Rick Tocchet could be back as an assistant coach with the Coyotes this season but not until Feb. 7 at the earliest.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Thursday that Tocchet has been suspended until then – two years after his leave of absence began – for his role in an illegal sports gambling operation.
“Employment and participation in the National Hockey League is an honor and privilege that can't be taken for granted," Bettman said. "I felt that two years was the appropriate punishment.”
Bettman also said there are three conditions for Tocchet’s return:
He may not gamble in any way in the future.
He may not engage in any conduct that may reflect adversely on the NHL.
He must submit himself for evaluation by the NHL’s substance abuse and behavioral health program doctors to determine if he suffers from a compulsive gambling addiction. If so, he must undergo professional treatment as required by the counselors.
Bettman also reserved the right to further discipline Tocchet should he fail to strictly abide by any of the conditions.
Previously Tocchet failed to adhere to an understanding he had with Bettman that he was to have no contact with NHL or Coyotes personnel during his time away from the game, the commissioner said. The league’s internal investigation found Tocchet had “a significant amount of contact with individuals within the NHL.”
“Mr. Tocchet has acknowledged that, but nevertheless failed to take any steps to address it either in advance of or after such inappropriate contact,” Bettman said.
“In addition, and almost unbelievably, Mr. Tocchet has continued to gamble during his leave of absence – although not as frequently or in the same manner that resulted in his problems with law enforcement.”
Tocchet participated in this year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
If Tocchet meets the conditions, he will be eligible to return to the Coyotes for their final 28 games, starting with their Feb. 7 home game against Columbus. Coach Wayne Gretzky has said Tocchet will have a place on his staff when he is reinstated.
“We respect the commissioner’s decision and are relieved that this situation is behind us,” Gretzky said. “We will welcome Rick Tocchet back on Feb. 7, 2008.”
Tocchet has been away from the Coyotes since Feb. 7, 2006, when news of the gambling scandal first broke.
In May, Tocchet pleaded guilty in New Jersey to charges of conspiracy to promote gambling and promoting gambling after partnering with a New Jersey state trooper and a New Jersey businessman in a sports betting operation for five years.
In August, he was sentenced to two years probation.
According to New Jersey police, more than 1,000 bets exceeding $1.7 million were taken during a 40-day period just prior to charges being filed. Wagers were placed on professional and college football and basketball but not on hockey, authorities said.
Lawyer Robert Cleary, who was hired by the NHL to conduct its internal investigation, reported there was no evidence of betting on hockey.