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NHL Roundtable: Shane Pinto’s Suspension Fallout

Credit: Eric Bolte - USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the For Fans Network NHL Roundtable, a weekly feature that will focus on the burning topics in the league each week with questions answered by some of the editors and contributors from across the For Hockey Fans network of sites.

This week’s discussion centers on the suspension of Ottawa Senators forward Shane Pinto for sports betting. There’s still a lot that is unknown about the situation, namely what exactly it was that he did that got the league’s attention. What is known is:

  1. Pinto did something that violated the NHL’s sports betting policy.
  2. The team was alerted about a pending investigation a few weeks before it came out publicly.
  3. The league and the player negotiated a deal for a 41-game suspension.
  4. The clock on the suspension started from game 1 of the season, even though Pinto is not under contract with the Senators at this time.

So we asked for reactions to this news from across our network. Here’s what they had to say.

Suspension Length:

Was Pinto’s suspension too long, too short, or do we just not know enough yet to judge it?

It’s hard to say – it’s the first gambling suspension in the NHL since the NHL online betting partnerships began, but 41 games is definitely made to set a precedent. Although the rules prohibit betting on NHL games but allows other sports bets to be made (and there are reports he didn’t actually bet on NHL games), it was likely important for the league to establish consequences in what has always been a murky, dubious role for professional athletes and gambling.  – Bryan Bastin, On The Forecheck

I think this is the unfortunate reality of needing an example of what not to do, and Pinto sorta rolled in front of the crosshairs. The League and the NHLPA generally don’t hand out suspensions of this length unless they need to make absolutely clear that they don’t want certain things happening on their dime or their time, and as such with new regulations on what you’re allowed to do as an athlete in a world of sports betting, will always need someone to exist as the Goofus we all point at and go “DON’T BE LIKE HIM”. I think it’s mildly excessive, but I definitely agree with the idea of a double-digit game suspension for him regardless. This was supposed to be a contract year for Pinto; you kinda want to keep your nose clean for those so the team can trust you long-term, and this guy super did not. The PA didn’t even stick up for him, that’s how hard he screwed up. – Sky on Air, Davy Jones Locker Room

It’s really hard to judge, since we don’t know all of the circumstances behind the suspension. Without us having all the details, and with this being the first NHL suspension since 1947 because of anything related to gambling or betting, the league is making an example out of Pinto. Depending on the severity of the infraction, 41 games might be fair. To me, without any other context, it seems long. – Melissa Burgess, Die By The Blade

Thoughts on transparency:

It seems clear that we don’t know enough about what exactly happened that got Pinto suspended for this long. Should the NHL have been more clear about the exact circumstances or do they owe the player to try to protect some of his privacy?

Especially since Pinto has since apologized and taken full responsibility, there’s likely info that can’t come out about it yet due to either possible NHLPA opposition or that outside entities were also involved (law enforcement, etc). However, if the claims that Pinto didn’t bet on NHL games is true, the NHL will likely NEED to release information about this incident because right now, it appears as if he is being punished for something not explicitly banned. – Bastin

I think the league has an obligation to let the public know if Pinto’s done something wrong that may not be in the NHL rulebook, but if the details don’t come out all at once or incorrectly, the court of public opinion only listens to a story once; and in a sport that really doesn’t like being in the spotlight for *any* kind of extra-legal debacle, I’d imagine they want all the facts to be in one place so they can either release them all at once or bury them so deep it requires Rick Westhead to dig it out. I’d like them to be more upfront, but if it’s something legal-based, I think we we’re gonna need some outside help to get it. The League’s track record with giving this kind of info to the public is very grim, as some fanbases can attest. – Sky

This is a tough question to answer. I’d like to know how long the NHL had a pulse on this situation, and how long it took them to come to a conclusion that resulted in the 41-game suspension. The Evander Kane gambling allegations from 2021 come to mind, but he was exonerated, and that surfaced during the offseason, anyways. I can understand why the league hasn’t provided all the exact details, but at the same time, if they’re trying to set an example, other players have to know what Pinto did wrong, so they can be careful to avoid doing something similar. – Burgess

Cap Implications:

Let’s talk about cap circumvention. To sign Pinto, Ottawa would have had to trade a player to be compliant with the salary cap for the season. Do you think that the league stepping in to give the Senators a heads up about what was coming could be considered cap circumvention in the eyes of other teams?

No, not at all.  The cynic in me wants it to be true, but the Sens cut off negotiations in the summer when they were made aware – had this not happened, they likely would’ve had to figure out the cap situation another way, but due to this issue, they didn’t need to (yet). I honestly can’t imagine it’s a matter of the league helping Ottawa when there are a lot of teams in similar cap trouble. – Bastin

Not really? There are multiple teams with serious cap issues due to the stagnant cap ceiling that have ran into this problem over the past year and most just accepted this was coming. The Sens heard about this during the summer and then immediately decided they were just gonna let that sit, he’s still an RFA, so why bother? They were still giving out big contracts to guys that would’ve required them to be cap compliant via trade anyway. Even if it were, as we all know, cap compliance is something of a “Keep off the grass” sign in the NHL. There are plenty of cool nerds who immediately find ways around it, and nobody really wants to enforce it beyond self-policing. If Ottawa really wants to figure out a way around it? Hire someone smart to get out of it! – Sky

No, I don’t think so. The Senators organization didn’t do anything wrong, and honestly, I think it’s fair for the NHL to give them a heads-up that this was happening. Not just from a cap point of view, but just from a “hey, this is happening, so be prepared for the fallout” point of view. – Burgess

Betting and the NHL:

The league and nearly every media site that covers it has some kind of official betting partnership. Pinto literally wears a betting sponsor on his helmet when he plays. How do we square a player being suspended with the entirety of the league getting so deep into partnerships with betting companies?

Many things can be true at the same time.  Do I think that league advertising about sports betting is way too prevalent in terms of pure volume? Of course. Do I believe that heavy advertising of sports betting is harmful for people for a financially-risky and addicting habit that has the potential to ruin lives? Yes. And, I also believe that the rules regarding betting with players are murky, undefined, and maybe more harsh than necessary. But the rules are out there, and players are aware of it. Shane Pinto broke the rules (apparently) that were in place, and did it enough to warrant a half-season suspension. All of the above can be true, but the bottom line is that Pinto broke established rules that players are aware of, and despite my feelings on whether or not players can gamble or punishments being harsh, that’s the reality of the situation. Pinto knew the rules, broke them, and was aware of possible consequences, and he has to accept that. But it still important that the league make the rules more clear and is transparent about enforcing it in the future, but in this case?  You reap what you sow. – Bastin

By dropping potentially career-altering suspensions on them, of course. We’ve decided to open this pandora’s box of this legally and morally dubious and vaguely regulated industry, and the rules the NHL put in place for it are full of gray areas. But those rules, vague as they are, do exist. Pinto broke them, and now the NHL and the PA gets the all-too-convenient spot to make it abundantly clear that whatever it is he did will not fly. The correct path of course was to make sure he never was in a position to do…whatever it was he did in the first place, but that’s not the path that makes money in the way the NHL likes making money (in the absence of competent marketing). So here we are. I’m just hoping for a version of uBlock for television commercials about gambling. – Sky

It’s hard, even harder without having all the details. Every broadcast we watch, there’s a segment about betting. Even on under the schedule, it lists the odds for each game. You can’t escape it! I think the league needs to do a comprehensive job of laying out its rules for players, coaches, team staff, etc. regarding exactly what is and isn’t allowed on their personal time. The NHLPA needs to be involved in that conversation, too, of course, and I think there needs to be some common sense to it. Obviously, it’s sensible that NHL players can’t bet on NHL games. But should they be able to bet on NFL games? What about betting on Formula 1 races, is that acceptable? Where is the line drawn? I don’t have an easy answer, but there’s got to be some middle ground, especially when you’re slapping a Bet99 logo on a player’s helmet and then suspending that same player for half a season for… betting. The other part of this is that for many people, gambling is an addiction. It can become a serious problem. If an NHL player found themselves in that situation, hopefully they could get the help they needed by entering the player assistance program. But for fans watching the games and inundated with gambling advertisements, it may be more of a challenge to get help. The league needs to toe the line and think about all the possible consequences of diving head-first into the sports betting world, for players and fans alike. – Burgess