Column: Kings must take a look at their ‘family’ after Jarret Stoll arrest
At the very least, the Kings have an image problem to deal with after the arrest of center Jarret Stoll at a Las Vegas resort Friday on suspicion of possessing controlled substances, specifically cocaine and Ecstasy, a felony in Nevada.
At the very worst, the Kings have a hole at the heart of the we-are-family culture they’ve meticulously crafted since Dean Lombardi became their general manager in 2006 and vowed to change the shortsighted thinking and defeatist attitude that had spawned decades of futility. Lombardi, who often spoke about placing as much importance on players’ character as on their skills, exceeded the wildest dreams of even the truest believers when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and again in 2014 and reached the Western Conference finals in between.
It was the most successful stretch in an often-woeful history. But at what cost?
Stoll, 32, was the second Kings player arrested in the last six months. Defenseman Slava Voynov was arrested in Redondo Beach in October and later charged with a felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury in connection with an incident involving his wife, Marta Varlamova. He was suspended by the NHL after the arrest and his trial is scheduled for July 6. His contract has four seasons left, but if he’s found guilty he might lose his work visa and the contract might be voided.
Stoll was not suspended by the NHL, but that’s a moot point since the Kings’ season ended last week when they missed the playoffs and his contract runs only through June 30. They weren’t likely to bring him back based on his meager production (six goals and 17 points in 73 games) and their need to get faster. Now, there’s little chance he will return.
Stoll’s arrest brought to mind a saying popularized by the late, great comedian Robin Williams: Cocaine is God’s way of saying that you have too much money.
These arrests illustrate some of the risks that can arise when rich athletes behave badly. It might be sheer coincidence that they involved players on the same team. Nobody has been convicted, but Lombardi and his colleagues must ask whether the team environment somehow contributed to the alleged incidents and how they can prevent other players from making headlines for the wrong reasons. We should be reading score sheets during the playoffs, not arrest reports.
Stoll’s arrest shocked Kings executives, who were scrambling Saturday to gather information. A spokesman said the club would have no comment until it has more facts. A spokesman for the NHL Players’ Assn. declined to comment.
Although Stoll’s arrest occurred after the Kings’ season ended, it’s worth noting that drug testing in the NHL isn’t as stringent as in Olympic sports. Under the current collective bargaining agreement each club is subject to teamwide, no-advance-notice testing once during training camp and each club is selected at random for teamwide, no-notice testing once during the regular season. In addition, individual players are randomly selected for no-notice testing during the regular season and playoffs. A leaguewide maximum of 60 tests may be conducted during the off-season. Out of some 600 players, that’s not a lot.
The NHL tests for performance-enhancing drugs and drugs of abuse, but only abnormally high test results for drugs of abuse are flagged (anonymously) to doctors affiliated with the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, who contact the player and do an assessment if help is needed. A first positive test would result in a 20-game suspension and mandatory referral to the program for evaluation and treatment. A second positive test would draw a 60-game suspension and a third would draw a “permanent” suspension that could be lifted in two years.
Stoll’s career isn’t necessarily over. In April of 2014 Ryan Malone, then of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was arrested in Tampa on suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of 1.3 grams of cocaine. He pleaded no contest and entered a pretrial diversion program on the possession charge, which resulted in a year’s probation and community service. He wasn’t suspended and later signed with the New York Rangers, though he was demoted and waived before their season ended.
Lombardi sees the Kings as a family and kept the core together — probably to the team’s detriment this season — because he didn’t want to part with players who had bled for each other and triumphed together. But families sometimes splinter. Family members make mistakes. What the Kings do to heal their family and restore fans’ trust will say as much about the organization as winning two championships did.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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