NHL's indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov: It's the right call – and the only way to go – after NFL criticism

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NHL's indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov: It's the right call – and the only way to go – after NFL criticism
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Good. The NHL suspended Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov indefinitely after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. It was the right move. It was the only move.

The NHL knew a woman suffered injuries so severe she needed treatment at a hospital. The NHL knew Voynov was with her at the hospital and taken into custody there. The NHL also knew, of course, the criticism the NFL received for failing to act swiftly and stiffly enough to address incidents of domestic violence.

So at 10:32 a.m. ET on Monday – or 7:32 a.m. PT, about two-and-a-half hours before Voynov was even released from jail on $50,000 bond – the NHL issued a statement. It not only announced the suspension, it broke the news of the arrest. The NHL beat TMZ.

That’s how you send the message that domestic violence is unacceptable. That’s how you get in front of a story and come off as proactive, not reactive. That’s how you keep Gary Bettman from becoming another Roger Goodell. If it was because of the NFL PR nightmare – in whole or in part – fine. At least someone learned something and it led to real progress.

That’s just the first step, though. Now the NHL has to conduct an investigation, and so do the police. Now the NHL has to decide how to proceed, as do prosecutors.

There are lots of unanswered questions. Here are a few: When will Voynov have a hearing with the NHL? How long will his suspension last? Will he face criminal charges, and if so, will he be convicted?

Redondo Beach (Calif.) Police Department's headshot of Voynov after domestic violence arrest.
Redondo Beach (Calif.) Police Department's headshot of Voynov after domestic violence arrest.

Under U.S. law, a person is innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But a person can sit in jail or go free on bond while that innocence or guilt is determined based on the evidence and the alleged offense.

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, a player can be suspended pending a criminal investigation if “the failure to suspend the player during this period would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the league.” Voynov will continue to be paid during the investigation.

The NHL did not suspend Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov when he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence almost a year ago. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN at the time: “We are monitoring the developing legal situation and do not intend to intervene in that process.”

So why did the NHL suspend Voynov?

“Different facts and circumstances,” Daly wrote in an e-mail to Yahoo Sports. “That’s all I can say.”

Varlamov was accused of coming home drunk on Oct. 29, 2013, and laughing as he kicked his girlfriend, knocked her down, stomped on her and dragged her by the hair. He allegedly told her in Russian that if they were in Russia, he would have beaten her more.

A detective noted bruises. But the woman did not go to the hospital. Varlamov faced charges of second-degree kidnapping, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. But by Dec. 20, the charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence and shifting stories.

“That’s not to say we don’t believe our victim,” Denver district attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough told the Denver Post at the time. “Most of the time, additional investigation strengthens our case. This time … it became clear we didn’t have a belief we could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Remember: Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson were star NFL running backs then.

The NHL had more evidence with Voynov than it had with Varlamov. The league likely knows more than we do, and we know a lot.

This account comes from Lt. Joe Hoffman of the Redondo Beach police: About 11:25 p.m. Sunday, Redondo Beach police received a call about “a possible family fight.” A woman had been heard screaming for 20 minutes, then crying. When officers responded, they did not find the woman but learned she might have just left in a vehicle.

About 1 a.m. Monday, Redondo Beach police received a call from Torrance police about a woman being treated at the Little Company of Mary Hospital emergency room for “injuries that were possibly received during a domestic violence incident that had occurred earlier in the City of Redondo Beach.” When officers responded, they met with the woman and determined “a domestic violence incident did occur in Redondo Beach.” Voynov was at the hospital, and he was arrested under California Penal Code Section 273.5.

That section applies to “any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim” with whom the person has a certain relationship. It is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

Remember: The NFL has been embarrassed recently by its handling of domestic violence incidents involving Rice and Peterson. The sensitivity to the issue has been heightened.

Different facts. Different circumstances.

Clearly if the NHL failed to suspend Voynov amid this evidence in this environment, it would “create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the league.” It not only could lead to negative attention, but could create problems with sponsors, ticket-buyers, et cetera.

“These developments are of great concern to our organization,” the Kings said in a statement. “We support the NHL’s decision to suspend Slava Voynov indefinitely during this process, and we will continue to take appropriate action as the legal proceedings and the investigation by the NHL take their course.”

Key point: This is still a process. We might be a long way from a resolution.

“We will conduct an investigation before scheduling a hearing, and the timing of the investigation and subsequent hearing will likely depend in large part on what the player needs to do vis-a-vis the ongoing criminal proceeding,” Daly wrote in an e-mail.

Craig Renetzky, Voynov’s lawyer, has noted that no charges have been filed. But asked what significance that has, he told Yahoo Sports: “Really none.” The police have 48 hours to bring charges when someone is arrested, but if the person bails out, they have more time. Voynov has bailed out. So the police will investigate, and when ready, they will bring their case to the prosecutors.

“The prosecutors will review it, and they’ll decide if charges are warranted,” Renetzky said. “They will make an independent determination. She can’t bring charges on her own or drop charges on her own. It’s up to the prosecutors.”

The NHL didn’t wait to take action. For that, the league deserves credit. But now we have to wait. Let’s see what the NHL does from here. Let’s see what the prosecutors decide. And let’s hope the process works.

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