There were two ways the NHL could have addressed the Monday morning arrest of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov on charges of domestic violence: the old way or the right way. That the league chose the latter by indefinitely suspending the two-time Stanley Cup winner shows that Commissioner Gary Bettman and the rest of the brass have been paying attention.
Deferring action and hoping the problem would go away just wouldn't have cut it in today's post-Ray Rice world. The NHL cited a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement as justification for its decision to suspend Voynov with pay while everything plays out: “The suspension was imposed under Section 18-A.5 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which provides that, during the pendency of a criminal investigation, ‘The League may suspend the Player pending the League’s formal review and disposition of the matter where 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.’”
The response is a far cry from the tap dance the NHL went through last year when faced with a similar incident involving Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov. In that case, the league showed no inclination to get involved, preferring to let the case run its course in the courts.
“At this point, we are monitoring the developing legal situation and do not intend to intervene in that process,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said at the time. “There may come a point in time where we feel it is either necessary or appropriate to take a different approach, but that's not where we are right now. We are and will remain in close contact with the [Avalanche], and will see how the underlying facts unfold.”
The league's arms-length stance was at least partially vindicated later when all charges against Varlamov were dropped due to a lack of sufficient evidence. But even then the optics were atrocious, especially when Colorado allowed him to suit up for the team's next game. Now? Maybe the league has entered a new era of enlightenment at the main office. Or maybe it's just smart enough to read the tea leaves and avoid the inevitable backlash that would have occurred if it had done anything less than suspend Voynov indefinitely.
Either way, it was the right approach. Voynov can now focus all his energies on answering the charges and getting his life back in order instead of worrying about playing the Sabres on Thursday night. And when all the facts come to light, the league can decide whether additional discipline is required. Until then, the NHL can take pride in having done the right thing from the start.