From the outset, when Commissioner Gary Bettman called Kings owner Philip Anschutz early Monday to say he had suspended Slava Voynov because of the defenseman’s alleged involvement in a domestic violence incident, it was clear the league was taking the matter seriously.
And the Kings, who have indefinitely lost one of their top-four defensemen and have little salary-cap space to replace him, say they support the NHL’s decisive move even though Voynov has not been charged by authorities.
“Absolutely, it’s very appropriate,” Coach Darryl Sutter said Tuesday, after the team practiced at its El Segundo facility.
“Obviously, we have strong feelings about it,” Sutter said of domestic violence. “That’s as far as we’ll go. That’s the best way to put it. Obviously the league has made a strong stand on it.”
Operating in a new landscape following the NFL’s perceived mishandling of its players’ domestic violence incidents, the NHL charted a new path by immediately suspending Voynov, though he’s being paid. His salary counts against the Kings’ cap total and they have little flexibility to summon help from the minor leagues.
However, they might get a break if defenseman Jake Muzzin, who suffered a hand injury during training camp, is cleared to return for their next game, Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres at Staples Center.
The NHL and police in Redondo Beach on Tuesday continued investigating what took place Sunday night between the Russian defenseman and a woman whose injuries required emergency-room treatment and led to his arrest. He was released hours later on $50,000 bail. It is likely the case will be forwarded this week to the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, Redondo Beach police Lt. Joe Hoffman said.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, said Tuesday he had begun his own investigation. “Based on what I’m finding is that things are not always what people’s first interpretations were,” he told The Times.
Also on Tuesday, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said he is trying to understand the impact of the NHL’s ruling. He said he requested clarity on matters, including the Kings’ salary cap latitude, how long they might lose Voynov — who has a court date of Dec. 1 — and whether Voynov would remain suspended if he’s not convicted on any potential charges. He also was concerned about Voynov’s visa and immigration status.
But Lombardi said the Kings do not dispute the NHL’s action in suspending Voynov, a sanction that might not have been imposed in the past, when some player-related incidents were less likely to become public. It also might have been branded as too hasty before the NFL was roundly criticized for being too cavalier in punishing domestic violence offenders.
“That now is obviously changed, from the old days. I get it,” Lombardi said. “To say I’m surprised that they acted that way, no. Do I think it’s inappropriate? No, and the danger of saying that — he hasn’t been proved guilty — but that’s clearly the way leagues are headed right now, that the charge itself is enough to take action, where in the past it wasn’t.
“And I think for the NHL probably this is kind of new turf. I think it’s new turf for a lot of leagues because the old system was, wait until the criminal system does its thing. That ain’t the case. Now, what do you do with all the gray that’s out there, particularly now in a cap era? It’s not so easy to recall players and deal with things. We’ll have to start working our way through it.”
Lombardi said Voynov, who played a key role in the team’s two Stanley Cup championships in the last three seasons, had never previously posed a disciplinary problem. Voynov’s teammates were told to be cautious in responding to reporters’ questions Tuesday.
“It affects everybody but I think it affects those guys — his family — the most,” said defenseman Matt Greene, an alternate captain. “That’s it. We’re thinking about his family and everybody involved.”
Center Jarret Stoll said players were disappointed but supported the NHL’s decision and would let matters play out within the legal system. He also said the team’s close bonds would lessen the possibility that Voynov’s situation would become a distraction.
“He’s a great player for us and hopefully everything can get sorted out,” Stoll said. “It’s unfortunate for our team but we’ll deal with it as a team, as a group. We feel that we’re a strong enough team to do that.”
Team spokesman Mike Altieri said he wasn’t aware of any sponsors withdrawing support because of the allegations against Voynov. “I think part of that is I don’t think there’s any question we’re behind what the league’s done,” Lombardi said. “We don’t question one bit, understanding what their job is.”