Meeting could decide timetable on Tocchet's ability to return to NHL

Updated: October 30, 2007, 2:00 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Former Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet will meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week, sources have confirmed to ESPN.com.

Tocchet has been on "leave" since allegations surfaced in February 2006 that he was part of an illegal betting ring while with the Coyotes.

The meeting is expected to bring to a close a long, troubling chapter for the league. Still, depending on the tone and tenor of the discussion, a decision on Tocchet's ability to return to the NHL may not be forthcoming until next week.

New Jersey authorities who laid gambling-related charges against Tocchet, and the two men they said participated in the illegal betting ring with Tocchet, have said there was no evidence Tocchet was involved in betting or taking bets on hockey games.

An independent NHL investigation headed by former federal prosecutor Bob Cleary reinforced the belief that Tocchet's actions were focused mostly on football bets and involvement among other NHL players or team officials was extremely limited.

Tocchet, who played 1,144 regular-season games and 145 postseason contests in the NHL, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling and was sentenced to two years of probation last May.

Tocchet was soon after participating in the start of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, prompting many to suggest that his inability to distance himself from gambling was going to be an obstacle in returning to the game.

Tocchet's gambling habits will likely be among the topics for discussion when Tocchet and Bettman meet. Phoenix GM Don Maloney is also expected to be on hand for the meeting, although his exact role is unknown.

Coach Wayne Gretzky, who brought Tocchet onto his coaching staff when Gretzky took over the reins after the lockout, is believed to want Tocchet back on staff. In an interview with ESPN.com in the first months of the 2005-06 season, Gretzky praised Tocchet's edge and his ability to get the most out of players.

The case became one of the biggest stories in hockey last year, when Tocchet, former state trooper James Harney and James Ulmer were charged, because authorities said several of the bettors were people connected to the game.

The only name that was ever revealed among them was actress-model Janet Jones Gretzky, who is married to Gretzky, and authorities said early on that neither she nor other bettors would be charged.

Jones threatened to file a $50 million defamation lawsuit against the state of New Jersey but has not done so.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.