The Los Angeles Kings have had quite an offseason, one littered with legal troubles that have taken the spotlight off of hockey and shifted it into the courtroom. As we move towards the 2015-16 regular season, the legal troubles have slowly sorted themselves out, but the Kings have found themselves in an even stickier situation. A situation that will establish the Kings’ image for quite some time.
It all started about a year ago when Slava Voynov was arrested for a domestic violence dispute last October. Voynov was immediately suspended by the league and hasn’t played a game since. This put the Kings in a bind on the blue line and the lack of defensive depth has been pointed to as one of the major factors that led to the Kings coming up short last season.
Now to Mike Richards. The Kings and Richards are in the midst of a legal battle over Richards’ terminated contract. The Kings terminated Richards’ contract after a “material breach” was brought to the Kings’ attention. Full details haven’t been released, but they seem to be focused around a stop at the U.S.-Canada border involving Richards who was in possession of a controlled substance.
The NHLPA has filed a grievance on Richards’ behalf and is headed to court where it will be settled by an independent arbitrator.
As Richards’ case has been getting sorted out so has Voynov’s.
Voynov pled no contest to a misdemeanor of corporal injury to a spouse, and is in the midst of his 90-day jail sentence.
Here’s the sticky part: On one hand it seems as if Richards is being cut short by management with the main intention of ridding the Kings of the remainder of his contract. At the same time, some say the Kings will bring Voynov back if he is reinstated by the NHL. LA Kings Insider, Jon Rosen went over Voynov’s scenario in his preseason roster report.
There are more legal entanglements with Voynov, though if he is made available by the NHL and isn’t held up by his immigration status, the expectation, based on multiple conversations with those in hockey operations, is that he’ll be a part of the blue line when he recovers from a ruptured Achilles.
The Kings seem to be trying to cut the end of one player’s contract whose production has slowly decreased and is not worth the money any more, while at the same time seem to be moving towards welcoming back another player who committed a heavier crime and did jail time because he improves the on-ice product.
The situation has been under a microscope for some time now and everyone has weighed in on the possible outcomes.
There has already been plenty of pressure on the Kings by local media to not permit Voynov’s return, despite the positive dividends that would come on the ice. Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “That he’s a top-four defenseman isn’t reason enough to keep him. It’s irrelevant. He doesn’t deserve to wear their uniform and they shouldn’t grant him that privilege.”
If negative media coverage wasn’t enough, a large portion of the hockey community is not fond of the idea of Voynov donning a Kings sweater again.
i fully anticipate seeing voynov back with the kings this year and it disgusts me beyond words.
— emily nielsen (@eknielsen) August 21, 2015
And some fans don’t like the possibility of Voynov playing in the NHL ever again.
Other leagues should hurry up and adopt something similar as well. The fact that Slava Voynov will play NHL hockey again is a travesty.
— USA Best Hockey Kyle (@K_Nick_97) August 21, 2015
Of course, in order for the Kings to even have the possibility of bringing back Voynov they would have to lift the suspension they placed on him due after he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in a non-hockey incident. On top of that, the NHL would have to reinstate him after their own investigation.
Voynov will likely see some kind of punishment from the league, but we won’t know the extent of that punishment until it is handed out. If the league hands out a suspension and Voynov serves it, how ever many games it may be, then I say the Kings should bring him back. Voynov and the Kings have every right to reunite at that point. Is that the right thing to do? Well, that opinion will differ from one person to the next.
But if Voynov is suspended by the league, and possibly even forced out of the country, than is that really a bad thing for the Kings? Los Angeles will be out an influential player on the ice, but will also be out of a media nightmare, again taking the focus off of what is being done on the ice.
In the end, the route the Kings take will be contested. If the Kings allow Voynov back on the ice there will be a contingent of people that don’t believe someone should get a second chance after a crime of that magnitude. But at the same time there will be people that believe since Voynov did the time he should be able to play again. But no matter the group that ends up happy, this decision will paint the Kings’ image for the rest of league.
What is your take on the situation? Is allowing Voynov back on the ice, because of his talent acceptable? Should Voynov be allowed back in the NHL because he has served the punishment for his crime?
Sound off in the comments below.
Eric received his BA in Journalism from California State University, Northridge. Eric has contributed to RinkRoyalty.com, Buffalowdown.com and California Rubber Magazine.