By most accounts, Slava Voynov is still a very good hockey player, one who is certainly capable of making an impactful contribution to an NHL team. But the biggest obstacle he’ll face when he is eligible to play again in 2019-20 will be finding a team that is willing to associate itself with a player who has become a pariah.
Yes, Slava Voynov will have served his sentence, both in the legal system and the NHL, neither of which are the court of public opinion. And it’s true that other players have been given second chances after equally heinous crimes. Craig MacTavish had a long career, one that included multiple Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers, after he served a year in jail for vehicular homicide. Dany Heatley went on to play for four NHL teams and make almost $60 million after pleading guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide. Mike Danton played Canadian university hockey and then a number of years in Europe after serving time for conspiracy to commit murder. And we all know how much the hockey world loves a good redemption story.
But when it comes to Voynov and his domestic violence charge – he actually pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse – things get very, very complicated. The Los Angeles Kings have already announced they will cut ties with him, which likely means they’d be willing to deal him to another organization. And that’s where things will be difficult for Voynov. TheHockeyNews.com reached out to executives of 10 NHL teams and only one indicated he would even consider trading for Voynov’s rights.
“I have a wife and daughters,” one GM said. “It would be really hard to justify that to them. He’s a good player and we’re all human and we make mistakes. But I just couldn’t see myself getting involved in that one.”
There are, of course, multiple layers to this situation. First, there is the “public relations nightmare,” as one GM put it, for any organization to consider. There are moral implications as well as concerns about how Voynov would be received by his teammates and the team’s fan base. After Voynov’s 2019-20 suspension was reduced to 41-games by independent arbitrator Shyam Das (who will be so fired by the NHL this summer after ruling against the league a number of times), he will have missed almost four-and-a-half years of NHL hockey. If he’s been cleared to play, finished his sentence, stayed out of trouble and completed his mandatory counseling, how long should he be expected to be punished? For the rest of his career? Some would think so. But there are no easy answers here.
“Has it been discussed by our people? Yes?” another executive said. “At the end of the day, would it be worth the headache? No. That would be a really difficult one to justify. But maybe there’s somebody who’s established in a market where they could sustain the fallout. I guess it comes down to whether there’s an Al Davis-type of guy out there.”
If a team were to even consider going down that road, it would require a complete buy-in from ownership down through the hockey department, which might be difficult to do. One GM who said he hasn’t even considered it because his team doesn’t need a Voynov-type player said everyone in the organization would have to be on the same page. “This would be a much bigger discussion involving teams presidents and ownership,” he said. “That would definitely be something you’d have to take to the next level to decide whether that’s something you’d want to even consider doing.”
One GM who said he won’t be pursuing Voynov because he wouldn’t be a good fit on his roster said he would be willing to take a closer look at the situation if he felt Voynov could help his team. “I mean, we all make mistakes, and this is a really big one,” he said. “But people get second chances in all walks of life. I don’t know all the facts, but if he’s been consistently keeping out of trouble and he’s done all the counseling, why wouldn’t you look at it?
Part of the problem, of course, is that the NHL does not have set domestic violence policy, preferring instead to deal with these things on a case-by-case basis. The NHL Players’ Association, meanwhile, is a convenient target for a lack of awareness when it comes to domestic violence, with critics pointing out that it represented Voynov in his appeal to the independent arbitrator. The underlying criticism is that the NHLPA condones this kind of behavior, or at the very least is willing to defend it. But that conveniently ignores the fact that the only way a player can appeal is through the union, he cannot do it on his own, and that the NHLPA is duty-bound to represent any player who wishes to appeal a suspension.
Again, no easy answers here. But if Slava Voynov ever does appear in an NHL game again, the team that decides to employ him will need to be prepared for the fallout that will come with that decision.