The club announced on Friday a one-year, $775,000 deal for Pinto that kicks in right before he’s eligible to return from a 41-game suspension for violating the NHL’s sports wagering rules. Pinto can make his season debut on Sunday in Philadelphia and will earn a prorated salary of just under $360,000 for the remainder of this year.
Pinto, 23, became the first NHL player of the league’s modern era to receive a gambling-related suspension when he was handed a half-season ban in October. No details were given on the exact circumstances around Pinto’s wagering, and Pinto himself provided no clarity on that when speaking with reporters in Ottawa last week. But he did relay his own reaction to being cut off from hockey for months.
“Definitely, I was caught off guard a bit [by the ruling],” said Pinto. “It just kind of came out of nowhere and kind of went from there.”
The Franklin Square, New York native spent time on Long Island with family while forced to be away from the Senators. He kept in shape there through skating and conditioning exercises.
Pinto was back in Ottawa last Friday to resume practicing with teammates. Senators head coach Jacques Martin said at the time he expected Pinto would be in the lineup on Jan. 21 against Philadelphia, but the restricted free agent had to sign a contract first. That business now being handled paves the way for Pinto to step into a lineup spot.
It’s probable Pinto signs a longer-term deal with Ottawa in the offseason, but for now he’s at least able to get back on the ice. And the Senators should be happy to have him. The center has played the entirety of his career in Ottawa since the team drafted him 32nd overall in 2019. Pinto’s notched 21 goals and 43 points in 99 NHL games to date and has projected to be an important piece of the team’s future. Sunday’s tilt would be Pinto’s first NHL action in over 280 days.
While on the sidelines, Pinto said he’d been in contact with several NHL players about the suspension and hopes his story will prevent anyone else from unwittingly earning a ban of their own.
“It’s good that I can help them now,” Pinto said. “That’s what I’m there for now. I’m the first one in a long time, so just kind of learn from my experience.”
Prior to Pinto being singled out, the last NHL players to be suspended for gambling were Billy Taylor, Don Gallinger and Babe Pratt in the 1940s.
Ottawa appears ready to welcome Pinto back with open arms now, though. He was the first skater at practice on Friday after news of his contract signing went public and the Senators could frankly use an emotional boost. Ottawa is currently last in the Eastern Conference and 19 points back of a playoff spot. The Senators host Winnipeg on Saturday before ending the weekend back-to-back in Philadelphia — with Pinto back in the mix.
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