So let's get this straight.
|James Ulmer (left) becomes the second to make a plea deal in the Tocchet gambling case. (AP)|
But gambling is bad if it's actually linked to the NHL.
Of course no one from the NHL is actually articulating this mixed message. It's just coming across from the events that were juxtaposed this week. While the NHL went out of its way to support a casino license bid from a group promising to build the Pittsburgh Penguins a new home, it deliberately kept its distance from the New Jersey police investigation into a criminal gambling ring and one of its own, former player Rick Tocchet.
Operation Slap Shot, as it was dubbed when it broke just before the Olympics in February, cast an uncomfortable light on several NHL players and icon Wayne Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, who were allegedly betting on NFL playoff games. None were ever accused of any illegalities, but since Tocchet was an assistant coach at the time for the Phoenix Coyotes, the NHL found itself on the defensive briefly about gambling.
Now the league is on the offensive about it. As a second conspirator was taking a plea and jail time in New Jersey this week -- leaving Tocchet to fend for himself -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in Pittsburgh publicly lobbying city officials to award a slots license to gaming company Isle of Capri. Bettman told officials that unless Isle of Capri won the bid, the future of the team in Pittsburgh could not be guaranteed.
Isle of Capri has promised to pay entirely for the estimated $290 million arena in exchange for the license, but impact studies show the two other bidders would each provide more economic benefit to the region. A decision is expected Dec. 20, but in the meantime, local officials have suggested an alternative arena plan that would involve taxpayer and casino money but would not fully fund the construction.
That doesn't seem good enough, at least not right now. Bettman has left no doubt that he wants the franchise to remain in Pittsburgh after its lease expires in June. New owner Jim Balsillie, whose purchase of the team is about to be approved by the NHL Board of Governors, has stated repeatedly that he'll stay as long as he gets a new arena for free.
However several cities are champing at the bit to get a team stocked with teenage sensations like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. And Balsillie is not from the area. Local politicos understand that, and the idea of them potentially being blamed for letting the Penguins leave is something Bettman is attempting to exploit.
It might or might not work, or it could provide enough pressure to create a more favorably termed Plan B deal should Isle of Capri not win the bid. For the NHL, gambling is obviously worthwhile sometimes.
Little big man again
The Tampa Bay Lightning are barely a .500 team this season, but they're getting flashbacks of their pre-lockout Stanley Cup campaign thanks to the play of Martin St. Louis. And that might seem like a surprise.