would be a colossal misjudgment -- cover-ups are almost always worse than any initial malfeasance -- the NHL apparently is diving headfirst into the mess with the hiring of lawyer Robert J. Cleary, the lead prosecutor in the Unabomber case in the late 1990s. Ted Kaczynski, with his prominent playoff beard, was sentenced to life in prison, not a good omen for anyone in the NHL involved with the alleged gambling operation.
The NHL era of soft-shoeing around players who, in the past, have drawn attention for heavy gambling, including Jeremy Roenick and Jaromir Jagr, appears to be over.