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Johnston: What I’m hearing about the Shane Pinto suspension and what comes next

The announcement from the NHL on Thursday was a pithy 55 words. And aside from stating that the Ottawa Senators’ Shane Pinto had been suspended for 41 games for “activities related to sports wagering,” it carried no specifics about the infraction.
Very few details have leaked in the 24 hours since, either.
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So how is this staying so quiet?
It turns out there’s a very good reason: According to league sources, the punishment was the result of a negotiated settlement, not a formal disciplinary proceeding.
Pinto had the right to have NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hear his case under Article 18-A.1 of the collective bargaining agreement and chose not to.
That would have been a less predictable road to go down since the punishment would have fallen entirely under Bettman’s purview. Among the powers the commissioner possesses when assessing off-ice discipline is expelling or suspending a player for a definite or indefinite period, canceling a contract, and/or imposing a fine.
While the CBA grants a player the right to appeal the commissioner’s decision to a neutral arbitrator, there’s still a high degree of unpredictability in the process. That’s especially true in a case like the one involving Pinto, which is the first with ties to gambling since the NHL released a March 2022 memo reminding team personnel and players about the serious nature of its policies covering improper wagering.
Even as punitive as a 41-game suspension is — it’s among the longest in league history — there was more certainty for Pinto in agreeing to that settlement than taking a spin on the wheel of NHL justice.
More privacy, too.
The settlement included a confidentiality clause, which prevents the principal figures from discussing the details of the case in either on- or off-the-record conversations.
Hence that pithy announcement.
The rationale behind rulings made by Bettman are typically released publicly. We learned far more about why the commissioner chose to uphold a four-game suspension to Calgary Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson for a charging infraction this week than we did about Pinto’s ban because the NHL attached a two-page ruling on Andersson’s appeal to the press release announcing the decision.
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There will be no option for appeal in the Pinto matter since the NHL and NHL Players’ Association both had a seat at the table and a say in the 41-game suspension he accepted.
The case is considered closed as long as no new information emerges.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the behind-the-scenes details we’ve been able to glean on the Pinto file.
A lot of plugged-in hockey people don’t know exactly what happened here. There’s plenty of hearsay and scuttlebutt flying around, of course, but everyone from team executives to player agents to other NHL players were left scrambling for more information after the news came down.
The most obvious point of confusion?
The line in the NHL statement, which said, “The League’s investigation found no evidence that Pinto made any wagers on NHL games.”
Article 14.1 in the CBA states that players can’t bet on NHL games, but there are no other gambling restrictions included in that document. Some individual teams may forbid staff (including players) from betting with specific club betting partners because of the language included in those contractual arrangements, according to multiple team sources, but beyond that, everything else is fair game.
Placing online bets on NFL or college football games? Swinging by a sportsbook during a road trip to Las Vegas to lay down a World Series futures wager? Conducting a Masters pool in the dressing room? Those are all fine for NHLers.
The teams know it, too, which is why multiple executives who spoke with The Athletic expressed a measure of frustration with the secrecy around the Pinto case. There’s clearly a lesson to be shared with their players here — but what exactly is it?
According to multiple sources, here’s the rough outline of what Pinto was involved with:
He is known to have had connection with a third-party proxy bettor, which is forbidden
An issue with his account was initially flagged by one of the NHL’s betting partners
A league investigation that began over the summer was concluded this week with the negotiated settlement
Pinto didn’t contest his guilty charge, either, saying in a statement released by the Senators: “I take full responsibility for my actions and look forward to getting back on the ice with my team.”
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The details of the case have been described as “intricate” and “nuanced” by those familiar with what happened.
Clearly, the NHL was satisfied with the evidence it found that Pinto wasn’t betting on NHL games or we’d be talking about a much more severe punishment than the considerable one he got.
And unless Pinto elects to disclose more details with a reporter down the road, we probably won’t ever know too much more than that.
So where do we go from here? There’s certainly a heightened sense of awareness around gambling-related issues in league circles now.
Jared Maples, the NHL’s senior executive vice president and chief security officer, is currently in the early stages of his yearly visits with every club. Those 45-minute information sessions have always included gambling alongside other discussion points like drugs and law enforcement interaction, but will see the gambling topic become the primary focus in the wake of the Pinto situation.
Similarly, new NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh, who spoke to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun about Pinto’s situation and gambling in the NHL on Friday, will bring some added emphasis to the issue during his fall tour.
He’s visited six of the league’s 32 teams so far this season and will eventually spend time with them all.
Gambling was covered extensively during the NHL/NHLPA Player Orientation Program put on for rookies in Virginia in early September and will continue to be hammered home there because of the age demographic of players entering the league.
There’s a belief the younger generation may be more susceptible to gambling-related missteps.
Remember that Pinto is 22 and just finished his first full NHL campaign.
What made the 41-game suspension such an unexpected turn of events is that Pinto had already been the subject of considerable interest this fall but for a different reason altogether: He was the NHL’s only unsigned restricted free agent.
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His lack of a contract shouldn’t be chalked up entirely to the gambling investigation, either, since the Senators were only made aware of that last month.
Ultimately, the team didn’t leave itself with enough cap space to sign a player coming off a 20-goal, 35-point rookie season and it was unsuccessful in creating the room needed through a trade.
The Senators now have almost three more months to sort that situation out.
Pinto isn’t planning to sign his next contract until close to when his suspension ends on Jan. 21 — he wouldn’t be paid for the time off either way — and that will once again become an intriguing negotiation when it gets going.
The player declined his qualifying offer of $874,125 during the offseason, and there’s no reason to believe he’d be eager to take that number now. He’s lost half a season of play, and pay, and the Senators are going to have work to do on a couple of fronts to wedge him onto the roster when he’s eligible to return.
(Photo of Shane Pinto: Marc DesRosiers / USA Today)

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