With the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson situations still swirling around the collective head of the NFL, the NHL has been lauded as a league worth emulating in their handling of the domestic violence case involving Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov.
When Voynov was first accused of domestic violence, he was suspended indefinitely by the NHL, but the league allowed him to continue to be paid during the suspension. Recently they tweaked the suspension a bit to provide some salary cap relief to the Kings, who have been dealing with cap-related issues for most of the season due to injuries.
The story took a weird turn on Tuesday, just one day after Voynov pleaded not guilty to felony charges in southern California. When the Kings took to the ice for their morning skate, Voynov was in full uniform and participated in the practice:
So, uh, Slava Voynov is practicing with the Kings. No, I don’t know why.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) December 2, 2014
Twitter immediately lit up with reaction to Voynov’s presence at the practice, which seemed to violate the terms of his suspension from the NHL. The Kings’ explanation left something to be desired:
Yeah the Kings definitely did not get permission for this Voynov stuff. They’re trying to claim he could skate because it was optional.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) December 2, 2014
The league clearly didn’t buy the Kings’ line of reasoning, deciding to fine the team $100,000 for the infraction. “Such activity is in direct contravention of the terms of this suspension levied Oct. 20, which permit Mr. Voynov to use club facilities and work with team personnel but prohibit his participation in any team-related functions or activities,” the league said in a statement.
If this was an optional skate, it was highly coincidental that every single Kings player was on the ice.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) December 2, 2014
The fine is not chump change by any stretch, but the penalties could have been much worse. The NHL could have decided to revoke the cap relief they’d given to the Kings in the Voynov situation, leaving the team perilously close to the salary cap ceiling (Voynov’s cap hit is $4.17 million, while the Kings are currently $4.18 below the threshold), or they could have docked them a draft pick, which they did to the New Jersey Devils in the Ilya Kovalchuk salary cap circumvention case.
The Kings issued a statement regarding the league's decision on Tuesday afternoon:
"This was clearly a mistake on our part and we accept full responsibility. It is incumbent upon us to be more vigilant in managing this situation to ensure that Slava's allowable training activities always remain separate from the team."
Under the conditions of his suspension, Voynov is allowed to use team facilities to practice and work out, and can consult with team personnel, but he is not allowed to participate in team practices (like he did Tuesday) or in team meetings or workouts.
At any rate, the Kings played with fire in letting Voynov skate with them on Tuesday, and the league responded quickly. The NFL has learned the hard way that domestic violence cases cannot be swept under the rug, and the NHL is making it a point not to travel down the same path.