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Voynov seeking dismissal of no contest plea, eyes potential NHL return

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov is asking Los Angeles County Superior Court to dismiss his no contest plea stemming from an October 2014 domestic violence incident as part of an apparent bid to return to the NHL.

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov has spent the past three seasons in the KHL following a no contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse, but with his probation set to end in July, the 28-year-old appears to be taking one of many steps toward a potential return to the NHL.

The Los Angeles Times’ Nathan Fenno reported Tuesday that Voynov has asked the Los Angeles County Superior Court to “dismiss the conviction,” and Fenno added Voynov’s petition to have the conviction dismissed will be heard July 2, the same day his three-year probation comes to a close. If the charge is removed from his record, Voynov could then apply for a work visa, which could open the door for the Russian defenseman to pursue potential NHL options.

The charge against Voynov stems from an October 2014 incident in which police were called to the then-Kings blueliner’s home in Redondo Beach, Calif., on a report of domestic violence. According to a probation report filed the day of his no contest plea, Voynov choked, pushed and kicked his wife, Marta Varlamova. Voynov was subsequently sentenced to 90 days in prison — he served nearly two months at Seal Beach Police Detention Center, a facility which he paid $100 per day to stay in — as well as orders to participate in a 52-week domestic violence prevention program and eight hours of community service.

Upon leaving the facility in September 2015, nearly 11 months after his arrest, Voynov announced that he would be leaving the NHL to return to Russia. The Kings followed the announcement by stating they had planned to terminate the final four years of Voynov’s contract, but his voluntary departure meant the last four seasons of his six-year, $25-million deal came off the books. Los Angeles has retained Voynov’s NHL rights.

It didn’t take long for Voynov to find a new home upon his “voluntary deportation,” however. Less than two months after leaving the NHL, Voynov signed a three-year deal with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, the franchise with which he has remained for the past three seasons and where he has plied his trade as one of the most talented rearguards not playing in the NHL. In fact, his game has flourished in the KHL, particularly over the past two seasons. In 2016-17, Voynov was named to the Russian League’s all-star game and finished third among all defenders with 11 goals and 27 points. He followed that up with a nine-goal, 23-point performance in 39 games this season before adding another three goals and six points in 14 playoff games.

Voynov’s performance at the 2018 Olympics is also a likely source of much of the reported interest from teams throughout the NHL. While it wasn’t the true best-on-best competition that it has been in the past as a result of the lack of NHL participation, Voynov finished second in scoring by rearguards at the tournament with two goals and six points in six games, and he earned tournament nods as an all-star and the best defenseman in helping the Olympic Athletes of Russia to a gold.

Just because there is some reported interest in Voynov doesn’t mean a dismissal of the charge would clear the way for his return, though. The NHL has made it quite clear in the past that Voynov won’t be welcomed back into the league with open arms. After he was announced as a member of Russia’s World Cup roster ahead of the 2016-17 season, the league stepped in and made it clear Voynov could not compete in the tournament. “He's been suspended from the league,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in May 2016. “The Russian Federation was told that he was not eligible to play in the World Cup. What happens from that moving forward in terms of what somebody may try to do is a different story. But his status has not changed.”

It’s likely, too, that Voynov will face punishment from the league if any team is willing to bring the defenseman aboard this summer. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Voynov “met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHLPA about a month ago,” but no decision was made as to a potential further suspension or financial penalty. (Voynov was suspended indefinitely upon his arrest in October 2014.) This, of course, is assuming he’s even reinstated by the league, which isn’t necessarily a given. “There are a couple of legal hurdles that I understand still have to be passed,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said regarding Voynov's reinstatement during the Stanley Cup final, according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. “Until he gets past those, I don't think we're ready to comment on it.”

Even upon reinstatement, however, Voynov will not be able to sign with any team other than the Kings unless Los Angeles facilitates such a move. Though it seems unlikely the Kings would block any team willing to take the risk on and face the backlash of signing Voynov, they do hold his rights and it will be up to whatever team, if any, is keen on inking the defenseman to work out a trade. 

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