NHL reinstates Rick Tocchet

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reinstated Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet on Thursday, but the former player must wait until February before resuming his duties.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reinstated Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet on Thursday, but the former player must wait until February before resuming his duties.

Tocchet will rejoin the Coyotes on Feb. 7, 2008.

Tocchet has been on a leave of absence since last February amid accusations that he and two men were operating an illegal sports gambling ring in the United States.

Bettman and Tocchet met Tuesday in New York to discuss Tocchet'sstatus after an independent investigation by lawyer Robert Cleary.

"Employment and participation in the National Hockey League is an honour and privilege that can't be taken for granted," Bettman said during a news conference. "I felt that two years was the appropriate punishment."

Tocchet agreed May 25 to a plea bargain in a New Jersey court oncounts of promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling, and was sentenced to two years probation on Aug. 17.

Must meet conditions

His return to the NHL comes with three conditions set by Bettman.

Tocchet is forbidden to take part in any form of gambling, he must refrain from activity that may hurt the reputation of the NHL, and willalso be evaluated by the league's substance abuse and behavioural health program to see if he has a compulsive gambling addiction.

If Bettman is satisfied that all three conditions are met, then Tocchet will be eligible to be behind the Coyotes bench on Feb. 7, when the team hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"We respect the commissioner's decision and are relieved that this situation is behind us," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said in a statement. "We will welcome Rick Tocchet back on Feb. 7, 2008."

Anaheim Ducksgeneral managerBrian Burke applauded Bettman's ruling.

"I think the league has conducted a thorough investigation and I believe people do deserve a second chance," Burke told the Canadian Press. "This shouldn't obscure the fact that Rick Tocchet was a warrior in our league and a fine coach. One mistake or a series of mistakes that didn't affect the integrity of our game shouldn't serve as a bar for Rick Tocchet to continue in our league."

Cleary began an extensive investigation after Tocchet was charged in February of 2006 and discovered that the former NHLer was involved in a gambling ringthat shared the profits and losses.

However, Cleary concluded Thursday that he found no evidence of Tocchet or any member of the NHL community betting on hockey games.His report also revealed there was no compromise of any league games, and no evidence that the ring was connected to any organized crime activity, which was suggested by initial reports when the story broke.

Cleary's final report wasdelayed until early this week because Tocchet was advised by his lawyer not to agree to an interviewbefore his sentencing.

Cleary submitted his report on Monday to Bettman, who met with Tocchet thenext day.

Bettman hired Cleary, best known for prosecuting unabomber Ted Kaczynski, to handle a league investigation into Tocchet's involvement.

New Jersey's Organized Crime Bureau launched an investigation, dubbed Operation Slapshot, into the ring in October 2005 after learning a state trooper might be involved.

Authorities claimed the ring handled $1.7 million US in wagers in the 40 days leading up to charges being filed.

Tocchet's accomplices were: James Harney, a N.J. state trooper sentenced to five years in jail and told to forfeit his badge; and James Ulmer, a medical supply salesman, who received two years ofprobation and was ordered to return $45,000 in gambling proceeds and pay back taxes on $52,000 in winnings.

Tocchet, 43, played 18 seasons in the NHL, posting 440 goals and 952 points with 2,970 penalty minutes in 1,144 games for the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Coyotes.

The native of the Scarborough area of Toronto was drafted in the sixth round (121st overall) by Philadelphia in 1983.

Tocchet has served as an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche and Coyotes since retiring as an active playerin 2001-02.

With files from the Associated Press