Column

Kings should never let Slava Voynov play for them again

This is what it looks like:

The Kings terminated the contract of Mike Richards, who has not been charged after reportedly being stopped at a Canadian border town last month on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance without a prescription, yet they gave the use of their training facilities and coaches' expertise to Slava Voynov, who on Thursday pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of corporal injury to a spouse.

There are many things wrong with this picture. Primarily, that it appears the Kings are trying to dump the long and costly contract of Richards, whose performance has declined dramatically the last two seasons, while trying to preserve the career of Voynov, a skillful 25-year-old defenseman whose absence was keenly felt last season as they missed the playoffs.

Appearances don't tell the whole story, and the full picture hasn't emerged in Richards' case. The Kings have declined to elaborate on their initial statement that they acted in response to a "material breach of the requirements of his Standard Player's Contract," and they haven't specified which provision(s) they contend he breached. But it's certain they consulted with the highest-ranked NHL executives before taking such a drastic step, and that this is far from over.

The NHL has closely watched the Voynov case from the outset and suspended him — though with pay — before the news of the Russian defenseman's arrest in October became public. The Kings suspended him last month because he ruptured his Achilles' tendon in a non-hockey incident; the prognosis after his surgery was that he will be ready to go in mid-September. The NHL has said it will conduct its own investigation but has had to wait while Voynov went through the legal system.

If the NHL Players Assn. challenges the termination of Richards' contract and wins a reversal, the Kings likely would buy him out or otherwise reach a financial settlement. He won't be back.

Voynov shouldn't be back.

His attorney, Rolland Hedges, said Thursday that Voynov "accepts responsibility for his actions the night of the incident," a responsibility Voynov had shunned while attorneys representing him and his wife, Marta Varlamova, blamed an accident for the injuries she suffered that night. That statement smacks more of expediency than contrition; a way to escape a felony charge for which he was scheduled to go on trial next week.

Does Voynov deserve a second chance? This might have been that second chance. According to court documents, Varlamova told a nurse who treated her that night at Providence Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance that Voynov had previously assaulted her. Does that not count in evaluating his ability to learn from his past mistakes?

Those who say it's punishment enough that Voynov was suspended most of last season and must serve jail time and probation, perform community service and go through a domestic violence prevention program should focus on the nature of the incident. If the Kings give him another chance, they would be making it a "gimme" and diminish its magnitude.

Varlamova told Redondo Beach police Voynov punched her in the jaw, choked her three times, pushed her to the ground, kicked her and shoved her into the corner of a flat-screen TV, resulting in a 1.2-inch gash above her left eye. He accepted responsibility for his actions, remember? That should not be forgotten.

The Kings can terminate his contract, trade him, or keep him with the team. Here's a vote for one of the first two options.

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.

That might become a moot point depending on the results of the NHL's investigation and if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials decide Voynov's actions warrant deportation. But the Kings can and should get out in front of the issue by saying they don't want him to represent a team whose players' off-ice actions have fallen short of the team's high on-ice standards the last few seasons.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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