It's been a tough 10-day stretch for the Canadian Olympic hockey squad.
First came word that veteran blueliner Ed Jovanovski would undergo abdominal surgery and miss the Games. On Wednesday, the team learned it would head to Turin without Scott Niedermayer, the defending Norris Trophy winner and Canada's top blueliner.
Then came today's news, as welcome as a Chimo to the chops.
According to a report in Thursday's Newark Star-Ledger, a wiretap conducted as part of Operation Slap Shot captured Team Canada general manager Wayne Gretzky discussing the alleged gambling ring with Rick Tocchet before it was broken up on Monday.
That the Great One was aware of the ring can't really surprise anyone who'd read that his wife, Janet, was alleged to have placed several bets with Tocchet.
But this revelation, backed by the kind of evidence that tends to stand up really well in court, moved questions about Gretzky's involvement to the forefront of the scandal. And with those questions came suggestions that maybe Gretz ought to consider skipping his Olympic trip to Italy.
You'd certainly have to understand if he made that decision. We've seen ample evidence of the value Gretzky places on family in recent months. With his wife entangled in this mess -- she's set to issue a public statement on Thursday -- it might even be advisable for him to stay home by her side.
And when it comes to the game, Gretzky's always been a big picture guy. He's never put himself or his personal goals ahead of the team. He might come to the conclusion that Team Canada would be better off without the distraction of his presence
But he'd be wrong. If anything, the team's chances to repeat might be submarined by his absence.
Aside from goaltender Martin Brodeur, Gretzky might have been Canada's most valuable performer in Salt Lake City. He played a critical role in the gold medal run by drawing media attention away from the team's early struggles and focusing it on himself. It gave the players the breathing room they needed to find themselves and gel as a unit.
Of course, it was an intentional and inspired ploy in 2002. That's not the case this time.
That said, the ultimate effect could be the same. Although this group has experience, it's still a relatively young team. It's suffered significant losses in the leadership department due to the retirement of Mario Lemieux and the absence of Steve Yzerman. Losing Gretzky would create a bigger void.
And consider this: There's not a guy in that Canadian room who wouldn't go through a wall for Gretzky. He's played with some of them and been an inspiration to the rest. Rather than a distraction, his current troubles could serve as a rallying point, replicating the "us-against-the-world" mentality Team Canada had in Salt Lake City.
By suggesting that Gretzky finish the job, I'm not trying to mitigate the gravity of this situation. As I noted in my column on Tuesday, it's hardly beyond the realm of possibility that this investigation could develop to a point where it forces Gretzky's departure from the NHL. The way information is slowly being leaked to the media, there's even a chance that it could blow up before Canada meets Italy in its opener next Wednesday.
But remember, Gretzky hasn't been charged with anything yet, let alone convicted. And while the optics are very, very bad, nothing has surfaced to take the decision out of his hands.
Here's what Gretzky needs to do: Fly to Italy with the team. Hold a press conference upon arrival to make whatever statement he deems necessary on the subject. Conclude by saying that, as an ongoing legal matter, he can't address the situation any further and that he'll be happy to talk about the tournament.