The Los Angeles Kings are tone deaf.
On Wednesday, while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Slava Voynov announced he would voluntarily return to Russia; thus avoiding the deportation process that was likely to play out in conjunction with his domestic violence case.
Voynov lobbed the Kings a softball they could have hit out of the park, in order to right an earlier wrong they themselves created, and they didn't even pick up the bat.
As the domestic violence investigation began against the defenseman, the NHL took action before the team, and suspended Voynov from participating in team activities. The organization did nothing except to issue the standard public relations statement about ‘looking into’ the issues. It wasn’t until Voynov injured his Achilles in a non-hockey related activity did the team act by suspending his contract.
It was a B.S. reason, but at least the guy was finally suspended. Because a player must be punished when he puts his body at risk with something as reckless as tennis or volleyball, but when it comes to a domestic violence arrest, well, it's someone else's problem.
Voynov pled his case out and he began to serve time at a ‘pay for stay’ facility. The judicial process was complete, and the Kings continued to do nothing about Voynov's contract.
Jarret Stoll was given a blanket PR statement similar to Voynov’s when he was arrested on felony drug possession charges right before the expiration of his contract. He was allowed to waltz into free agency without protest from Los Angeles.
Mike Richards wasn’t fortunate enough to even get a whitewashed statement. He was first put on waivers and then terminated by the Kings before anyone could wrap their heads around what the hell was happening.
All it takes for a guy to get his contract cancelled is declining on-ice production, five years and $22-million left on your contract, AND a drug possession arrest at the border. Just think what would have happened to THAT guy if he had assaulted a woman?
Kings GM Dean Lombardi and the rest of the executives at AEG are not stupid. They know half the battle of winning back positive favor of the organization is centered around public relations. While all this is playing out, the Kings are announcing different programs and hirings meant to build up the character of their players.
Yet, what’s the point of all the morality building partnerships when the franchise doesn’t take a final, emphatic stand against the person whose actions were the catalyst for these changes?
The team took the easy way out with Voynov self-departing back to Russia. They could have cancelled his contract for good, using the same reasoning they used for Richards, and no one - not the NHL, not the NHLPA - would have batted an eye. They could have terminated his contract and left the final decision whether or not to ban him from the league forever with the NHL, regardless of immigration implications.
Instead, they decided to remain connected to Voynov by retaining his rights. "Protect the asset," as Elliotte Friedman called it.
When future seminars are held by the Kings for their players about domestic violence, what kind of message are they sending with this scenario? It’s okay to assault another human being as long as you’re good on the ice, but the second you stop producing and give us a reason to get rid of you, we will?
If that’s the case, then no seminar, self-help, psychotherapy, mentor, etc., is going to do a damn thing.
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