Friday, November 02, 2007

All that’s left is the waiting for Rick Tocchet

Wayne Gretzky is three months away from getting his assistant coach back, while Rick Tocchet is three months away from getting his career back.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, tacked on a few extra months in purgatory for Tocchet, who faced the Commissioner yesterday for an update on his status after his troubles with New Jersey law enforcement over gambling issues.

Bettman, after reviewing the findings of Robert Cleary, the NHL assigned investigator into the Tocchet situation, which had been dubbed operation Slapshot by the New Jersey state police found little to hold against Tocchet much longer.

On Thursday, Bettman ruled that the long time NHL player and coach would be allowed back onto active duty with Phoenix, after serving an additional three month suspension and providing a promise not to engage in any gambling activity of any kind.

No super bowl pools, no lotto tickets or poker games, not even a bingo we assume, Tocchet need only stay out of trouble until the two year anniversary of his banishment and he can return to his duties alongside Wayne Gretzky.

Bettman’s decision brings to an end the long floating black cloud that hung over, the Coyotes, the Gretzky’s and the NHL itself.

Taking his cue from the findings of Cleary, Bettman surmised that in the end, the New Jersey case was made up more of hype and speculation than hard based facts of rampant wrongdoing in the NHL. Since those early days of the investigation into the gambling ring that had brought Tocchet in, there has been little in the way of evidence showing a widespread gambling problem in the NHL.

Tocchet’s involvement was relegated to mainly placing a few NFL bets for his friends, as opposed to the perception of him playing the central role of Mr. Big in some wide reaching criminal enterprise.

His guilty pleas to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling finally took him off the front pages and allowed him to apply for reinstatement to the NHL. The fact that Wayne Gretzky has been a steady and public advocate for Tocchet could very likely have helped play a role in Bettman’s decision today.

Had he not been associated with one of the icons of the game and someone who had his name dragged into the mix as part of the investigation, there’s probably a good chance the temptation to cut him loose very well might have been there. As it turned out, having Gretzky in your corner carries a fair amount of currency in the NHL.

Tocchet will rejoin the Coyotes in February, to help guide them along the last 28 games of the regular season. For now he waits for time to pass by, anxious to get back to the game but most likely aware that he came very close to losing everything that he had worked so hard and long to achieve.

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