Security probes Canadiens' connection

Updated: February 20, 2009, 4:51 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

The NHL on Friday will send security officials to Montreal to meet with local police following reports linking a number of Montreal Canadiens players with an organized crime investigation, sources said.

French-language newspaper La Presse of Montreal reported Friday that Pasquale Mangiola, who faces weapons and drug charges, is close to the Canadiens' Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergei. The three have often been seen together at Montreal bars and restaurants, the paper reported.

The paper also mentioned veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik as also being linked to Mangiola, who is alleged to have acted as an intermediary between a number of rival criminal gangs in Montreal.

Police officials would not comment to La Presse when asked about the ongoing investigation. The NHL is aware of the reports and is in the process of gathering additional information.

Andrei Kostitsyn

A. Kostitsyn

A spokesman for the Canadiens said Friday morning the team had no comment on the reports. They were scheduled to practice at 2 p.m. ET Friday.

Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHLPA, happened to be in Montreal and altered his schedule to have "extensive contact with Canadiens players, team officials and NHL security staff concerning the media reports," a source told ESPN.com Friday afternoon.

The reports are another blemish on a season that began with such promise -- the Canadiens are celebrating their 100th anniversary and hoping for a long Stanley Cup playoff run this spring.

Sergei Kostitsyn
S. Kostitsyn

The team has played poorly -- a 3-11-1 record in its last 15 games including a 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday. Earlier this week, general manager Bob Gainey told slumping forward Alex Kovalev he would not accompany the team on a two-game road trip this week.

Gainey also shipped 21-year-old Sergei Kostitsyn to Montreal's American Hockey League affiliate in Hamilton earlier this week, although it's believed this was strictly a hockey decision.

Sergei Kostitsyn is the younger of the brothers and is in his second season with the Canadiens. Andrei Kostitsyn, 24, was the 10th overall pick in the 2003 entry draft but has been slow to mature into a top player, having bounced between the AHL and the NHL in the past two years.

Montreal has fallen to sixth place among Eastern Conference teams and is just four points from falling to ninth and out of the playoff picture. Its play, coupled with its off-ice distractions, has become the talking point for the entire province. Segments on radio and TV talk shows have incorporated the full range of the Canadiens' issues.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.