West Coast Bias: Voynov case puts Kings in limbo

Slava Voynov's domestic violence case isn't just bad for the Kings' image, it's also putting GM Dean Lombardi in a precarious position because of Voynov's March 2 court date coincides with the trade deadline (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Nobody is feeling sorry for Slava Voynov, the Los Angeles Kings defenceman who pleaded not guilty Monday to a felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury.

He’s going through the court process in California, due process that will decide whether not he is guilty as charged. As for his hockey career, however, Voynov is assumed guilty until proven innocent.

He has now missed 33 games, with pay, the longest suspension since Boston’s Billy Coutu received a lifetime ban because of an on-ice brawl in 1927. It’s been burdensome enough for the Kings since his arrest on Oct. 20 to play without their No. 3 defenceman, but the real problem is that the Kings couldn’t replace Voynov even if a D-man became available.

Sure, the league has taken Voynov’s AAV of just over $4.1 million off of L.A.’s cap. But what if GM Dean Lombardi were to go out and spend that money, and then Voynov returns after his March 2 court date?

“He’s a top-three defenceman. You’re not going to go out and find one of those anyhow,” GM Dean Lombardi said.

So, the league cap forgiveness allows L.A. to operate under the cap when dressing 20 players day by day, but the Kings are still without one of their top defencemen for an unknown amount of time. Not surprisingly, the Kings have struggled, with just five road wins all season.

Another issue? Voynov’s court date and the NHL trade deadline are both on March 2. That will be touch-and-go as far as Lombardi trying to make a move, should Voynov be found guilty and end up doing time.

Los Angeles could live with losing Willie Mitchell as a free agent off last season’s Cup-winning roster, knowing that they could ease Brayden McNabb into the lineup. Losing Voynov has tipped that balance, however. Now McNabb is playing more than planned, though he’s managed to hold his own.

“We were prepared for the one loss. Not both,” Lombardi admits.

As for Coutu, we bring you this, from Wikipedia: “At the end of Game 4 of the 1927 Stanley Cup, Coutu started a bench-clearing brawl, apparently at the request of coach Art Ross, by assaulting referee Jerry Laflamme and tackling referee Billy Bell in the corridor. As a result, he was expelled from the NHL for life.”

---

Funny. The Kings went 43 years trying to win their first Cup. Now they’ve got two in the past three seasons, and the new problem?

“Trying to stay on top is a whole different animal,” Lombardi said. “Our problem has been trying to mentally deal with playing all of those games into June.”

With six restricted free agents after this season, the Kings are hoping for some positive movement in the cap. They don’t want to be like Chicago from 2010, where they had to jettison players like Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Ben Eager just to be cap compliant the next season.

“We haven’t had to do what Chicago did, and they did a great job of building that team back to where it had been. Boston, losing [Johnny] Boychuk was part of that problem too,” said Lombardi. Andrew Ference too, was a cap casualty of Boston’s. “We haven’t had to do that yet.”

---

Considering the question marks surrounding the Vancouver Canucks when the season began, a 21-12-3 mark on Jan. 2 should rank under ‘A’ for “Awesome.” But a home loss to the Kings Thursday -- outshot 40-16 with two shady L.A. goals in the final 2:07 -- was unnerving. After years of turmoil in their nets, the Ryan Miller signing by GM Jim Benning was brilliant. Suddenly, however, Miller’s save percentage (.911) through 28 starts ranks a pedestrian 40th among NHL goalies. Despite the 37 saves, the two late, short-side goals against the Kings were not strong. The Canucks are good, but not great. As we hit the second half of the schedule, they’ll require a higher level of goaltending to hang onto their playoff spot in the West.

---

In celebration of Canada’s surprise quarterfinal opponent at the World Juniors, we answer the question (with the help of quanthockey.com), who is the all-time leading Danish scorer in the NHL? The answer: The Islanders’ Frans Nielsen with 275 career points. He is one of six Danes who have played in the NHL this season, alongside Coyote Mikkel Boedker, the Canucks’ Jannik Hansen and Nicklas Jensen, the Canadiens’ Lars Eller and Peter Regin of the Blackhawks. It looks like Winnipeg has another good one coming also, in 2014 first-rounder Nikolaj Ehlers, who you’ll notice tonight against Canada.

---

Don’t look now, but the Dallas Stars have won seven of their past eight games. They’ve almost overcome that 10-13-5 start, and are suddenly just six points behind the playoff cutoff. It starts with Kari Lehtonen’s 1.66 goals against average and .947 save percentage since Christmas, and includes 2-2-4 run in Ales Hemsky’s past five games -- accounting for one-third of his offensive production all season. There are your two swing players for Dallas -- Lehtonen and Hemsky. Both have been inconsistent performers throughout their careers. If they stay productive, the Stars could be a force. If they wane, this bubble team could miss the post-season.

---

For an organization that has been accused of being risk-averse over the years, the Winnipeg Jets have become interesting for me. In goal, former backup Michael Hutchinson’s .937 save percentage leads the entire NHL. He’s wrestled the No. 1 job away from Ondrej Pavelec, and wouldn’t it be interesting if that consistent, everyday No. 1 had been under the Jets’ nose all along? Up front, they’ve managed to lose their last two games without Evander Kane (lower body), who is out until February. With some improvement 5-on-5, Winnipeg could be a playoff team for the first time since returning to Manitoba. Will GM Kevin Cheveldayoff have the moves in him at the March 2 trade deadline to get his team over the top? That’s always the question in Winnipeg.