For anyone that followed last year's media coverage of a sports gambling ring that rocked the hockey world, closure was one step closer to becoming reality when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on November 1st that Phoenix Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet would be reinstated on February 7, 2008.
Tocchet plead guilty earlier this year to third degree charges of his role in "Operation Slapshot", an illegal gambling ring in southern New Jersey where he conspired and promoted betting on sports events. New Jersey Attorney General Robert J. Cleary completed a 21-month investigation that found former state trooper James Harney guilty of running the operation while Tocchet helped friends (including current and former NHL players) place bets. One of the concerned parties that were questioned was Wayne Gretzky's wife Janet and later to be found not involved.
Fortunately for Tocchet, he was spared prison time for not having any of these activities involve bets on NHL games. Had he done so, it could very well have ended any association with the league with perhaps a Pete Rose ban and face a five-year jail sentence. After the investigation probe went public, Tocchet was granted a leave of absence by the Coyotes while all legal matters are settled.
"There is no evidence that anyone, including Mr. Tocchet, did anything that in any way or at any time compromised the integrity of NHL hockey or any NHL hockey game," Bettman said in a league press release.
So instead of jail time, Tocchet was given two years probation and has been allowed to serve it in Arizona, where he maintains his primary residence. Under the reinstatement agreement, Bettman gave a stern warning to Tocchet that he cannot gamble in any way, engage in any conduct that threatens the integrity of the NHL or any of its teams and enter the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program to see if Tocchet has a gambling addiction.
In a nutshell, Tocchet did engage in illegal activity under New Jersey state law, but didn't bet on NHL games while employed by one of the 30 teams and will be given a second chance with reinstatement to return to his coaching post in Phoenix IF he keeps his nose clean. How will this effect the Coyotes when he does come back? No one knows, but for the team's sake, they cannot afford to let this become a distraction again as it did during the 2005-2006 season.