The NHL Closer is written by Greg Wyshynski, of FanHouse and The Fourth Period. He is also the author of Glow Pucks And 10-Cent Beer.

One of the hallmarks of hockey is good 'ole boy protectionism. Chris Simon tries to make candy fall out of Ryan Hollweg's head, and he's portrayed by teammates and coaches as a lunkhead whose violence is born out of misunderstanding ... like an NHL version of the "Cloverfield" monster. Rick Tocchet helped operate an illegal sports wagering ring, was suspended for it, and upon reinstatement his good buddy Wayne Gretzky has let the NHL know there's "no animosity" on Tocchet's part.

Some believe this is misguided arrogance, but Gretzky actually has a point: The state of New Jersey might owe Tocchet, Paul "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri, the late Christopher Moltisanti and every other bookmaker it's tried to pinch a big, Jovi-hair sized apology.

<a href="Jim Kelley of Sports Illustrated went after Tocchet this week, claiming his dalliance with gambling dragged the Phoenix Coyotes through the mud: That former GM Mike Barnett lost his job "partly because he placed a bet on the Super Bowl" (and partly because as an executive he had the itchy trigger finger of Harry Callahan), while Gretzky and his wife had their reputations tarnished through guilt by association. "It's fashionable to blame the authorities and especially the media, but in the end, those agencies were just doing their jobs," wrote Kelley. (By the way: Has anyone asked Janet Jones if she had heads or tails last Sunday?)

But it's hard to get sanctimonious about Tocchet's actions when the NHL has its proud debts to the gambling community and when the State of New Jersey now appears less concerned with the illegality of Tocchet's side business and more concerned that it wasn't getting a fair cut of the profits. The state assembly yesterday passed a measure that would legalize sports wagering in Atlantic City, and amendments could broaden that scope to include the state's racetracks. That's right: Legalized betting on the NFL, only a 5 minute walk away from where Hoffa's buried. It's times like these when the "war on sports wagering" seems about as valorous as when the DEA hauls out an ex-hippie for smoking a joint in his basement.

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Tocchet returned to the Phoenix bench last night in a strange and disappointing 2-1 loss to Columbus. Strange because Bryzgalov was outplayed by Fredrik Norrena, and Craig Weller somehow was given a match penalty for intent to injure after knocking out C-bus's Ole-Kristian Tollefsen with one punch. Disappointing because I had $100 at 3-to-1 there'd be no goals in the first period. That's the last time I call Tocchet's 900-number for advice.

Steel City Screw Job. I don't want to say referee Dave Jackson is a little quick on the whistle, but had he been a Super Bowl XLII official Manning would have been sacked, David Tyree would still be an above-average special teams player and the world would be a little sadder having seen Tom Brady's toothy grin next to the Lombardi Trophy for a fourth time. Jackson lost sight of the puck before ConkSuck inevitably lost it to the Islanders a millisecond later, and blew his whistle right as Billy Guerin was about to send the game to overtime with 0.4 seconds left in Pittsburgh. Isles lose, 4-3, to the Penguins; meh, serves them right for treating Pat Lafontaine like a bitch.

No MSG. When is the proper time for the Rangers to push the panic button? Last night's 4-1 loss to the Ducks at home gave New York 60 points in 57 games; Boston and Buffalo, eighth and ninth in the conference, are within three points and both have four (!) games in hand. Jagr hasn't scored a goal in seven games and has four in 2008. I've been trying very hard to find a bigger bust than Jaromir this year, and I think the only contender is this one, seen at a Christina Aguilera DVD signing at Best Buy:

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* Theo Fleury has a concrete company. No word if it's sold by the kilo. [The Leader-Post]

* The Canadiens go from challenging the Senators for best in the conference to losing to the Leafs. Some people claim this League has parity; I say it's the craziest fucking thing I've seen since Britney starred in "The Amy Winehouse Story. [Excellent Montreal Canadiens Blog]

* A brief history of the face wash. Quote of the day from Chico Resch: "If I keep trying to rub my hands into your face, you're going to get angry." Yeah, especially after he sends one of those Cuban sandwiches from the concession stand in Newark back out to sea. Yuck. [New York Times]

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* Self-Pimp Jones: My list of The Best Hockey Scenes in Non-Hockey Movies, from "Clerks" to "Strange Brew" to "Lethal Weapon 3." [Barry Melrose Rocks]

* This guy and Brind'Amour's wife are probably the only ones that want Eric Lindros in the Flyers Hall of Fame. [Philadelphia Daily News]

* In the middle of its delightfully profane game summary and Photoshopped images of turd sandwiches attacking Ted Nolan, Pensblog reports the big news: Sidney Christ is skating again. [The Pensblog]

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* Finally, Ryan Kessler assisted on the game-winner in Vancouver's 2-1 victory in Atlanta. And that's why they're writing hardcore rap song about him.