The NHL sent out the following statement from commissioner Gary Bettman regarding his decision on Rick Tocchet:
On February 7, 2006, the office of the New Jersey Attorney General
made public details of a four-month investigation into alleged illegal
sports bookmaking activities, which investigation was referred to as
"Operation Slapshot," and targeted in addition to a New Jersey State
Trooper (James Harney) and a New Jersey businessman (James Ulmer),
Associate Coach for the Phoenix Coyotes, Rick Tocchet. Immediately upon
learning of the investigation, the National Hockey League retained Robert
J. Cleary to conduct a comprehensive investigation regarding Mr.
Tocchet's alleged involvement in the illegal bookmaking activity. Mr.
Cleary and his investigative team received a broad mandate in conducting
his internal investigation into Mr. Tocchet's activities and into the
facts underlying the allegations against Mr. Tocchet.
On February 8, 2006, I met with Mr. Tocchet and his counsel and
granted his request for an indefinite leave of absence from his coaching
duties with the Phoenix Coyotes. I granted Mr. Tocchet's request on the
following three specific conditions: (1) Mr. Tocchet was required to
immediately, and for the duration of his leave of absence, refrain from
any and all contact or communication with all League and Club personnel;
(2) Mr. Tocchet's leave of absence could not be ended without my express
consent; and (3) I expressly reserved the right to modify the terms of
Mr. Tocchet's leave of absence at any time.
Earlier this year, on May 25, 2007, Mr. Tocchet pleaded guilty to
conspiracy and promoting gambling -- third-degree crimes in the state of
New Jersey. At the hearing in which Mr. Tocchet entered his guilty plea,
he told the court while under oath that he and James Harney were in a
partnership to promote gambling and that they shared in the profits and
losses of Mr. Harney's operation. On August 17, 2007, Mr. Tocchet was
sentenced to two years probation for the crimes to which he pled guilty.
Following Mr. Tocchet's sentencing on August 17 of this year, Mr.
Cleary and his team were, for the first time, given the opportunity to
meet with and interview Mr. Tocchet. Following that meeting and a number
of follow-up interviews of various individuals stemming from that
meeting, Mr. Cleary was able to finalize his report and deliver it to the
League for review. Mr. Cleary's formal report on his investigation and
findings were delivered to me on Monday of this week.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and I met with Mr. Tocchet and his
counsel on Tuesday afternoon in New York to review Mr. Cleary's report
and to discuss both the events giving rise to his being charged and
pleading guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling, and his activities
during the period of Mr. Tocchet's leave of absence from the game. Don
Maloney, General Manager of the Phoenix Coyotes, also was present and
offered his views with regard to Mr. Tocchet's status on behalf of his
organization. On the basis of Mr. Cleary's findings, my own review of
investigation work papers and my meeting with Mr. Tocchet, I now am in a
position to rule on Mr. Tocchet's status and eligibility to return to the
National Hockey League.
I would be remiss if I did not note at the outset that I am pleased
the facts as determined by Mr. Cleary and his team, as well as the manner
in which the legal process and subsequent court proceedings played out,
do not even approach the magnitude of severity of criminal activity first
suggested or implied at the time the New Jersey Attorney General's
investigation was first made public. Contrary to initial reports, the
bookmaking activity at issue was not a well-developed, complex criminal
operation, and its relationship to hockey and the National Hockey League
was, at best, tangential. While we have confirmed that a small group of
current and former NHL players occasionally placed bets with James Harney
(which, by itself, was not illegal under New Jersey state law), there is
no evidence that any of these individuals ever placed a bet on hockey or
participated in any other way in the bookmaking operation that ultimately
was acknowledged to be illegal. Moreover, 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.
Finally, despite persistent innuendos and suggestions regarding the
possible involvement of organized crime with the activities in question,
none of those innuendos proved to be true. During the course of Mr.
Cleary's investigation, absolutely no evidence was uncovered establishing
any connection between the illegal bookmaking activity at issue and
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.
Nevertheless, Mr. Tocchet has acknowledged his guilt of criminal
behavior that cannot and will not be tolerated or condoned by the
National Hockey League. While the offenses he pled to were not nearly as
serious as what we first were led to believe transpired, Mr.Tocchet
nevertheless acknowledged through his plea and in his meeting with me to
having engaged in illegal activities under New Jersey state law. Mr.
Tocchet has admitted to me that his actions were inappropriate -- even
stupid -- and evidenced extremely poor judgment, for which he has
expressed significant remorse and regret and for which he has apologized.
Mr. Tocchet's actions and poor judgment giving rise to these charges,
and especially during the period in which the legal proceedings were
pending and the real facts were being determined, unfairly cast an
unfavorable and negative light on our game and some of the great people
in our game. Mr. Tocchet's acknowledged conduct gave rise to a "story"
that has lingered for more than a year and a half, and has created an
environment which left not only him but the entire National Hockey League
vulnerable to embarrassment, to accusations of scandal, to suspicions
pertaining to the integrity of NHL competition, and to the possibility of
diminished respect in the eyes of the public.
In the last 21 months, Mr. Tocchet has not been able to work in the
National Hockey League, and the NHL has not been a part of his daily life
in the same way as it had been for the previous 23 years. Mr. Tocchet
has a lot of friends in the game, all of whom -- virtually without
exception -- consider him a good person with good moral character. Based
on his 21-month absence from the game, Mr. Tocchet and his counsel have
asserted that he has already been severely punished for his admitted
misconduct, and that no further League imposed punishment is either
warranted or appropriate.
While at first blush there may appear to be some merit to that view,
I remain concerned as to whether Mr. Tocchet is adequately sensitive to
the seriousness of the admitted misconduct, especially in the context of
his role as a highly visible and prominent employee in a professional
sports league. The bottom line is that when you are fortunate enough to
work in the National Hockey League, you are necessarily held to a higher
standard of personal conduct than in many other professions -- and
appropriately so. Moreover, during his 21 months away from the game, Mr.
Tocchet did not strictly adhere to the terms of our understanding that he
was to have no contact with NHL League or Club personnel. Mr. Tocchet
has acknowledged that, but nevertheless failed to take any steps to
address it either in advance of or after such inappropriate contact. In
addition, and almost unbelievably, Mr. Tocchet has continued to gamble
during his leave of absence -- although not as frequently or in the same
manner that resulted in his problems with law enforcement.
There are those who might suggest that Mr. Tocchet should be
prohibited from resuming active status in the League for an extremely
long and additional period of time -- perhaps forever. In my view, those
who would make such a suggestion probably are not familiar with all the
facts and still are focused on the original headlines.
On balance, I believe that Mr. Tocchet should be eligible again for
employment and participation in the NHL, but that such eligibility should
not commence prior to February 7, 2008. I am satisfied that the League's
interests 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 NHL participation for 162 regular season games and two entire calendar
Mr. Tocchet's reinstatement as of February 7, 2008 will be subject to
the following conditions:
- (1) He may not gamble -- legally or illegally -- in any manner and
(2) 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;
(3) He must submit himself for evaluation by the NHL's Substance
Abuse and Behavioral Health Program Doctors to determine if he suffers
from a compulsive gambling addiction and, if so, to undergo such
treatment as the professional counselors may require.
I am reserving the right to further discipline Mr. Tocchet should he
fail to strictly abide by any of these conditions.
In closing, I reiterate my strongly held view that employment and
participation in the National Hockey League is an honor and a privilege
that cannot be taken for granted. Those in our game who engage in
conduct detrimental to the game or its good reputation will be held
strictly accountable for their decisions to engage in such conduct.
Whether you view Mr. Tocchet's two-year punishment as too light, too
severe, or just right, the fact of the matter is that he has paid an
extremely high price for conduct which, although perhaps not as bad as
originally suggested, was nevertheless highly inappropriate and illegal.