EDS: WITH BC-HKN--Gambling Ring.
By ANDREW BAGNATO
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) -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.
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