The Golden Gamble?
For starters, Wayne Gretzky didn't exactly put out the fire last night.
Not that he could have.
His comments pertaining to the Rick Tocchet gambling mess after his Coyotes lost another one, 5-1 to Dallas last night, reflected more exasperation than an intent to set the record clear:
"Well, before I start first of all I want to say that first and foremost I’m not going anywhere. I am still going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes.
I did nothing wrong, or nothing that has to do with anything along the lines of betting; that never happened.
I’m going to Italy on Sunday to be with Team Canada and be a part of the Olympic games. . .I’ve felt like the last three days I’ve defended myself over something that absolutely, unequivocally, I was not involved with. . .In saying all that I hope you appreciate that the last three days have been horrible. I’m just too tired mentally and physically to talk anymore about it.”
Whether he could have said more, or that his wife, Janet, is going to have to say a lot more to clear the family name, is open to debate. Certainly, Gretzky is going to need to explain at some point what he knew, and when he knew it. His initial comments, that he "wasn't involved," were at least disingenous and probably evasive, and ultimately, he's going to have to do a lot better than he did last night.
But No. 99 is going to Turin, and, based on what we know, he damn well should be.
I mean, who is honestly willing to argue Wayne Gretzky is not a good representative for Canada at the Winter Olympics? We are, after all, sending Todd Bertuzzi, and gosh, I'm so very proud of that. Can't imagine Steve Moore is going to enjoy watching Canada's games very much.
That said, there are those who would already argue that Gretzky going to Turin could prove to be a huge distraction for Team Canada.
Always love that one. It suggests that NHL players compete in a bubble, never thinking about anything else than their love of the game and determination to win Stanley Cups and gold medals. It suggests they are such delicate creatures that getting the wrong kind of dressing on their salads will plunge them into a day-long funk and make it impossible for them to perform.
Baloney. These guys are professionals who deal with "distractions" every day of the week, from bumps in their private lives to ongoing business deals to organizing vacations for their families to getting their cars fixed.
Do you really believe Joe Sakic, or Martin Brodeur, or Chris Pronger is suddenly going to get knocked off their game because Ol' Wayne has some problems back home?
Not a chance. See, what's happening to Gretzky isn't happening to them, and unless there's a player or two who have a betting connection with Tocchet, you can imagine they've spent the last few days watching with detached bemusement as leaks, speculation and rumour have run rampant.
They may at some point find it to be a pain in the ass, but they're not losing a wink of sleep over it. Sakic looked just fine scoring the winner against Minnesota last night. Brodeur was brilliant with 37 saves against Boston. Goodness gracious, even Kris Draper managed to find the net for only the fourth time this season last night against Nashville, putting him only 30 behind Team Canada reserve Eric Staal.
Sure, the media heat could be white-hot by the time Team Canada rolls into Italy with Gretzky at the helm. But it was going to be like that anyway, particularly with Canada going in as defending champs and favorites to win again. In fact, if Gretzky were to stay home, the players would be left a lot more uncomfortable having to deal with questions and issues about something with which they likely have absolutely no knowledge.
The absence of Scott Niedermayer, the adjustment to a higher calibre of play by Bryan McCabe or the continuing struggles of 2004 Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis could impact Team Canada, but "Operation Slap Shot" isn't likely to, not unless there is a revelation coming in the next day or so which puts the entire affair in a much different light.
This tournament will be won or lost by the players, primarily, with the assistance of the coaching staff.
The controversy swirling around Gretzky over the activities of his banished assistant coach and the betting habits of his wife won't influence whether Canada comes home with gold. So let's not set it up as an easy excuse going in.