The rumors began landing in our inbox last night: "Habs drug bust scandal tomorrow" ... "Huge story is going to drop about the Habs and it's going to be ugly" ... and so on. The venerable HF Boards lit up with discussion on (what appears to be a now-deleted) post that pretty much had several Montreal Canadiens pegged for a perp walk out of practice today.
The truth is out there, Mulder, and here's the truth: According to a French-language newspaper in Montreal, Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn are associates with a recently arrested criminal.
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One of the suspects arrested this month in a Montreal police operation targetting organized crime is closely linked with Canadiens' players Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, La Presse reports in its Friday edition.
Pasquale Mangiola, who faces drug-trafficking and illegal weapon charges, is a close associate of the brothers and spoke to them often, La Presse says. The three were often seen together at local bars and restaurants, the French-language newspaper reports. Canadiens defenceman Roman Hamrlik was also acquainted with Mangiola, La Presse reports.
This would be incredibly big news, because up until this point Russian players have only been mobbed up with other Russians ...
The police told the Gazette they won't comment on an ongoing investigation. JT Utah of the Habs-centric gossip site 25Stanley.com passed along his interpretation of the news:
According to newspaper La Presse, police had found documents belonging to the Kostitsyn brothers during the arrest of mafia Mangiola. They have several cassettes tapping between the brothers and the alleged criminal. Mangiola worked to find luxury cars, girls and vodka for the brothers. He had access to all their credit cards making transactions easy.
No criminal charges will be brought against the players of CH. Hamrlik also be involved but on a smaller scale.
This can obviously go one of two ways. The most nontoxic result for the Canadiens would be for the Kostitsyn Bros. to basically have their own Tony Rezko; having dealt with a nefarious criminal, learned their lessons and severed ties. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Sergei Kostitsyn is down in the AHL these days?
Or this thing blows up like Carey Price playing the Flyers in the postseason, and suddenly we find ourselves with a scandal whose intensity and scope are the stuff of Gary Bettman's waking nightmares: drugs, mobsters, hookers ... pretty much everything he probably thought he left behind in the NBA.
And that of course brings us to the Main Story for the next couple of days. How the Kostitsyn brothers and Hamerlik have ties with a criminal and was originally presented as having possible criminal repercussions. Read the articles. Read how the police, during their investigations, taped hours and hours of conversations and discovered that Pasquale Mangiola, the criminal in question, and learned he is a big hockey fan and talked to them at least three times a week about the Canadiens and their own plays. He helped them get flashy cars, took them out to drink, got them girls... the whole works. But the police also said that none of those players are under any investigations and none of them did anything criminal.
Was it stupid from two Russians to let a mobster help you buy Vodka and get cars and girls for them? You bet your ass it was. But we still aren't talking about criminal repercussions or even criminal links. The kids for cool stuff in exchange from a couple of hours on the phone and, I'm sure, some Bell Centre tickets. Mangiola got to surround hockey players, talk to them and have fun with them in exchange for legal stuff that was probably a lot easier to get than what he usually did for criminal organization, which was the original investigation. In the middle of it, the police just learned that the guy liked hockey and was renting cars for some players. That's not a crime, that's barely a fun fact...
Here's the only thing we want to know: Why the #@$#@ didn't Sergei Kostitsyn mention any of this in our interview? Or at least send us a blonde in a sports car holding a bottle of Stolichnaya as a thank you?
UPDATE: Good stuff from Eyes On The Prize regarding the French-language article that started this all.