LOS ANGELES — The sad saga of former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov took another turn on May 23 when arbitrator Shyam Das ruled that Voynov’s season-long suspension by the National Hockey League should have begun this season. As such, Das ruled that the suspension now has just 41 games remaining, to be served in the coming season.
The original suspension was to begin at the start of the 2019-20 regular season.
“We have reviewed Arbitrator Das’ opinion in the NHLPA’s appeal of Vyacheslav Voynov’s suspension for domestic assault, which upheld the Commissioner’s imposition of a one-season (one-year) suspension for Voynov’s off-ice conduct in October 2014,” the NHL said, in a statement. “In his decision, Arbitrator Das confirmed that there was substantial evidence to support each of the Commissioner’s material factual findings as well as the quantum of discipline imposed. Arbitrator Das described his decision to grant Mr. Voynov some ‘credit for time served’ for a portion of the 2018-19 season as being due to various ‘highly unusual facts and circumstances [which] were not contemplated by the drafters of [the CBA] and do not easily fit into its procedures.’”
“While we do not believe Mr. Voynov was entitled to any ‘credit’ for time missed during 2018-19 season, we accept Arbitrator Das’ conclusion that the precise factual context here was unusual—including the fact Voynov has not played in the NHL since October 2014, and that he did not play professional hockey at all during the 2018-19 season,” the statement continued. “Taken in its totality, we are satisfied that Arbitrator Das’ decision supports our strongly held views that the conduct engaged in by Mr. Voynov in this case was completely unacceptable and worthy of significant League-imposed discipline. The decision also confirms and reaffirms the Commissioner’s broad authority under the CBA and applicable League Rules to establish—and to enforce—appropriate standards of conduct for individuals involved in the National Hockey League.”
Before looking at what lies ahead, a review of the facts of Voynov’s case seems appropriate.
Voynov was charged with one felony count of “corporal injury to spouse with great bodily injury,” according to a press release from the Los Angeles County District Attorney. After a plea bargain, he pled no contest to one misdemeanor count of corporal injury to a spouse.
“Voynov caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, cheek and neck during an argument at their Redondo Beach home. The injuries required medical attention at a local hospital where the defendant was arrested.”
Voynov, who was arrested on October 20, 2014, was sentenced to 90 days in county jail (or another local jail), three years probation, 52 weeks in a domestic violence prevention program and approximately $700.00 in fines. He was to begin serving his jail time by July 14, 2015.
Upon his release after serving close to 60 days in jail, Voynov was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and was going to be deported. But he self-deported, returning to Russia on his own. Voynov went on to play three seasons with St. Petersburg in the KHL (2015-16 through 2017-18). He also played for the Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, helping his team win the gold medal.
As the NHL indicated in their statement, Voynov did not play professional hockey in the 2018-19 season.
Shortly after the NHL released their statement, the Kings, who still retain Voynov’s rights even though his contract was terminated, came out with a statement of their own.
“Today, the NHL arbitrator rendered a final decision on further discipline to Slava Voynov. From our perspective, the player will not be playing for the Kings. We will now determine the impact of the arbitrator’s decision on our rights to the player and consider our options going forward.”
Given the severity of the incident and that there was a reason to believe that this wasn’t the first incident of domestic assault committed by Voynov, as I wrote in this space shortly after the incident came to light, the Kings should not bring Voynov back and, to be quite frank, I wouldn’t lose any sleep at all if all NHL teams (minor league teams, too) refused to sign him—they all should take a pass on him.
But setting aside all of the legal and moral considerations, given the current state of the Kings, they are also doing the right thing from a purely hockey perspective.
To be sure, there are a considerable number who are demanding that the Kings re-sign Voynov because he was such a talented defenseman who helped them win two Stanley Cup Championships and had “future star” written all over him. Indeed, one can only imagine the success the Kings would’ve enjoyed if they had Voynov in the lineup in the years following the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Championship season.
But as the cliché goes, that was then. This is now.
Would the addition of Slava Voynov make them a better team next season? Most likely, yes. But that’s not the question people should be asking. Rather, the questions should be:
- Would the addition of Slava Voynov make the Kings a Stanley Cup contender next season?
- Would Voynov make the Kings a contender within the next couple of seasons?
The answer to both questions is a resounding “no.” After all, as skilled as Voynov was, by the time his suspension ends, he will be 30 years old and will be more than five years removed from playing in the NHL—there is a very strong possibility that he won’t be nearly as effective in a much faster, more skilled NHL.
Furthermore, the Kings are not even close to being a contender right now—Voynov joined the Kings in 2011-12, when they won their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. Indeed, he played for a Kings team that was at the top of the hockey world, not one that ended the season last in the Pacific Division and 30th in the 31-team NHL.
In short, it is folly to believe that Voynov would be the kind of defenseman who would make the Kings a Stanley Cup Contender in very short order. As such, it would make far more sense for the Kings to move on and trade Voynov’s rights for whatever they can get for him—given the circumstances, his trade value is likely to be rather low. After all, he committed an act of violence against his spouse and everyone knows that the Kings won’t re-sign him, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.
I can’t stress enough, especially for those who may not know or understand how the Kings built their 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Championship teams, that it took six years of rebuilding to reach the top of the mountain. It was a process that inflicted more intense pain on long-suffering fans as the team struggled mightily. But during that time, they drafted and developed their young prospects, sacrificing winning for that development. That led to gradual improvement and eventually, they reached the Promised Land and won hockey’s version of the Holy Grail…twice in three seasons.
Indeed, the Kings didn’t go out and make a bunch of blockbuster trades and sign a bunch of unrestricted free agents in order to win, even though they acquired players like forwards Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik, who were key pieces in their success. They were both the final pieces in the puzzle for their respective Stanley Cup-winning teams, filling the last remaining hole in those rosters after years of drafting and developing young players who made up the vast majority of the players on those teams.
In the era of the hard salary cap, NHL teams can’t build championship teams primarily through trades and signing unrestricted free agents. That’s not how it works in the NHL anymore. No team would have the salary cap space needed to do that.
These days, Stanley Cup Champions are built by drafting and developing young prospects into impact players and stars and then, acquiring the final pieces needed through trade and maybe signing an unrestricted free agent or two.
As general manager Rob Blake has made clear since his team’s 2018-19 season ended, they are just starting another rebuilding process. What he didn’t say was how long that process would take.
Although anything is possible, it’s going to take a miracle for the Kings to complete this rebuild in a year or two. Indeed, a much more realistic expectation should be three or four seasons, maybe more. That being the case, signing Voynov would be a waste of salary cap space.
As stated previously, although he would likely be an upgrade to the Kings current crop of blue liners, Voynov won’t be a Norris Trophy-caliber, superstar defenseman who could make the team a contender next season or in 2020-21. That being the case, he would only eat up valuable ice time that should go to younger, developing players—it is critical that they get the experience from the ice time that Voynov would take up if he were on the roster.
With the Kings not being anywhere close to being a Stanley Cup contender, rebuilding must be their top priority. After all, they don’t want to win just enough to squeak into the playoffs and bow out in the first round (see the 2017-18 playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights, a four-game sweep that was not nearly as close as some, including Kings players, coaches and front-office types. have claimed) and wind up with a late pick in the first round of the draft—they would be unable to select the impact players/stars that they need to complete and maybe accelerate their rebuilding process.
The goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not to just make the playoffs, isn’t it?
The time has come for the Kings to write an end to their Slava Voynov story and they are absolutely right to work towards that end, for hockey-related reasons as well as the legal and moral issues involved.
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooerOne Photography.
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