Translation: "What's bad isn't that we shot ourselves in the foot. It's how fast we reloaded and fired again."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's had an interesting couple of years. First there was the player lock-out that saw the NHL skip an entire season. The fans were irate. ESPN discovered they could make more money covering high school basketball than professional hockey. Ultimately, the owners extracted what they wanted from the players, and the league came back, albeit with no national TV contract. Still, they tweaked the game to up the excitement (bye, bye, red line), and the fans seemed to be coming back.
Now, however, he's looking at another hole in his foot, thanks to, of all people, Wayne Gretzky, the greatest and most popular hockey player in history, not to mention all-around nice guy, who is currently the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. The bizarre storm broke the other day when the NJ State Police announced an investigation dubbed Operation Slap Shot, complete with handy flow chart. They allege that Rick Tocchet, Gretzky's good friend and assistant coach at Phoenix, was running a multi-million dollar gambling ring. The first bizarre twist to this was that Tocchet's partner was a NJ state trooper who was apparently taking book while on patrol on the southern part of the Jersey Turnpike. The second bizarre twist is that the mysterious female gambler noted on the flow chart turns out to be former actress Janet Jones, a.k.a. Mrs. Wayne Gretzky, who had apparently dropped half a million dollars on football and basketball bets.
Gretzky claims he had no knowledge of any of this until Tocchet told him Monday night, and police say there's no evidence he placed any bets, but you'd think he'd have noticed half a million bucks missing from the housekeeping budget. Also, it turns out the police have Wayne on wiretap tape talking about the gambling ring, although they haven't revealed when the call was made, or what exactly he said.
If any of this is true, it's a stunning blow for hockey, despite Bettman's protestations that at least they weren't betting on hockey. If Gretzky is involved, it's practically unprecedented. It's as if Lou Gehrig gave his going away speech, and was then arrested at home plate for running a numbers ring in the Yankee locker room. I just can't wrap my head around it.