THE LONG & WINDING ROAD: SLAVA VOYNOV
Slava Voynov, a highly touted defensemen for the Los Angeles Kings, has been on a long and winding road the past year. The last time the L.A. Kings faithful saw Voynov take the ice was on October 19, 2014, and it appears that this date will also serve as Voynov’s last game in the NHL.
During a Halloween party last October, Voynov was involved in a violent domestic dispute with his wife, Marta Varlamova. The NHL suspended Voynov indefinitely shortly after being arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for domestic violence.
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.
On September 2, 2015, ICE took Voynov into custody until his deportation could be finalized. In order to avoid the uncertainty related with immigration issues, and in an effort to be released from custody, Voynov announced that he would voluntarily return to Russia.
Voynov also reached out to the L.A. Kings, the NHL and the NHL Players Association (“NHLPA”), and articulated his desire to be allowed to continue his hockey career in the Kontinental Hockey League (“KHL”). The process of allowing Voynov to continue his hockey career in the KHL, without incurring further discipline, is a complex one.
International player transfers in hockey are generally regulated and governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (“IIHF”). Typically, there are four principal types of transfers that occur in hockey. The first type of transfer is the transfer of a player from an IIHF league to another IIHF league. The second occurs when a player in an IIHF league transfers to the NHL or the KHL. A third category is when a player transfers from the NHL to an IIHF member league. Finally, the fourth type of transfer occurs when a player transfers from the KHL to the NHL or vice versa. For more information regarding the types of player transfers, please see: INTERNATIONAL PLAYER TRANSFERS IN ICE HOCKEY
Voynov’s situation invokes the fourth type of player transfer. According to the IIHF transfer regulations, when a player desires to transfer between a member organization and a non-member organization, all of the parties involved must negotiate and agree to a transfer agreement. The NHL is not a member organization of the IIHF, and the KHL, while a member organization, has been allowed to draft its own transfer regulations. Therefore, in accordance with the IIHF regulations, the NHL, and the KHL executed a Memorandum of Understanding. This memorandum outlines the policies and procedures to allow for player transfers as well as standardized discipline for all disputed transfers.
Unlike a traditional transfer of a player from the NHL to the KHL Voynov’s case adds complexity to the transfer process, since this is not his first transfer.
Prior to signing a $25-million deal with the L.A. Kings, Voynov was under contract to Chelyabinsk of the KHL. In order to allow Voynov to enter into the NHL entry draft, the NHL and NHLPA executed a transfer agreement with Chelyabinsk and the KHL. Under the terms of this agreement, Chelyabinsk would allow Voynov to enter into the NHL draft and sign a contract with an NHL club. While Chelyabinsk allowed Voynov to sign with an NHL club, under the terms of the agreement, Chelyabinsk was able to retain Voynov’s rights in the KHL.
While Voynov is seeking to play in the KHL this upcoming season, he has expressed a desire to play for SKA St. Petersburg, rather than Chelyabinsk. Therefore, before Voynov is allowed to skate in the KHL, multiple parties will have to be involved in the transfer negotiations.
Voynov is currently under contract with the L.A. Kings in the NHL and, therefore, a transfer from the NHL to the KHL must be executed. Additionally, Chelyabinsk owns Voynov’s KHL rights; therefore, the transfer agreement must also transfer Voynov’s KHL rights from Chelyabinsk to SKA St. Petersburg. Thus, this transfer has an additional step that is not found in a typical transfer. Voynov’s agents can try to accomplish both the international transfer and the transfer of Voynov’s KHL rights in one transaction, or they can take a two-step approach.
If Voynov and his agents wish to accomplish both transfers in the same agreement then all of the parties (L.A. Kings, NHL, NHLPA, Chelyabinsk, and SKA St. Petersburg) must agree to the terms of the transfer. However, if Voynov believes it would be overly complicated and difficult to get the five parties to agree, it would be possible to execute an international transfer from the L.A. Kings to Chelyabinsk. This transfer would only require the Kings, NHL, NHLPA and Chelyabinsk to agree to the terms of the transfer. Once the international transfer is completed, Voynov and his agents would then be able to negotiate a trade between Chelyabinsk and SKA St. Petersburg. Either approach would be able to accomplish Voynov’s goal of playing for SKA St. Petersburg.
It will be interesting to watch the transfer develop over the next few weeks. For more information about player transfers and contested transfers, please see INTERNATIONAL TRANSFER DISPUTES IN ICE HOCKEY – PART 1: THREE KEY CASES
 2012 IIHF International Transfer Regulations, (May 2011), available at http://www.nijb.nl/pdf/2012%20IIHF%20International%20Transfer%20Regulations.pdf  Id.  Memorandum of Understanding  2012 IIHF International Transfer Regulations  Id.