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The facts don't point at Gretzky

The vilification of Phoenix Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky hit a speed bump on Sunday with the release of a factual nugget that shines new light on his perceived involvement in a brewing gambling scandal.

The wiretapped conversation between Gretzky and Rick Tocchet took place after Super Bowl Sunday, not before, as had been reported in a New York metropolitan area newspaper. So much for the rock-solid proof that Gretzky had knowledge of any such activity and chose to turn his head.

Still, Gretzky is receiving little benefit of the doubt these days, at least not outside the boundaries of the Great White North. Skeptics wonder how he could be oblivious to the illicit activities of Tocchet, his close friend and an assistant coach with the Coyotes. They're incredulous that Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, could place six figures worth of bets without her husband having a clue. Really, though, it's not that hard to fathom.

The Gretzkys have a six-bedroom mansion on the market for $25 million. It's been for sale for more than a year. Money woes aren't keeping them up nights. Whatever Jones may have wagered of late (and the figure seems to diminish daily), it's a drop of their net worth, pocket money, as Michael Jordan can attest.

There's no telling how Janet funded her fun and games. She may have been tapping her own bank account. She may have been operating with a line of credit. No matter what the scenario, the assertion that her husband must have known, had to have known, is flawed middle-class logic. This quite easily could have been her personal playground, her adrenaline rush.

As for Tocchet, quite obviously he was known as someone who could get a bet down. Jones allegedly wagered on the Super Bowl through Tocchet. So did Coyotes General Manager Mike Barnett. New Jersey law officials say at least six other NHL players placed bets with the group to which Tocchet's been tied. One of them, Jeremy Roenick of the Los Angeles Kings, has agreed to provide authorities with an affidavit.

There's much to be determined, such as the extent of Tocchet's participation in the gambling ring. Was he one of the kingpins, as has been alleged, and if so, was it common knowledge? Since bookies are typically disinclined to openly discuss specifics of their illegal business, it stands to reason Tocchet merely let it be known he could hook up his friends, serve as an intermediary. The idea that they should have deduced him as a major bookmaker, if that proves to be the case, is ludicrous. Just because someone's passing out football betting cards doesn't mean they're running a major syndicate tied to organized crime.

Gretzky's been hammered throughout this ordeal, and unfairly so. Most of the criticism has centered on his taped conversation with Tocchet, the leaked results of which fed a frenzy until the timing of the call was found to support his public plea of ignorance. Gretzky had nothing to add on the subject when he met the media Monday in Mississauga, Ont., before Team Canada departed for the Turin Olympics.

"There's no story about me, that's what I keep trying to tell you," Gretzky said. "I'm not involved."

Few seem willing to take him at his word, which is peculiar since his integrity's never before been brought into question. Perhaps baseball's steroid scandal, and the false denials of Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro, has heightened the public's suspicions, rendered it less inclined to believe.

Gretzky said Monday that the last week has taken a toll on his family. Certainly it's been embarrassing to find his assistant coach at the center and his wife on the periphery of a federal investigation.

But to this point, there's not a shred of evidence that either Gretzky or his wife has broken any laws. Too bad, nowadays, that doesn't count for much.


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