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Hockey

Column: Suspension of Kings’ Slava Voynov shows NHL has priorities in order

Slava Voynov
Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, now on suspension, skates during the team’s 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 16.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

There is so much we don’t know, starting with exactly what happened between Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and a woman who sought treatment at a Torrance hospital’s emergency room late Sunday night for injuries that were serious enough to prompt medical personnel to summon police.

We know that Redondo Beach police officers questioned the woman, conducted an investigation, and determined she had been a victim of domestic violence. And, according to the Associated Press, a child was present in the home where the incident took place, which could escalate or add to charges that could potentially be filed against Voynov.

He was at the hospital with the woman and was arrested there on suspicion of inflicting bodily injury on a current or former spouse, cohabitant or co-parent, a felony. The 24-year-old Russian was booked and released on $50,000 bail early Monday. He has not been charged. The woman requested confidentiality and has not been identified.

We also know this much: that the NHL, whether motivated by righteousness or a desire to avoid the public-relations beating the NFL took for its insensitive handling of high-profile incidents involving Ray Rice and other players, moved swiftly and decisively to seize the moral high ground and indefinitely suspended Voynov from all club activities.

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The Kings supported the league’s decision, saying in a news release that “these developments are of great concern to our organization.”

The NHL was justified in suspending Voynov and removing a potential distraction while its security officers and the L.A. County district attorney’s office investigate the incident. The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NHL Players’ Assn., allows the league to suspend a player during the pendency of a criminal investigation. Again, what he’s alleged to have done is a felony, and a felony conviction could lead to the revocation of his visa and, potentially, his deportation.

The NHL’s intervention in this case is noteworthy on several levels.

A little more than a year ago, league officials chose not to step in after Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was arrested on suspicion of felony kidnapping and assault against his girlfriend. He wasn’t suspended and was allowed to play and travel with the team.

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Varlamov was never charged with a felony, and a misdemeanor charge was dropped about two months later. First, prosecutors declined to file a kidnapping charge because of a lack of evidence. They later asked for dismissal of the misdemeanor assault charge because further investigation led them to believe they couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the Denver Post, as investigators explored the matter and re-interviewed witnesses, those witnesses’ accounts shifted.

Why would the NHL suspend Voynov after it did not suspend Varlamov?

“Significantly different facts,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Monday in an email to The Times. He declined to elaborate, saying he didn’t feel comfortable getting into specifics.

Daly could mean the facts are not comparable in the Varlamov and Voynov cases, or that the facts of life are different for professional sports leagues following the public outrage directed toward the NFL for its mishandling of the Rice incident.

Asked about the league’s stance toward domestic violence in the wake of the NFL’s gaffes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said during a recent visit to Los Angeles that the league and the Players’ Assn. had worked together for more than a decade to educate and counsel players about domestic-violence issues. He said he wasn’t sure there was a need for a code of conduct, “other than our players who overwhelmingly conduct themselves magnificently off the ice, you deal with it on a case-by-case basis.”

He added, “We as a league have more than enough authority and mechanisms to punish, if necessary, in the appropriate case. Fortunately we haven’t seen too many.”

Any is too many. And not until this case has the league used that authority and one of those mechanisms so resolutely.

We don’t know if the NFL is genuinely concerned over its players’ involvement in domestic violence issues or if it was merely dishing out a serving of political correctness to silence fans and sponsors. We do know the NHL made its priorities clear on Monday, taking the lead in an area no one wants to have to lead.

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