LOS ANGELES — Defenceman Slava Voynov announced Wednesday that he will return home to Russia with his family, leaving the Los Angeles Kings in the wake of his legal troubles resulting from domestic violence charges.
In a statement through his agent, Rolland Hedges, Voynov apologized to "those in and around the game of hockey who have been affected by my situation."
"I also wish the players of the LA Kings success in the future," Voynov added.
Voynov was suspended for the final 76 games of last season, and he pleaded no contest in July to a misdemeanour charge of domestic violence against his wife, Marta Varlamova.
The Kings announced Wednesday that they had planned to terminate the final four seasons of Voynov’s contract Thursday when they open training camp, saying Voynov will never play for them again. The club says the termination is no longer necessary because Voynov’s departure for Russia should eliminate their obligation to pay the $19.25 million left on his deal.
"He’s not on our team, he’s not on our (salary) cap and he will not count," said Jeff Solomon, the Kings’ vice-president of hockey operations and legal affairs.
Voynov’s decision to leave still must be approved by federal authorities, but it likely ends an ugly chapter in Kings history — and possibly ends the NHL career of the 25-year-old Voynov, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and Russian Olympian.
He was initially charged with a felony after a disturbing incident with his wife in late October.
Several hours after the Kings played an afternoon game, police said Voynov punched, kicked and choked Varlamova, sending her to an emergency room with injuries. Through the couple’s lawyers, Varlamova later characterized the incident as an accident.
Voynov accepted a plea deal shortly before his scheduled trial, and he spent two months in jail before his release two weeks ago, when he was taken into custody by federal immigration officials. Voynov seemed likely to lose his work visa, which would result in deportation.
Voynov has been suspended by the NHL since his arrest in late October 2014. The Kings also suspended him this summer when he injured himself in an undisclosed non-hockey activity.
The Kings have been clearly conflicted about how to handle Voynov. Although the franchise expressed strong support for the NHL’s suspension, Voynov was allowed to continue working out on his own at the Kings’ training complex, and the club was fined $100,000 last November when he participated in a practice in violation of the suspension.
"It’s really forced me to open my eyes," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. "Like anything else, we’re going to get better as an organization from this, I’m convinced. … My only regret or whatever is that I pride myself on being prepared and having a plan, and it’s been very clear to me that I’ve been negligent in this area, and we’re going to fix that going forward."
Voynov’s decision to leave North America will clear roster space and cap room for the Kings, who signed him to a six-year, $25 million contract extension in June 2013. Los Angeles spent last season with minimal room to adjust their roster, partly due to the strictures of paying Voynov’s hefty salary while he wasn’t playing.
Voynov’s NHL career was brief, but eventful. The former second-round pick won the Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Kings in 2012, and he was the No. 2 defenceman on Los Angeles’ second championship team in 2014. He also played for Russia at the Sochi Olympics, establishing himself as one of the nation’s top defencemen.
The Kings have endured a rough year with three separate instances of serious player misconduct.
Centre Mike Richards’ contract was terminated June 29 after he was arrested and subsequently charged with possession of a controlled substance at a border crossing in Manitoba. The NHL Players’ Association is contesting the termination of the remaining five years and $22 million on the struggling forward’s contract.
Centre Jarret Stoll was arrested in April on drug possession charges in Las Vegas. Stoll, who subsequently signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanours and avoided jail time.