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Tocchet's remarkable comeback from gambling woes

Eight months ago, I wouldn't have given you a day-old losing lottery ticket for Rick Tocchet's chances to ever be involved in the NHL again. Incredibly, Tocchet, who pleaded guilty for his role in a New Jersey illegal sports betting operation, is expected to rejoin the Phoenix Coyotes as an assistant coach this week.

I hope Tocchet (right) knows how fortunate he is.

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Think about guys like Pete Rose and NBA ref Tim Donaghy. Granted, all three situations are enormously different in their details, but the obvious common thread is that they all involved gambling. Rose, of course, is in lifelong exile from baseball, the thing that mattered most to him. Donaghy, who still awaits sentencing in federal court in April, is probably looking at some prison time and certainly will never be a professional referee again.

Tocchet, who was lucky to be facing state charges, got two years' probation as one of three principals in the bookmaking operation. A second person also received probation and a third guy, who used to be a state trooper, got hammered for five years in prison.

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But getting back to Tocchet -- probably the most important mitigating factor in salvaging his career is that the betting operation he was involved with didn't involve wagers on his own sport (unlike Rose and Donaghy). But last summer, he surfaced in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker just before he was sentenced. I was out there at the time covering the first few days of the event and I remember thinking, "This doesn't seem like such a hot idea." I mean the guy was on suspension from the NHL for a gambling deal and here he is in a casino, playing poker and drawing lots of attention.

Well, apparently it didn't hurt him that much. He'll be back behind the Phoenix bench with old pal Wayne Gretzky on Thursday. I guess you can say that the NHL's approach is, putting it kindly, enlightened.

Photo credit: John Ziomek/AP

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