2022 Olympics: Voynov Back on the World Stage for ROC

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov has returned to the world stage as a member of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He last played in the NHL in October 2014, when a domestic abuse incident derailed the career of the blossoming young star at age 24. He has honed his skills professionally for three Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) teams since his departure from North America.

Voynov Helps Kings to Two Stanley Cups

The Kings selected Voynov with the 32nd overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He debuted in the NHL during the 2011-12 season when Los Angeles earned the eighth seed in the Western Conference. He progressed into a role as contributing defenseman and helped his team steamroll its way to a Stanley Cup victory over the New Jersey Devils, losing just four games in four series during the 2012 Playoffs.

Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings
Former Los Angeles Kings Defenseman Slava Voynov (Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE)

He continued his development toward NHL stardom during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He recorded 25 points in 48 games and played big minutes on both special teams units for the Kings, who advanced to the Western Conference Final. After signing Voynov to a six-year, $25 million contract ahead of the 2013-14 season, the Kings reclaimed the throne with their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Drew Doughty was the only skater to log more combined regular season and playoff minutes than Voynov in 2013-14. The Russian blueliner looked like he could become a staple for years to come on a Kings team that had established itself as an NHL powerhouse.

Domestic Abuse Incident Derails Voynov

Voynov’s professional career in North America ended after an alleged incident with his wife just six games into the 2014-15 season. According to a police report obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Voynov “choked her (Voynov’s wife) with both hands, pushed her to the ground, kicked her, and shoved her into the corner of a flat-screen television” (from Los Angeles Times, Slava Voynov suspended by NHL until at least 2020 for domestic violence, 4/9/19).

Related: 2022 Olympic Men’s Hockey Team ROC Preview

He ultimately pleaded “no contest” to misdemeanor charges and served a two-month jail term. He decided to “voluntarily leave the country and return to his native Russia” in 2015 after complications arose during the ensuing probation period and mandated counseling. The Kings were able to terminate his contract following his exodus. 

Back on the World Stage in Winter Olympics

Voynov played for the Olympic Athletes from Russia during the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018 as part of a star-studded cast of former NHL talent including Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. He registered two goals and four assists and led the tournament as a plus-9 for the gold medal winners. He also played for Team Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He has enjoyed a total of five successful seasons in the KHL since leaving North America.

Shortly after his showcase in Pyeongchang, he applied for reinstatement to the NHL. Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet reported in June 2018 that unnamed NHL teams had “quite a bit of interest” in bringing in Voynov. A neutral arbitrator accepted Voynov’s request, but commissioner Gary Bettman ultimately imposed an additional suspension that ran through July 2020. Voynov sat out the entirety of the 2018-19 and 2020-21 seasons in large part hoping to return to the top professional hockey league in the world.

Voynov turned 32 one month before the Beijing Games, and the likelihood of his return to the NHL is dwindling. Teams that might’ve been interested in him when he first applied for reinstatement knew that a potential acquisition, or even reports of interest, would draw backlash from fans and media. For better or for worse, the likelihood of a team overlooking the legal issues and the negative perception is far greater for a 28-year-old defenseman than a 32-year-old defenseman.    

The former King still has great talent. He showed excellent ability as a puck-mover on the back end during ROC’s 2-0 victory over Team Denmark and recorded one assist during their 6-5 loss to Czechia on Saturday. He currently has five goals and 26 assists in his first season with Moscow Dynamo of the KHL during the 2021-22 season. However, the chance for a return to the NHL now seems like a pipe dream for the much-maligned Russian blueliner.

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