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  • Writer's pictureRyan Lake

NHLPA Appeals NHL Decision To Suspend Slava Voynov For The 2019-20 Season

Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, announced on Tuesday that the NHL had determined that Voynov committed “unacceptable off-ice conduct.” As a result, the NHL suspended him for the 2019-20 season. The NHL said that Voynov could petition for reinstatement on July 1, 2020.

In a statement following the decision, Bettman said,

Today’s ruling, while tailored to the specific facts of this case and the individuals involved, is necessary and consistent with the NHL’s strongly held policy that it cannot and will not tolerate this and similar types of conduct, particularly as directed at a spouse, domestic partner or family member. [/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”4398″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row equal_height=”yes” content_placement=”middle”][vc_column][vc_column_text]The NHL Players Association (NHLPA) has filed an appeal of the decision to an independent arbitrator. The NHLPA submitted the appeal, in part, due to the recent inconsistencies in punishments for other players in similar situations.

The NHL may have a difficult time upholding the suspension in front of the arbitrator. Unlike most other leagues, the NHL does not have a specific policy on domestic violence. As a result, the NHL has taken a wide variety of actions when faced with other cases.

Most recently, Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators also pled no contest to a charge of domestic assault. The NHL only suspended Watson for 27 games. This is in stark contrast to the indefinite suspension handed to Voynov in 2014 and the additional year suspension announced this week. To weaken the NHL’s case more, an independent arbitrator reduced Watson’s suspension to just 18 games.

To avoid inconsistent decisions, the NHL should develop a domestic abuse policy.

Slava Voynov, an exceptionally skilled defenseman last played in the NHL for the Los Angeles Kings. The last time the L.A. Kings faithful saw Voynov take the ice was on October 19, 2014.

In 2014, Voynov was involved in a violent domestic dispute with his wife during a Halloween party. Voynov was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic abuse. Shortly after his arrest, the NHL suspended Voynov indefinitely.

In July 2015, Voynov entered a no contest plea in Los Angeles Superior Court. At the time of Voynov’s plea, he also agreed not to challenge the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts to deport him back to his native Russia.

Voynov announced that he would voluntarily return to Russia. He made this decision to avoid the uncertainty related with immigration, and to be released from custody. Upon his return to Russia, Voynov continued his hockey career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Los Angeles County dismissed the charges against Voynov in July 2018. Thus paving the way for a return to the NHL. Voynov, however, still has substantial hurdles to overcome before taking to the ice in the NHL again.

The NHL suspension is not the only hurdle that Voynov will have to deal with in his journey back to the NHL. As a Russian citizen, Voynov will also have to be allowed back into the United States. According to Christine Swenson, an immigration attorney for athletes, Voynov may have issues obtaining a visa to play in the United States. Swenson says “Convictions for crimes of domestic violence, crimes involving moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, and crimes of violence are all statutory reasons the US government can deport someone.”

The fact that Voynov’s charges were dismissed and he self-deported after his arrest may help his case, but according to Swenson, Voynov may have a challenging time showing to the U.S. Government that his “past actions were not terribly serious, those actions do not pose a risk of harm to society, and that he has a compelling reason as to why he needs to enter the US.”

Fan’s may very well see Voynov back in the NHL before the 2020 season, but his situation makes a strong case for the need to have formalized, collectively bargained policies regarding off-ice conduct. Since both the NHL and the NHLPA have the option to opt out of the CBA next September, it will be interesting to see if the NHLPA pushes for the development of these policies to be included in the next CBA.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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