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NEW YORK - Rick Tocchet was granted an indefinite leave of absence Wednesday night by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, a day after the Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach was accused of financing a nationwide gambling ring that took bets from about a half-dozen current players.

Tocchet met with Bettman and requested the leave, which the commissioner agreed to as long as several conditions were met by the former All-Star player.

Tocchet, who works under Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky, must immediately cease all contact and communication with all NHL and team personnel and stay away for the duration of his leave. He will not be allowed to return without Bettman's consent.

The commissioner also reserves the right to change the terms of Tocchet's absence at any time.

"We view the charges against Mr. Tocchet in the most serious terms," Bettman said in a statement. "We have pledged our full cooperation to the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

"While we are conducting our own investigation, we have made clear to the law enforcement authorities in New Jersey that we will do nothing to interfere with their ongoing investigation."

The NHL hired former federal prosecutor Robert J. Cleary, who headed the Unabomber case to investigate Tocchet.

Tocchet came to the meeting with his new attorney, who officially informed Bettman and Cleary of the pending charges that Tocchet is facing.

On the advice of attorney Kevin Marino, Tocchet wasn't prepared to respond to specific questions about the allegations, the NHL said in a news release. It was at the end of the meeting that Tocchet requested the leave of absence.

New Jersey authorities told the NHL on Wednesday that nothing has come to their attention that indicates the gambling activities relate in any way to NHL games. None of the players were identified in the complaint.

"While there is speculation as to which other NHL personnel may have been involved in this matter, we continue to await guidance in that regard from the New Jersey law enforcement authorities," Bettman said.

Pittsburgh's Mark Recchi, a former teammate of Tocchet's, forced a Philadelphia TV station to retract a story on its Web site that said he was connected to the ring. He and John LeClair, another Penguins player and past member of the Flyers, hired a lawyer to potentially sue the station and other media outlets.

Recchi and LeClair said they haven't been contacted by authorities and don't expect to be.

Cleary was the lead prosecutor from 1996-98 in the case against Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, who was sentenced to four lifetimes in prison on charges related to three deaths and the maiming of two scientists.

Cleary was the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey from 1999-02 and in the Southern District of Illinois in 2002.

New Jersey State Police Lt. Gerald Lewis said police investigators will interview other hockey players to get a sense of the scope of the gambling ring and to determine whether others should be charged.

Tocchet was publicly implicated by New Jersey authorities on Tuesday. He was not behind the bench for Tuesday night's home game against Chicago.

Tocchet is expected to be arraigned within 10 days, said John Hagerty, a spokesman for the New Jersey division of criminal justice.

"None of us would have any idea about something like this, no, absolutely not," Recchi told WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh. "I was just as surprised as everybody else was and, you know, I think it was shock throughout the whole league, really."

Marino called the state's charges against his new client "false and irresponsible."

"Mr. Tocchet is one of the most well-respected men ever to play in the NHL, and he's respected for his integrity, his determination and his strength," the Newark-based lawyer said. "We deeply regret the attorney general's precipitous charges and are appalled at the ensuing media frenzy."

Gretzky's wife, actress Janet Jones, was also implicated, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because no bettors have been publicly identified.

She hasn't made any public statements, and Gretzky said Tuesday that she would answer questions at some point.

"The integrity of the game is obviously very important. And betting on hockey is obviously something we don't want," Ottawa forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "Until you know all the facts, you don't know how it's going to affect the game or put a black mark on it."

Lewis said authorities also were exploring links between the gambling and Philadelphia-area mobsters. He said the investigation so far has only turned up that there might be some links, but not exactly what they were.

He also declined to reveal which players will be interviewed.

"Obviously when you're watching the news and it's on CNN and FOX, it's pretty major," Alfredsson said. "I think to everybody it was a shocker. It was the talk for everybody on the bus yesterday and also today. We want to find out as much as we can."

Hockey players are prohibited from making NHL wagers, legal or otherwise. There are no rules that forbid them from betting on other sports.

The substance abuse and behavioral health program jointly run by the league and the players' association addresses gambling during team-by-team training-camp meetings every year.

Current NHL scoring leader Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers said he ran up a $500,000 debt in 1998 betting on sports events on the Internet during his days with the Washington Capitals.

Jagr said Wednesday that he didn't place any bets with Tocchet and doesn't expected to be contacted by investigators.


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