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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.

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