Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet pleaded guilty Friday to running a sports gambling ring — a move that may spare him jail time. Whether it costs him future employment in the NHL remains to be seen.
Tocchet, a member of the coaching staff during the 2005-06 season and a Coyotes player from 1997-2000, pleaded guilty in Superior Court in Mount Holly, N.J., to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling. Such offenses usually do not carry a jail sentence for first-time offenders.
Authorities would not say whether they would request jail time when Tocchet, 43, is sentenced Aug. 17.
It’s unknown what effect the guilty pleas will have on Tocchet’s chances of rejoining the Coyotes or any other NHL team. He has been on a league-approved indefinite leave of absence since February 2006.
Just a month ago, Coyotes coach and managing partner Wayne Gretzky sounded optimistic when asked about Tocchet filling the void on his staff left by Barry Smith, who took a coaching job in Russia.
“That would be my choice,” said Gretzky, who added the position would remain open until Tocchet’s case was resolved. “I know the players would like it.”
“He’s a good person,” Gretzky said. “This city needs him back, the team needs him back.”
But as of Friday, neither the Coyotes nor the league had made any decisions regarding Tocchet’s future.
“It’s not even in our ballpark yet,” Phoenix CEO Jeff Shumway said. “Rick and the NHL have to resolve things. This is in the commissioner’s ballpark right now. We can’t even get involved until the commissioner does whatever he’s going to do.”
NHL spokesman Frank Brown said, “Today’s development allows the league to complete its investigation of the matter. There is no timeline on when that investigation will conclude. We will not comment further.”
No meetings between Tocchet and the NHL have been scheduled yet, said Kevin Marino, Tocchet’s lawyer.
The case, dubbed “Operation Slapshot,” began in February 2006 when New Jersey authorities announced Tocchet and a state trooper had been charged with running a gambling ring that had ties to organized crime.
Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones, was named as one of the bettors, which raised concerns about Gretzky’s possible involvement.
But the worst suspicions in the case were not substantiated. There were no mob ties or betting on hockey. No other hockey figures or big names are being charged. No players will have to testify and there were no links to Gretzky.
State police col. Rick Fuentes announced the charges against Tocchet, trooper James Harney and a third man, James Ulmer, two days after the 2006 Super Bowl.
Fuentes said that during a 40-day stretch, the ring handled bets totaling $1.7 million.
While Tocchet was the big name in the case, it later became clear that Harney was the main target for law enforcement.
Even after Tocchet pleaded guilty on Friday, state criminal justice director Gregory A. Paw’s most damning words were for Harney, who Paw said took bets while sitting in his patrol car watching traffic.
Harney agreed to help prosecutors in a deal that could limit his sentence to a maximum of seven years in prison.
Ulmer, who had a lesser role in the bookmaking operation, pleaded guilty late last year. His sentence will be up to a judge, but authorities said they would ask for between six months and a year in jail.
Under state law, Tocchet could receive up to 10 years in prison. But, his lawyer said, third-degree crimes usually do not result in incarceration for people who have had no other brushes with the law.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet added his name to the long list of athletes with ties to gambling Friday when he pleaded guilty to running a nationwide sports betting ring. Whether the names were as big as Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson or as obscure as Rick Kuhn and Dennis Lundy, gambling has plagued the entire history of sports. Usually, the consequences have been dire.
1983: Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts quarterback Art Schlichter is suspended for gambling away his $350,000 signing bonus. He is reinstated a year later, cut in 1985 and never plays again.
1963: Green Bay Packers halfback Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras are suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for betting on their own games. The two are reinstated the next year.
1961: Future Phoenix Sun Connie Hawkins is dismissed from the University of Iowa basketball team after it was suggested he had introduced other players to a man convicted of fixing games. He is banned from the NBA, but reinstated in 1969.
2003: Washington coach Rick Neuheisel is fired for participating in March Madness pools. Neuheisel sues the university for wrongful termination and wins a $4.5 million settlement.
1996: Thirteen Boston College players are suspended for the final three games of the season and six are banned permanently for betting on college and pro sports. Two players bet against their team in a loss to Syracuse.
1994: Northwestern’s Dennis Lundy is suspended for betting on college football. He admits he fumbled the ball on purpose on the goal line in a game against Iowa so he would win a $400 bet. He is sentenced to one month in prison and placed on probation for two years.
1997: Former Arizona State basketball players Stevin Smith (pictured) and Isaac Burton Jr. plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit sports bribery in a 1994 point-shaving scheme that fixed four Sun Devils’ games. Smith is sentenced to one year in prison.
1985: Tulane ends its men’s basketball program in the wake of point-shaving allegations. The school resumes basketball for the 1989-90 season.
1981: Rick Kuhn, a former player at Boston College, and four others are found guilty of conspiring to shave points to fix basketball games in the 1978-79 season. The scandal has ties to the Mafia. Kuhn is sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
1952: Kentucky’s basketball program is suspended for the 1952-53 season after a point-shaving scandal. The Wildcats won the NCAA title in 1951.
1951: Several New York-area college basketball teams are involved in point-fixing schemes and 32 players are arrested. Community College of New York, Manhattan College, Long Island University and Bradley are among the schools involved.
1989: Pete Rose is placed on baseball’s permanently ineligible list for gambling on sports — he denies betting on baseball at the time. In 2004, he admits to betting on baseball, including on Cincinnati Reds games — always to win, he says — when he managed them.
1970: Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain is suspended for three months by commissioner Bowie Kuhn for a 1967 involvement in bookmaking.
1947: Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher is suspended for the 1947 season by commissioner Happy Chandler for consorting with gamblers.
1943: Philadelphia Phillies owner William Cox is ordered by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to sell the team after admitting he made “15-20 bets of from $25 to $100 per game” early in the season.
1921: Shoeless Joe Jackson (pictured) and seven other members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox are given lifetime suspensions by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for conspiring to fix the World Series in the Black Sox scandal.