|Rick Tocchet is eligible to return to the NHL on Feb. 7, 2008.
Bettman made the announcement three days after receiving an investigative report from Robert J. Cleary that was started in February 2006, days after it was revealed that Tocchet was the subject of an investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office into an illegal bookmaking operation dubbed “Operation Slapshot.”
The criminal probe resulted in Tocchet pleading guilty earlier this year to third-degree offenses, conspiracy and promoting gambling. Although he faced up to five years in prison, Tocchet was sentenced to two years probation in August, which he has been allowed to serve in Arizona.
The Feb. 7 date will make Tocchet’s suspension a two-year ban; Tocchet first was granted a leave of absence from his duties with the Coyotes on Feb. 7, 2006.
“I am satisfied that the League’s interest in both discouraging and deterring inappropriate and, in this case, criminal behavior, and in sufficiently punishing the same, are adequately served with Mr. Tocchet having been deprived of the privilege of participating for two entire calendar years,” Bettman said.
Bettman placed three conditions on Tocchet’s reinstatement: Tocchet cannot gamble – legally or illegally – in any way; he “may not engage in any conduct which may reflect adversely on NHL hockey, the League or any club, or on any League or club personnel;” and he will enter the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program so doctors can determine if Tocchet has a gambling addiction.
Bettman said Tocchet will be treated on an out-patient basis and will be able to work while being part of the program.
Cleary’s 21-month investigation revealed that Tocchet’s role in the gambling ring, which was run by former New Jersey State Trooper James Harney, was in helping friends – including current and former NHL players – place bets with Harney. The report also revealed Tocchet “maintained a financial interest in the betting activity of those individuals whom he referred to Harney.”
“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,” said Bettman.
Cleary wrote in his report that there was no evidence of any betting on hockey by NHL personnel; there was no evidence of any efforts to compromise the integrity of any games; and there was no evidence of any connection between the gambling ring and organized crime, which had been suggested in the initial media reports.
“Based on the preliminary reports we were getting, after the initial announcement was made about this, the headlines and the hysteria, it became clear to me that this probably didn’t have anything to do with NHL hockey,” said Bettman. “It wasn’t something that preoccupied me. I was anxious that Mr. Cleary be able to finish his investigation as quickly as he could, and under the circumstances that he was presented with, he did. This whole matter has been more of a distraction and gotten more attention that it was ever worth.”
Cleary’s probe, during which he interviewed approximately 90 current and former players, coaches and other League and club employees, took as long as it did because he was unable to speak with Tocchet until August, after Tocchet had entered his plea and been sentenced.
That interview, and Cleary’s report, convinced Bettman that initial reports of a well-developed, complex criminal enterprise were false, and its relationship to the NHL was “tangential.”
“While it is clear that criminal activity did in fact take place, and that Mr. Tocchet was involved in this activity, and while I never have and never will attempt to minimize the severity of these activities, the fact is that the reality of this case never lived up to the massive amount of hype and speculation circulating in the initial days after the investigation was made public,” said Bettman.