Rick Tocchet will be back behind the bench of the Phoenix Coyotes as an assistant coach in February. He was re-instated by Gary Bettman with a stern but forgiving public lecture and given a set of conditions that must be adhered to.
This seems odd to me on a few fronts. First, the requirement by the league that Tocchet must not have anything to do with gambling and also has to undergo examination by league doctors and agree to treatment if necessary. This is good. But is everyone forgetting the fact that Tocchet attended the World Series of poker only a few short months ago?
If you believe that the legal nature of his participation in that tournament makes such an example irrelevant, you are clueless as to what is at the crux of this issue. The fact that Tocchet got involved with questionable characters in setting up a sports book says all you need to know (the independent investigator hired by the NHL found that there were no links to "organized crime." But wasn't the gambling ring itself "organzied" and a "crime"?)
Like with any addiction, gambling skews your priorities and perception. That Tocchet couldn't see this as a potential problem demonstrates that. That it didn't register with him that showing up in Vegas to join a widely publicized orgy of gambling at a time when he was unemployed because he had been suspended for gambling, sort of confirms that notion.
I'm all for giving people second chances but this has potential jackassery of the highest order written all over it. It's like putting a former junky in charge of a methadone clinic. Tocchet will be back in that highly charged atmosphere that acts as an appetizer for the thrills and risks that gambling provides long after the game has finished. He'll also get a healthy increase in salary from the zero per month he was receiving for the past two years. He'll surely have some debts to pay off as a result and may even have some income to dispose of.
Most people can accept that gambling is an affliction like other compulsive and destructive habits such as drinking and drug use. The high from gambling is every bit as addictive as other vices and may even be stronger. Without the accompanying physical battering, it can have an energizing effect on a person. The risks involved and the hit to a gambler's ego when they succeed/get lucky heightens the rush. An added element to the challenge can be keeping the habit hidden and thinking you've put one over on others.
In the credibility-deprived NHL operating under the umbrella of other professional sports leagues hammered by scandal, the decision sends a message to both fans and other players and coaches. While the perception of those under the spell is filtered through their addiction, for fans of the game it becomes a trust issue with all the attendant possibilities and nastiness.
To others within the NHL with gambling problems, the message is "it's manageable." Keep it low key, don't bet on hockey and be secure in the knowledge that you're more clever than that anyway. Worse comes to worst and you get found out. Plead instant epiphany, claim you're cured, take a vacation to Vegas during the down time and return fresh and ready to go.
Convinced of your own prescience and skill in making the right picks together with your healthy salary makes money issues unimportant. Financial ruin is an impossibility and even if it came to pass your mates would bail you out. You wouldn't be ashamed enough to keep it quiet. And you certainly wouldn't be stupid enough to be receptive to others leaning on you. Persuading you to agree to just help out with a few things and in the process get out of that hole you're in...
Lacking any clear evidence that Tocchet's actions were more serious, the NHL apparently doesn't have much choice but to allow his return. They believe in his ostensible desire to give up gambling. Walking away from the World Series of poker after being sighted by the press has convinced them of this.
Hopefully this works out for everyone involved but if it blows up in their faces you can't say they really weighed the odds too well.