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TORONTO – The odds that defenseman Slava Voynov will play again in the NHL this season are long. He did jail time this summer after pleading “no contest” to a domestic violence charge, and was quickly taken into custody by U.S. Immigration officials after his release from Seal Beach Police Detention Center.
It may take months for the immigration court’s decision on whether to deport him. After that, Voynov still faces a suspension from the National Hockey League after his arrest.
But if Voynov remained in North America, and was eligible to return to the team, would the Los Angeles Kings take him back?
That’s been the nightmarish debate Kings fans have been running through their heads. His crime was deplorable. His character is forever sullied. Putting this man back on the payroll would be at best a callous business decision with no regard for a significant portion of the Kings’ fan base; and, at worst, it would show disregard for the disgraceful nature of his crime.
But there’s another question about Voynov that needs asking: Would the Los Angeles Kings players want him back?
Would they see him as a top-four defenseman vital to their success, or would they indicate to GM Dean Lombardi and management that Voynov doesn’t have a place in that room anymore?
Both defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar said on Tuesday that the Kings players won’t offer an opinion to Lombardi if there was a chance Voynov returns to the Kings.
“I don’t think so. I think most of the players want to stay away from that kind of stuff,” said Doughty. “The players don’t want to say the wrong thing to the media, or say the wrong thing any time. We’ll just let management deal with it.”
Kopitar agreed that this was a decision above their pay grade.
“The players have enough trust and faith in the team that they’ll do the right thing, what’s best for us,” said Kopitar.
Voynov’s suspension last season was just one of several off-ice problems the Kings faced in their dressing room.
“Obviously, Slava was the one that was missing in the lineup that whole time, and missing him was huge because he’s such a good player, but a lot of guys stepped up to fill his role,” said Doughty, who said that those pointing to Voynov and other problems with Kings players as a reason they missed the playoffs last season are off-base.
“With all the off-ice things going on, we were still a tightknit group. If anything, it kind of made us closer, because inside [the room] there were a couple of things going on that we had to deal with. We weren’t going to go around talking about them to anyone else except to each other. But that’s not the reason why any of that happened.”
“Honestly, I don’t think it did. It’s unfortunately was happened, obviously. It’s not good. But at the same time, when you come to the locker room, you work with what you got,” he said.
But the debate over Voynov might be, as Gary Bettman told Sportsnet 590 on Wednesday, a "moot point," as U.S. officials are looking to deport him.
As immigration lawyer Gary Royle told SovSport, the only solution for Voynov at this point might be voluntary deportation, because there’s little chance the immigration process won’t force him to leave.
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