NEW YORK (AP) -Rick Tocchet's role in an illegal gambling ring will keep him out of the NHL until at least next February.
Tocchet, who partnered with a New Jersey state trooper and another man in a sports betting venture they ran for five years, pleaded guilty to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling. As part of a plea deal, Tocchet was sentenced by a New Jersey court to two years' probation in August and avoided jail time.
He has been on an indefinite leave from his job as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes under Wayne Gretzky and had his ban extended Thursday by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman until Feb. 7, 2008 - two years after the leave began.
``Employment and participation in the National Hockey League is an honor and privilege that can not be taken for granted,'' Bettman said. ``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.
``He has paid an extremely high price for his conduct, which although perhaps not as bad as originally suggested, was nevertheless highly inappropriate and illegal.''
Tocchet, who could've received up to five years in state prison, violated terms of the leave granted by Bettman by having contact with league personnel during the time he was away from the game, and must meet other conditions before he can be reinstated.
The former star forward may not gamble legally or illegally and is prohibited from taking part in any activity that would reflect negatively on the NHL. Tocchet also must submit to evaluation by doctors connected with the NHL's substance abuse and behavioral program to determine if he has a compulsive gambling problem.
``I remain concerned as to whether Mr. Tocchet is adequately sensitive to the seriousness of the admitted misconduct, especially in his role as a highly visible and prominent employee in a professional sports league,'' Bettman said.
Bettman said Tocchet told him in a meeting Tuesday that he has continued to gamble during the time of his leave, but in legal ways and not similarly to his previous conduct. If it is determined that Tocchet has a gambling addiction, he will be required to get the necessary treatment but that wouldn't necessarily preclude him from a return in February.
There were approximately 40 instances in which Tocchet had prohibited contact with NHL-connected people but it was determined to be of a personal nature and not regarding his case.
Bettman said that was a factor in deciding to push the ban from the 21 months already served to a full two years.
Tocchet, along with legal counsel and Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, met with Bettman this week with the hope that Tocchet would be reinstated immediately.
``There is no slide rule or computer-generated model that can get you to the right result on one of these cases,'' Bettman said at a news conference. ``It's unfortunate when you ever have to deal with one.''
An extensive investigation conducted by former federal prosecutor Robert Cleary, who was hired by the NHL after Tocchet was charged in February 2006, found that Tocchet was involved in the ring and shared in profits and losses, but not equally.
Cleary said Thursday there was no evidence of betting on hockey by a player or any member of the NHL community; there was no compromise of the integrity of league games, and no evidence that the ring was connected to any organized crime activity as had been suggested by reports when the story broke.
``It was not a well-developed, complex criminal operation, and its relationship to hockey and the National Hockey League was at best tangential,'' Bettman said. ``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.''
The case became one of the biggest stories in hockey when the 43-year-old Tocchet was charged because authorities said several of the bettors were people connected to the game. The only name revealed was Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones Gretzky. But authorities quickly said neither she nor other bettors would be charged.
The case remained international news throughout the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Gretzky was executive director of Team Canada.
Associated Press Writer Angela Delli Santi in New Jersey contributed to this report.

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