Off The Draw...
UPDATE: The Los Angeles Kings finally got what they needed on Friday afternoon: salary cap relief.
The NHL made the groundbreaking decision to allow the team to bury Slava Voynov's salary on Long-Term Injured Reserve a day after the Los Angeles District Attorney announced that the defenseman would face one felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury.
From the league's press release:
"In light of the uncertain and potentially extended period of time that the legal process may entail, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to permit the Kings to replace Mr. Voynov’s Salary and Bonuses pursuant to the Bona Fide Long-Term Injury Exception under the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement."
The decision clears Voynov's $4.17 million cap hit off the books for as long as he remains suspended, allowing the Kings the financial leeway to bring in a suitable replacement. Short term that's likely to be Jeff Schultz. The veteran was with the club during last season's run to the Cup, but he carried too large a cap hit to be recalled when Voynov was initially suspended. Long term? GM Dean Lombardi will likely focus on an outside target to fill the hole.
While it took too long for the league to get to this solution, give it credit for ultimately getting it right. The NHL got hung up on the lack of a specific provision in the CBA that would address a crime-related suspension, but common sense and some cooperation from the NHLPA got them where they needed to be.
A day after learning that Kings defenseman Slava Voynov has been charged in Los Angeles with one felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury, the hockey world waits for the other skate to drop.
The question is, will it drop in L.A. or New York?
For now, Voynov will remain suspended with pay, which means his $4.17 million salary continues to count against the cap. That's bad news for the Kings, who have been forced to dress a short roster, or AHL-caliber players, because of a lack of cap space. They've had little recourse to this point, with the league seemingly unable, or unwilling, to provide cap relief under extenuating circumstances.
But now, with formal charges in play, the Kings could seek to void Voynov's contract while citing a negative impact on ticket revenues and marketing partners due to their continued association with him. It wouldn't be tough to make that case.
It would be better, though, if the league did the right thing and cut ties with Voynov for them. Innocent until proven guilty is a cornerstone of the U.S. justice system, but the standards are much lower in the business world. And formally terminating Voynov is the only decision that makes sense for the integrity of the league's business.
A harsh move, sure, especially without a conviction to back it up. But attitudes have changed in the wake of the Ray Rice incident. The public has no appetite for men who physically assault women or children. Amid the outcry about Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson, the NFL started to hear ominous concerns voiced by some of its major sponsors. NASCAR is now taking some heat for the way it has handled similiar incidents The NHL could eventually makea case that associating with Voynov is starting to harm the league's reputation and brand worth. As cautious and even-handed as the league's approach has been with Voynov, and Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov last year, it may decide that stronger action is required.
It's a move that could be contested by the NHLPA, but you have to wonder how publicly the union would line up behind an accused wife beater.
As for Voynov, continued employment might be the least of his concerns. A felony charge was the worst possible outcome as he now faces a possibility of up to nine years in state prison if convicted. A plea deal would cut that significantly. My unsophisticated legal research suggests a first-time offender in California could face a 52-week domestic violence counseling commitment, 40 hours of community service, a fine and a no-contact order with the victim and a suspended sentence of as few as three months in prison.
But if Voynov decides to fight the charge and is found guilty he could face both hard time and eventual deportation.
Either way, it seems likely that he's played his last game for the Kings. It's just a matter now of who steps up and makes the call.
What to watch this weekend
The rollercoaster Islanders come into this one on a high, winners of six of their past seven games. It's hardly the time to make a significant roster change, but they're about to make one anyway. Michael Grabner made the trip to Pittsburgh and is expected to to make his season debut tonight. The former 30-goal man missed the first six weeks of the season due to hernia surgery and should boost an offense that's averaging 3.5 goals per game during this hot streak. They might need the help. The Penguins are 9-1 in their past 10 games, have won three straight, and could have Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes looking for his 300th career win. They will, however, be missing first-line winger Pascal Dupuis who is out indefinitely while dealing with blood clots. Fourth liner Blake Comeau will get the first crack at replacing him alongside Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Bruins at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; NESN, FS-O); Devils at Oilers (9:30 p.m. EST; MSG+, MSG+ 2, SNW)
How big is this game in Boston? According to ticket reseller TipIQ, a ticket to Saturday's game averages out at nearly $300, the second-highest of the season trailing only an upcoming February visit from the same Canadiens. Sounds like Bruins fans are expecting their team to exact a little revenge after dropping an earlier pair of games in Montreal. The last one was particularly ugly, a no-compete 5-1 loss that left them scrambling to right the ship. Expect a particularly warm TD Garden welcome for Montreal's Dale Weise. The winger, who was in the middle of the handshake line drama after Boston's Game 7 loss to the Habs last spring, was a force in that last meeting on Nov. 13, recording a Gordie Howe hat trick while managing to avoid being killed by Milan Lucic. Based on those ticket prices, it appears as though Boston's fans are expecting his luck to run out on Saturday night.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Blues at Senators (3 p.m. EST; FS-MW, RDS, TSN5); Red Wings at Maple Leafs (7 p.m. EST; CBC, FS-D); Wild at Lightning (7 p.m. EST; FS-N+, SUN); Penguins at Islanders (7 p.m. EST; CITY, ROOT, MSG+); Blue Jackets at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; FS-O, CSN-PH); Sabres at Capitals (7 p.m. EST; MSG-B, CSN-DC); Panthers at Predators (8 p.m. EST; FS-F); Kings at Stars (8 p.m. EST; FS-W, FS-SW); Hurricanes at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; FS-CR, ALT), Devils at Flames (10 p.m. EST; SN, MSG+); Blackhawks at Oilers (10 p.m. EST; CBC, TVA2, WGN); Coyotes at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; FS-A, CSN-CA
St. Louis will be looking to salvage a few points, and maybe a bit of pride, as the Blues head into the third stop in a four-game road trip. They've looked dominant at points of each of the first two games but still ended ended up dropping a 2-0 decision in Boston on Tuesday and then losing 4-1 in Montreal on Thursday. They're getting a consistent effort from the STL line but not much from the rest of the offense. Paul Stastny is ice cold this month, with just one point in his last nine games and a -4 rating for this trip. Clearly not the return the Blues expected on their $7 million per year investment.
The Jets come into this one looking to get back on track after dropping three of four. Their offense is doing its part, recording three goals in each of the past three games, but the defense that was helping them pile up some Ws is sagging. They'll have a couple days off before this one, though, which could help after a brutal stretch that saw Winnipeg play 15 games, including two separate trips to the East, in just 28 days. No word on a starter yet, but after Ondrej Pavelec got the nod in a 4-3 loss to the Red Wings it wouldn't be a surprise to see Michael Hutchinson between the pipes. As of Friday, the rookie led the league in goals-against average (1.38) and save percentage (.948).
REST OF THE SCHEDULE: Canadiens at Rangers (7 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, CITY, RDS, MSG); Coyotes at Ducks (8 p.m. EST; FS-A, FS-W); Blackhawks at Canucks (9:30 p.m. EST; CSN-CH; SNP)
What you may have missed
• The story of how Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson went bankrupt is heartbreaking.
• A 14-year-old boy suffering from a rare and excruciating genetic disorder saw his dream come true when the Ottawa Senators signed him to a contract as a scout.
• Flyers GM Ron Hextall shared his rather blunt assessment of the team with his players.
• Ryan Kesler returned to Vancouver for the first time as a Duck.
The numbers game
• So much for all that talk about how the West is best by a wide margin. As of Friday night's games, Eastern Conference teams had played their Western counterparts 123 times and were 60-63 against them.
• Anaheim's Jakob Silfverberg, who leads the NHL with four shootout goals (in six attempts), entered the weekend ranked second among active skaters (minimum of 15 attempts) with a career conversion rate of 56.3% (9-for-16). Who's No. 1? How about Toronto’s Tyler Bozak (57.9%, 11-for-19).
• Chicago's 2011 Draft class has been the most productive of any team's crop from that year. Blackhawks Adam Clendening, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad have racked up combined totals of 77 goals and 170 points in 328 games. Other notables who were taken that year: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers); Gabriel Landeskog, (Avalanche); Johnny Gaudreau, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund (Flames); Jonathan Huberdeau, Rocco Grimaldi (Panthers).
• Did the Toronto Maple Leafs intentionally snub their fans in the wake of Thursday night's win over Tampa Bay? Scott Feschuk thinks so.
• So does Ken Campbell who argues that the team's leadership has some 'splainin' to do.
• Mike Heika is right on the money in his observations of the Stars' silky smooth rookie defender John Klingberg. The thing that amazed me most about his performance Thursday night? It was the first time since he was called up that I saw one of his shots blocked. The kid has an uncanny knack for getting pucks to the net. What a beauty.
• Adrian Dater of the Denver Post has started an independent podcast on all things hockey. His guest may be familiar, at least to my family.
• Three Syracuse Crunch fans have attended every home game dressed as the Hanson Brothers for the past 20 years. They might want to mix a heavy coat into the wardrobe this weekend as the Crunch takes it outdoors for the Frozen Dome game.
• What's so great about Connor McDavid? Check out this scouting report and you'll understand why the hype keeps on building.