Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Possibility of Slava Voynov returning to the Kings or the NHL

Slava Voynov - Los Angeles Kings
By Lisa Gansky (Flickr: IMG_4680) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
     There have been rumors at least since the World Cup at the start of last season that Slava Voynov may be interested in returning to play for the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings once again. Nothing concrete has been discovered to verify this rumor, nor have we had any direct public statements from either Voynov himself or the Kings organization that this rumor has truth behind it. The rumor flames regarding Voynov were however fanned back to life on Monday during a post game press conference following game 1 of the Stanley Cup final with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.  The question of whether it would even be possible for Slava Voynov to return to the NHL was raised by an unnamed reporter from the L.A. Times.

     As expected Deputy Commissioner Daly evaded the question stating that no formal request has been made, and informed the press that any future decision would have to be made following a review process directly with Commissioner Bettman. He later stated that we should just wait and see if that happens before discussing the issue further. Previously when the hypothetical issue of Voynov's return to the United States to play hockey has been raised it was always met with an immediate and resounding NO.  Just one year ago on May 31, 2016 Commissioner Bettman blocked Russia form including Voynov on their team for the World Cup, saying that he was ineligible due to his current suspension from the NHL. There was no question or possible debate on the issue at all. The fact that Daly felt the need to evade the question and provide a very neutral answer of just wait and see makes me think that there may be room now for consideration on this issue.

     My initial gut reaction to the question should Slava Voynov be allowed to return to the NHL was an unequivocal no. What he allegedly did to his wife was despicable and not the image that I want to have for the NHL. Personally, I was embarrassed that he played for one of my local teams. I still feel that his behavior as regards any domestic violence is inexcusable. However, the question is, by asking to return to the NHL would Voynov be asking to have his behavior excused. In reality, no he would not. He plead no contest to misdemeanor domestic violence charges in July of 2015 for which he was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 3 months of probation. Voynov served 2 months in jail prior to being released early for good behavior. He was also required to complete a 52 week domestic violence prevention program and complete 8 hours of community service.  All of those additional conditions were not met prior to his voluntary deportation.

     However, I am not sure what the legal status would be if he were allowed to return to California to play for the Kings. The felony charges were dropped after his wife made a sworn statement that he had not intended to injure her and requested that the charges be dropped. For all intents and purposes for the crime which he was convicted of Voynov did serve his time, he was also deported and barred re-entry into the United States for almost 2 years as of right now. So the remaining question is, has he been adequately reprimanded for his crime. While I can not and will not condone domestic violence in any way, I do believe in our justice system. By our laws, yes he has been punished and should be allowed to show that he has changed his behavior. As such I would not be opposed to a conditional return to the NHL. I am sure that Commissioner Bettman would have some fairly heavy conditions that Voynov would have to agree to and meet.

     I also feel the need to point out the while Voynov made a good and very public example for the NHL to show that domestic violence is intolerable, he is by no means the only professional athlete to have faced legal problems for their actions, such problems are more common than we would like to admit. Many of the others were not punished so strongly if at all.

     The most notable case in recent memory would be Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. The situations were not the same, at least from a legal standpoint, I know. Kane's rape charges were dropped so he was never convicted but I believe there was enough evidence to create reasonable doubt about his guilt. Kane did continue to practice and play with his team after being charged, and before those charges were dropped. Kane's most recent legal troubles were not his first either, in 2009 he was arrested for robbery and punching a cab driver.

     Another domestic violence issue arose in 2013 with Semyon Varlomov, the starting goalie for the Colorado Avalanche. He was arrested and charged with domestic violence, second degree kidnapping, and third degree assault of his then girlfriend. Varlomov was allowed to travel with the team and play while he was waiting for trial on felony charges that were as severe or more so than those against Voynov.  I must emphasize that in Varlomov's case, the charges were dropped a month later when a Denver judge determined that the case would not be able to be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Still while he was charged and before he was exonerated he was allowed to continue to play in the NHL.

     Kevin Stevens, in 2000 when he played for the Rangers, was arrested on drug and prostitution charges. Again not the same thing but still not exactly a shining image for the professional hockey community.

     Returning to the Kings line up, remember Mike Richards and his issues with pain pills in May of 2015 while trying to cross the Canada U.S. border?

     Next up is Eddie Belfour who while playing for the Dallas Stars in march of 2000 had a female companion call the police when she became afraid by his behavior. While there is no report of actual violence toward the woman in question, when the police arrived Belfour engaged in a physical altercation with the police and after he was subdued reportedly offered them 1 billion dollars if they set him free. He was clearly under the influence of something when the police arrived so the bribery offer was obviously not taken seriously, but the assaulting an officer and resisting arrest were quite real. Belfour went on to play another 7 seasons with various NHL teams.

     In 2010 Bret Sutter assaulted a cab driver after being kicked out of a bar for disorderly behavior, he was charged and convicted of a misdemeanor and fined. After fulfilling his sentence he returned to play for the Calgary Flames and various other NHL teams until the end of the 2014-15 season.

     Joe Corvo who played for the Kings, Senators, Hurricanes, Capitols, and Bruins in his NHL career had legal troubles when he played in the minor leagues. Back in 2002 while in a bar he grabbed the buttocks of an unsuspecting woman. After being thrown out of said bar, Corvo went back  into the bar and struck the woman and kicked her in the ribs. This was a stranger, not his wife, but the story is similar to Voynov's otherwise.

     All of these players got into legal trouble many including violent altercations. They were allowed to continue to play and practice while they were under suspicion of illegal activity and in some cases charged with violent crimes. Some were also convicted of misdemeanors as was Voynov, yet none of these others mentioned were banned from the NHL, faced an indefinite suspension, or deportation for their crimes. If it was ok to let all of them, even those convicted of crimes ranging from drug related, assault, or battary, to domestic violence, to continue to play in the NHL after they had served their sentences then Slava Voynov should not be further penalized beyond the full sentence of the U.S. courts which he has already served.

     There is no question that Slava Voynov could bring some much needed talent back to the Kings Blue Line if he did wish to, and were allowed to return to the NHL. The Kings have very limited cap space available, as I am sure you know, and Voynov would very likely agree to a smaller financial contract just to get his foot back in the door for NHL play and potentially a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. Speaking strictly from a position of his talent on the ice it would be a very good move by the Kings to bring him back.  In his last full season with the NHL in 2014-15 he had 4 goals and 30 assists in 82 games played, he ended the season at a +6 rating. For his NHL career which spanned only 3 years, between 2011 and 2014, Voynov played 190 games made 18 goals and 63 assists and had a +23 rating. In his  recent time with the KHL his stats were even a little bit better still.  Voynov  played last season with St. Petersburg SKA where he scored 11 goals and made 26 assists ending the season with a +24 rating in 48 games played. Most importantly of all he had good chemistry on the ice with the rest of the Kings team and would be able to provide some much needed additional depth to the Kings defensive lines for what would likely be a bargain price.

     After some fairly thorough research into the Voynov issue in my opinion, should he petition to return to the NHL, I think he should be allowed to return and play. He would of course have to follow what ever restrictions or stipulations Commissioner Bettman places on his return.  Also if legally applicable still he should still have to complete the 52 week domestic violence prevention program that he did not do prior to his deportation. Any other reasonable anger management or domestic violence support or prevention measures that the NHL or the Kings decide to impose would have to be met as well.  So while I am not saying we should forget  or excuse what Voynov has done, it is not reason enough to bar him from playing in the NHL especially when so many others in this and almost every professional sport have been given a second chance after doing their time and serving their sentenced punishment for their crimes.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five things to know about the IIHF World Championship 2017

In case your eyes were glued to the NHL playoffs, and you didn't notice, the IIHF just wrapped another World Championship in Cologne, Germany. Some of our favorite NHL players even participated (since their teams either didn't go to or were eliminated from the NHL playoffs). Here are five things to know from this year's mens tournament.

1. Sweden won. They defeated Canada in a shootout. Here is a recap, and here's the highlight reel:

2. Even though Sweden won this year, Canada is still ranked #1 in the IIHF. The rankings are based on the past four years, so Russia is #2, and Sweden moves up from fifth to third-place with this win. That bumps Finland down to #4 and USA down to #5.

3. Rookie Swedish forward, William Nylander, was named tournament MVP. He had seven goals and seven assists in 10 games.

That was quite a celly!

4. Henrik Lundqvist has a twin brother named Joel, and they both got to share in gold-medal glory for playing on the Swedish team. The brothers have not played for the same team in 12 years. According to the New York Times, Joel, who is a forward for the SHL team, Frolunda, reached out to Henrik about playing for the Swedish national team after the Rangers were eliminated from the NHL playoffs.

5. There was a huge celebration in Stockholm (probably still going on) for the Swedish team. They even got shiny gold helmets.

Bonus: Gabriel Landeskog apparently jumped into a hot tub in full gear after the game.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Kings have traded Bishop and only got a 4th Round Draft Pick!?!

     It was announced this afternoon that the Los Angeles Kings have arranged a trade with the Dallas Stars. The Stars have acquired the rights to Ben Bishop in exchange for a 4th round draft pick in this years draft. My initial gut reaction to hearing of this trade was surprise, not that the Kings traded Bishop they made no secret of the fact that they took him on purely for the playoffs this year, but that all they were able to get for him was a 4th round draft pick.  Bishop surely is a more valuable commodity as a highly effective and experienced goal tender. He is approaching 31 years of age, so he is no spring chicken, but is also not at the point where he would only have a couple of good years left in him, due to age at least.  He has had some history of groin injury, but again that is hardly unusual for an experienced goalie.
     I know the Kings have been having salary cap issues for the last several seasons and with Jonathan Quick healthy again they would not have the desire or the funds to keep Bishop on at the salary level he has earned the right to and would expect to receive.  Bishop is also in the market for a long contract, in the range of 5 or 6 years, at or above the 5.95 million he makes annually now. That being said with the Kings organizations in the process of restructuring and presumably looking to bring more speed and higher offensive production to bear next season, I would have hoped that they could deal Ben Bishop for one or more players who could help them achieve that goal.
     So I started reading up on the trade that the Kings had arranged with Dallas. The key to the reduced trade value, I believe, lies in the the wording of the headlines on all of the articles I have found on this trade. Dallas has traded a 4th round draft pick for the "Rights" to Ben Bishop, not for Ben Bishop. What this means is that with Bishop going UFA on July 1st, now the Stars have exclusive bargaining rights for the next 7 and 1/2 weeks until his UFA status kicks in. In other words this trade does not guarantee that Bishop will be on the Stars roster in the 2017-18 season. It is possible that if the Stars do not come to terms with him before July 1st he could choose to go elsewhere.
     This begs the question why would the Stars acquire exclusive rights to a player they do not have excellent reason to believe they will be able to sign. While at this point I have not found any concrete evidence to support it, my guess is that the Stars organization had already begun the contract negotiation process with Bishop well before this trade happened.  A 4th round draft pick is hardly a high price to pay for the possibility of having a first class goalie, which they are unquestionably in desperate need of, but why give up anything for no guaranteed return? I think that the Stars took advantage of the situation by putting in a trade with the Kings now for "rights" giving them the time they need to finalize the likely ongoing negotiations without competition for other teams, and with out really having to give up anything at all. The 4th round draft pick that they traded was the one they got from Montreal at the end of last February for the Jordie Benn trade. I think the Stars definitely got the better end of this trade, but by making a trade now at least the Kings got something. If they waited until July Bishop would be UFA and the Kings would lose him for nothing in return at all, so overall it was still a win win situation.
     What Bishop would bring to the Stars? Stability and consistency in the net with a well proven record both during the regular season and the playoffs. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2016, he has played in 36 total postseason games with a record of 21-13 and goals against average of 2.09 and save percentage of 0.927.  He also holds the record for most post season shutouts at 5 since the 2014-15 season.  Bishop has a career record of 270-148-80 with a GAA of 2.23 and a save percentage of 0.919. Antti Niemi was at a dismal 12-12-4 with a GAA of 3.30 and a save percentage of 0.892 last season in 37 games played.  Kari Lehtonen did little better with a record of 22-25-7 with a GAA of 2.89 and a save percentage of 0.902 in 59 games played. Looking at these stats alone and the fact that the Stars were willing to trade for "rights" to Bishop I would expect to see an announcement from Dallas before the end of June that they have Signed Bishop to a multi year contract.
     That leaves the other obvious question, will the Stars be keeping Niemi or Lehtonen as back up to Bishop for the 2017-18 season. Neither are outstanding choices, but both still have a year or more under contract with Dallas.  My guess is that they will try to trade or, more likely, buy out Niemi. While his dismal stats last season could be partially attributed to the fact that he played in less than half of the games, it was still his worst ever career showing. Not only that, but Niemi's stats have been consistently falling since the 2012-13 season. So this is not just a bad year for him, and he did not suffer any major injuries in the last few years either. This makes a significant comeback from him next season seem unlikely at best. Niemi also has a slightly cheaper contract than Lehtonen.  To buy out Niemi the Stars would be looking at a cap hit of 1.5 million for the next 2 seasons. Even if they do manage to cut Niemi loose they will potentially have a huge 13 million in cap space tied up in goaltenders alone when/if they sign Bishop, assuming they give him a contract similar to what he had previously. Even with that much money tied up I think signing Bishop would be the best possible move for the Stars, lack of consistent competent goal tending killed them last season and this would go a long way toward putting the Stars back in playoff contention next season!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ovi/Niskanen/Crosby Hit: A Fan's Side

Dear NHL, NHL Players, Pittsburgh Penguins, Player’s safety (or lack there of);
                As a hockey fan since I was a child I have to ask you some serious questions.  You see, I am what your marketing team dreams of.  An American that has caught the hockey bug at a young age, and even though I haven’t played the game past dek hockey, I am addicted to it.  I have watched every game I can since I was a child.  I was there during the Martin Straka era; buying my student rush tickets weekly just to get in the building.  I buy several games a year off of friends or through whatever means I can.  Playoff tickets when I have the extra money.  Watched Geno’s hat trick game in the upper bowl of the Mellon in a little thing called the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009, ticket still hanging in my office. Suite 66 ticket signed by Mr. Lemieux hangs in my home office. The Caps game where Arron Asham knocked out Beagle.   I have the Mario poster in my basement from 1984 with my god damn height marked on it from when I was 7 until 13. 
                God damn it, last year I was getting married on June 11th. We had the wedding venue ensure us that we had a cable connection and a projector to watch the third period at our wedding reception in case it fell on a game day, (I had a backup rented as well).  I told my then future wife that if we don’t have it, most of the guests will be in the bar watching it…. And she knows where we would be too (she caught the bug from me).
                Before we get to the injury, let’s talk about how you call the game.  The first period, we have a 5 minute power play.  A ticky-tacky call is made on Geno for closing his hand on the puck, an iffy call in the regular season.  Fast forward to Overtime.  Puck is caught with a closed hand on it and carried from the redline to the blue line, not called.  Then Daley makes a great defensive play on the puck, the type you should have highlighted on sportscenter, but instead it’s a penalty.  The refs got in the way of the game and assisted in deciding it again!  Another one, Cullen, on a breakaway is hooked RIGHT INFRONT OF THE REF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NEUTRAL ZONE. The beer guy, pouring a beer in the top row could see it out of the side of his eye that it was hooking. Nope, nothing called.. Swallowed the whistle, we have decided to “let them play”.  Would this happen in the NFL? Nope. We all have watched games and yelled about the officiating. But when you really go back and look at it, they are usually right, might be a tight call, but you can watch the game and its evenly called.  The call in the 4th quarter on 4th and 1 on the 1 would be the same then and the 1st quarter. 
                Now the injury…. So your top player does what you want him to do, go hard to the net.  Play the game tough.  Be that beacon of how hockey is a mix of skill and being tough..  The toughest game out there.. Basketball players get a cramp they are carted off.  Hockey players break their god damn foot blocking a shot and finish the game; they might come back if they can within a week if the swelling goes down and the skate holds it together enough.  Another player, a top player, but one that you won’t discipline after many dirty knee on knee plays and such; swings a stick at a players head, misses but hits him with the follow through. NOTHING CALLED.. This causes him to go off balance and rather than another player dropping his stick and not planting the guy because the play is dead, crosschecks him in the god damn head.

Part 1 by Ovi, anywhere else except the WWE, where it is scripted and is a stunt, would be considered intent to injury if not assault (I do that on the Dek hockey rink, it can be called assault).  Part 2 by Niskinen is just as bad.  He should have held up, instead he jams his stick to his head, look at the replay and the pictured posted by Tie Domi and tell me different.  It was full of intent! When Tie Domi says that is not a hockey play, you need to reevaluate what you think of it. James Harrison took shots, what happened? Suspensions.  So what happened after that? He changed how he played.   This is not the game I, as a fan, want to watch. If Ovi beats us by scoring a hat trick so be it.  I guess Tom Brady should be okay with taking a shot to his knee after completing a pass because it’s “part of the game” and is a “football play”, or McCutchen should be okay with taking a baseball to the head at times because it’s “part of the game” and is a “baseball play”.  The other leagues protect their stars and enforce the same rules on the rank and file for their safety.  Why? Because that rank and file will one day sue your billion dollar company for head trauma.  Crosby is out for at least 1 game, probably more. A player cementing himself with the greats with a possible back to back cup run is now sidelined for “Old time hockey”. 
Well “Old Time Hockey” is about to lose my money.  I won’t pay a red cent for any of your merch, I’ll cancel my cable and Roots Sports subscription and stream it from NHL streams.
Now the hard questions.  Why should I continue to watch this game?  Why should I continue, not as just a Pens fan, but more importantly a hockey fan, watch your product anymore?  Why should I devote over 200 hours a year without play-offs watching my favorite team? How about the other 100 hours a year of watching other teams? How about all the time watching the playoffs of both the east and west?  Spend the money on cable to keep the sports packages to watch all the games I can?  Why the hell should I spend 400 plus dollars on 2 damn tickets for tomorrows night’s game?  After all the years and thousands of dollars I have put into this, I demand an answer! A real answer, not some bull! People put their hard earned money and more importantly their time and heart into watching this game and when you do this you sh*t all over it.
                Now you want to move to Vegas; the gambling capital of the world! Or at least North America.  With this officiating you expect the sportsbooks to push hockey?  You want to expand the game and fix markets that you probably shouldn’t have moved into.  But you want to keep the same old Original Six game.  It’s one way or the other…  Either get your head on right and showcase the greatest game there is, or allow an old mentality keep it the niche sport it is. Here is your Pete Rozelle moment Bettman; don’t sh*t all over it.