MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. • Former NHL player and Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who ran an illegal sports gambling ring, won’t serve jail time despite international headlines linking the case to hockey’s biggest star.
Tocchet was ordered Friday to serve two years probation for his role in the gambling ring.
“He received exactly what we expected him to receive,” his lawyer, Kevin Marino, said.
“He’s very pleased to have this matter behind him.”
Tocchet, 43, could have received up to five years in state prison. However, there is a presumption against incarceration for first-time offenders who plead guilty to third- or fourth-degree crimes.
That means the one-time NHL star, who is on an unpaid leave of absence from his post with the Coyotes, is unlikely to serve any time for his crimes, said Mark Eliades, the deputy attorney general who prosecuted the case.
Under terms of Tocchet’s plea deal, the state made no sentencing recommendation, leaving it to the discretion of the court.
Afterward, Marino said his client long ago acknowledged having made a mistake by becoming involved in illegal gambling. Marino pointed out the more sensational allegations in the case — including rumors of mob ties and game fixing — never materialized.
“Mr. Tocchet never placed a bet on professional hockey. Mr. Tocchet never took a bet on professional hockey,” Marino said. “He in no way compromised the integrity of the game of hockey or the National Hockey League.”
Before being sentenced on Friday, Tocchet told the judge, “I’m sorry to the court, my family and friends I was involved in this.”
An assistant coach under Wayne Gretzky, Tocchet partnered with a New Jersey state trooper and another man in a sports betting venture they ran for five years.
Marino said Tocchet hopes to return to the sport now that the case has been resolved.
“I’m sure in the coming weeks, we’ll turn our attention to having discussions with the league,” he said. “I don’t think he’s pursuing any alternatives at the moment.”
Gretzky has said he is holding the vacant spot on his staff for Tocchet but on Friday declined comment through a team spokesman.
When asked about Tocchet possibly returning to the team, Coyotes CEO Jeff Shumway said, “That’s in the hands of the league and commissioner (Gary) Bettman, and it would be inappropriate for us to make any comment until the league has made its own internal determinations.”
Bettman hired lawyer Robert Cleary, a former federal prosecutor, to conduct an internal investigation.
“In light of today’s events, Mr. Cleary is now in a position to conclude his independent investigation,” NHL spokesman Gary Meagher said in a statement.
“Once the commissioner receives Mr. Cleary’s report, it is probable that he will want to meet with Mr. Tocchet before making a determination.”
Meagher would not answer any questions, including whether Tocchet has a future in professional hockey.
James Harney, the trooper who has since been forced to give up his badge, was sentenced earlier this month to five years in prison. The other man, James Ulmer, will be sentenced on Aug. 24.
The case became one of the biggest stories in hockey in February 2006, when the men were charged, because authorities said several of the bettors were people connected to the game. The only name revealed was Janet Jones Gretzky, the wife of Wayne Gretzky. But authorities quickly said neither she nor other bettors would be charged.
In the investigation that followed, authorities and hockey officials said there was no evidence of betting on hockey. However, the betting was heavy on other sports. In the 40 days that led up to the charges, the ring handled $1.7 million in bets, including college football bowl games and the Super Bowl.
Harney met Tocchet in the 1990s, when Tocchet was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers and Harney tended bar at a hotel frequented by athletes. After retiring in 2002, Tocchet became Gretzky’s top assistant coach in 2005.
Staff writer Matt Paulson contributed to this story.