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Tocchet's guilty plea could open door to return to coaching

PHOENIX -- Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet's
plea to gambling charges may open the door for his return to work
after more than a year on leave.

Coach Wayne Gretzky has said he wants Tocchet back. So the
decision appears to be in the hands of the NHL after Tocchet
pleaded guilty Friday to promoting gambling and conspiracy to
promote gambling in a plea deal that may spare him jail time.

Tocchet has been on an NHL-approved leave of absence since the
case broke in February 2006. League officials would not comment on
whether he might be allowed to return.

In response to questions about Tocchet's future with the team,
the Coyotes issued a statement: "The Phoenix Coyotes will await
the completion of the National Hockey League's investigation and
will support whatever decision the Commissioner may render
regarding Mr. Tocchet's status."

Calls to Gretzky were not immediately returned Friday.

Last month, Gretzky said that he would like Tocchet, a longtime
friend, to replace Barry Smith, who resigned as Phoenix's associate
coach to take a coaching position in the Russian Elite League.

The fiery 43-year-old Tocchet would balance Gretzky's calmer
approach with players. Gretzky made it clear he would not rush to
hire another coach in the hopes that Tocchet's case would be
resolved.

"I'm going to wait, absolutely," Gretzky said in April. "That
would be my choice, and I know the players would like it, so that's
where I'm at."

Gretzky was drawn into the betting scandal when it was revealed
that his wife, actress Janet Jones, had placed wagers. Gretzky was
caught on an investigative wiretap discussing how his wife could
avoid being implicated.

Neither Jones nor any other bettors were charged because placing
bets -- even with a bookmaker -- is not illegal in New Jersey.

Frustrated after missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive
season, the Coyotes shook up the front office at season's end,
firing general manager Mike Barnett, among others.

Team officials are reported to be close to selecting a new
general manager.