The indefinite suspension came within hours of Slava Voynov’s arrest.
Gary Bettman and his security staff had no time to piece together what happened, but they also had no choice once they learned that the Los Angeles Kings defenceman was facing domestic violence charges in California.
Memories of the NFL’s botched handling of the Ray Rice spousal abuse case are still fresh for everyone in professional sports. Bettman had surely observed how his counterpart, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, raised serious doubts about his ability to lead during that ordeal.
He may also have had some time to reflect on the NHL’s own experience with Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.
The league remained quiet when Varlamov spent a night in jail on assault and kidnapping charges last October. He was even allowed to start a game for the Avalanche 48 hours after turning himself into police. Even though the charges were ultimately dropped, the optics of the situation were terrible.
Given where we’ve come from and where we are now, Bettman should be commended for his swift and decisive handling of the Voynov situation.
News had yet to even break of the player’s arrest before the league put out a statement announcing his indefinite suspension, pending an investigation. The message was clear: The NHL is serious about holding its players to account and won’t condone acts of this nature.
Voynov is still innocent until proven guilty. The section of the CBA he was suspended under covers “off-ice conduct” and stipulates that he’ll be paid while the legal process plays itself out. Essentially, it gives the NHL time to make a more informed decision while also making a statement about the potential serious nature of the situation.
The details surrounding the case are still unclear. Voynov played in the Kings 2-1 victory over Minnesota on Sunday afternoon and was arrested on Monday morning, according to the league.
He was charged under California Penal Code section 273.5, which covers incidents where a person willfully inflicts an injury upon a spouse. The maximum punishment is four years in a state prison and/or a $6,000 fine.
Voynov is due to appear in court on Wednesday.
Bettman was in Los Angeles when the team raised its Stanley Cup banner less than two weeks ago and spoke about how proactive the league and NHL Players’ Association had been on the issue of domestic violence. He said that the NHL had “more than enough authority and mechanisms in place to punish” offenders.
Little did he know how quickly he would have to put those words into action.
As much as the decision might look like a no-brainer given the current climate, it’s worth noting some of the ramifications it carries. For starters, the Kings now have just six active defenceman on the roster and one of them, Jake Muzzin, still hasn’t played this season because of an injury.
That’s significant because the team has less than $500,000 in available salary cap space and might have to make a roster move before Thursday’s game against Buffalo. There is also the possibility that Voynov will be found not guilty on these charges. Bettman has certainly seen that happen to players during his long tenure as NHL commissioner.
All of that and more must have been running through his mind when he was alerted to the Voynov situation. The ability to act quickly is an important part of the job.
“Whenever that phone rings, and sometimes it does at two in the morning, you’ve got to respond and you’ve got to have your A-game, otherwise you’re liable to make a mistake, and when you make a mistake in this position, it gets magnified,” Bettman said during a meeting for The Canadian Club of Toronto last month. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re right 99 out of 100 times, which is a pretty good batting record, it’s that one that you’ll have to live with and deal with.”
The NHL got it right on this day. Let’s hope that it has also established a new standard for any similar situations that arise in the future.