[NHL] The H stands for hypocrisy

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The H stands for hypocrisy

NHL shuns Tocchet while pushing Pens' casino-rink plan

Dec. 5, 2006. 06:16 AM


It is, at the very least, a curious contradiction.

In West Palm Beach, Fla,. yesterday, NHL governors were beginning the process of approving the transfer of the Pittsburgh Penguins into the hands of Blackberry giant Jim Balsillie. Very much a part of that transfer, of course, is whether a gaming licence in Pennsylvania will be granted to a group that in turn will help fund a new arena in downtown Pittsburgh.

Left unsaid, except for a very brief report by the NHL legal department, was the limbo in which former NHL player and Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet continues to find himself nine months after he was ensnared in a police scheme called "Operation Slapshot."

Tocchet's alleged misdeeds, ones for which he has yet to be indicted, revolve around an illegal bookmaking operation for which a New Jersey state trooper has already been convicted and sentenced.

Tocchet's legal future remains unclear, although it's not hard to guess that the state has used the state trooper and another individual to gather evidence against him. From the NHL's point of view, Tocchet remains persona non grata, although technically it was he who asked for the leave of absence from his job with the Coyotes.

So on one hand you have the league betting on a slots licence to save the perpetually teetering team in Pittsburgh, and everybody's okay with that.

On the other hand you have a prominent former player possibly involved with gaming, either quasi-legal stuff or downright illegal stuff, and that takes him to a place where he is no longer fit to dine at the same table as, well, NHL players and members of the board of governors. It's a strange juxtaposition of values, one that leaves those unfamiliar with the nuances of gaming utterly confused.

But if Tocchet is to be shamed for his activities, what then of climbing into bed with the Isle of Capri gaming corporation in a desperate attempt to do that which the City of Pittsburgh has steadfastly refused to do, namely build in a new rink for the Pens?

Where is the line of no return here? Why is it okay to associate with the folks who operate the one-armed bandits but totally outside the pale to take bets on pro football?

The NHL remains largely in the dark over what Tocchet may or may not have done because Bob Cleary, the lawyer heading the league's investigation, has not yet been given permission to speak to the former Phoenix assistant.

The investigation, then, is still ongoing, but not really going anywhere.

The folks at the Isle of Capri, meanwhile, are treated as though they operate in an entirely different universe from bookies. They are welcomed in as business partners, not shunned as gangsters and outlaws.

A curious contradiction, indeed.

Perhaps it's no more complicated, of course, than that a new arena in Pittsburgh will enhance the league's revenue flow, a flow already apparently healthy enough that, according to NHL Players' Association boss Ted Saskin, the salary cap will rise again next season to between $46 and 47 million (U.S.) from the current ceiling of $44 million.

Both sides, the owners and the players, are completely fixated on revenues these days, both equally driven by finding any and all ways to keep increasing the dollars flowing into the league.

Once, the players didn't care. They just wanted to get paid.

Now they care as much as the owners, and, not surprisingly, seem to find themselves on the same page as the owners on any number of issues.

While the NBA union is suing the league over the use of a new ball, the NHL union seems happy just to get along. Yesterday, Saskin told the governors the players are in favour of more variety in the schedule, which just happens to be what most teams favour as well.

This has gone from a completely antagonistic relationship to a completely cooperative one, all in just over a year.

So the Maple Leafs and other teams spent last night lobbying other teams over cocktails and dinner to reduce the number of divisional games and have each team play everyone else at least once a season, and perhaps today a consensus will emerge in breezy West Palm.

Meanwhile, Tocchet sits isolated outside the fence, hoping and waiting to return and be part of this industry, probably wondering much of the time why it's okay to gamble if it builds a rink but not if it doesn't.


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