Tocchet has paid for his mistakes

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

A full two years and 162 games later, Rick Tocchet will be back behind the Phoenix Coyotes bench tonight.

Some would say he still doesn't belong.

Others would argue his return is long overdue.

It says here Tocchet, an associate coach with the Coyotes, has paid mightily for his indiscretion, for having been involved with a sports gambling ring, for having pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling in the third degree, for which he earned two years probation from a New Jersey court in late August.

He made a mistake, put the integrity of his game into question and has paid for it in time away from his job, lost wages and lost reputation, the latter of which is impossible to calculate.

It should be noted that the NHL, through lawyer Robert Cleary, conducted an independent investigation that revealed no evidence of gambling on hockey, a point Tocchet continues to emphatically state. He was a hockey coach betting on football. Had it been any different, and the discussion about his return would have been moot.

There always will be doubts about Tocchet once he returns, but that is another price he must pay.

Before he was reinstated, though, Tocchet had to adhere to strict behavioural terms to assuage any doubts commissioner Gary Bettman might have had:

He could not gamble legally or otherwise; he had to submit himself for evaluation by the league's substance and behavioural health program doctors to determine whether he had a gambling problem and treat it if he did; and he had to ensure that he did not engage in any activities that might reflect poorly on the NHL.

He apparently met all the terms. Moreover, Bettman had to be confident that Tocchet understood that he is now and likely always will be held to the highest standard of conduct, that his second chance is also undoubtedly his last.

So, does Tocchet belong back?

The answer is yes.

"(There) are those who 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," Bettman said Nov. 1 when he made his ruling of additional time away from the game.

"In my view, those who would make such a suggestion are not familiar with all the facts and are still focused on the original headlines." Indeed, the facts of the case and the splashy headlines never entirely, or even remotely, jibed. There was no evidence of betting on hockey by Tocchet or NHL players or personnel. There was no evidence or efforts to compromise the integrity of the game. There were no ties to organized crime.

"The fact is, the reality of this case never lived up to the massive amount of hype and speculation circulating after the investigation was made public," Bettman said.

Having said that, Tocchet was still involved and he pleaded guilty, which enforces that point. Significantly, he admitted remorse and regret to Bettman, he even apologized, although he did slip up a month or so before the fall meeting by briefly attending a poker tournament in Las Vegas. But he admitted to that error in judgment as well.

A full two years later from the day he left the Coyotes, it would seem fair that Tocchet has had adequate time to understand his mistake and that the additional time imposed by Bettman in the fall allowed him to hopefully further learn from it.

Now, anything short of exemplary behaviour and, well, it is really quite simple: The privilege of being a part of the NHL will no longer belong to Rick Tocchet. For now, he deserves the second chance.


Photos