The NHL should follow Major League Baseball’s lead on domestic violence policy.
During the weekend the Los Angeles Kings finally bought some insurance against disgraced defender Slava Voynov's uncertain future by signing unrestricted free agent Christian Ehrhoff to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
Ehrhoff, a 33-year-old blueliner, is coming off a pair of disappointing seasons, including a 2014-15 campaign that ended with a concussion. But paying for possibly damaged goods is a risk the Kings can afford to take. The one they can’t afford is waiting on Voynov’s availability.
Voynov pleaded guilty last month to a misdemeanor domestic-battery charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. There was a report on Friday that he had been released after serving 45 days of his sentence, which began July 7. That has not been independently confirmed as calls to the Seal Beach Detention Center were not returned over the weekend. However, in an email to SI.com, NHL deputy commissioner Billy Daly suggested Voynov is still behind bars. “My information is different,” Daly wrote. “The report last week that he had been released was erroneous.”
Either way, Voynov remains suspended by both the Kings and the NHL and there is no timetable for a final decision on his potential return to action. That’s a problem. But it’s not one the league seems in a hurry to address.
“Once he is released, his status as a suspended player will not change until we have had an adequate opportunity to review the matter and conclude our process,” Daly wrote. “There is no precise or projected timeline for that.”
It’s hard to imagine at this point what the NHL is waiting on aside, perhaps, from the opportunity to meet with Voynov face-to-face. It’s been nearly a year since he was arrested in October and the league’s investigation into the incident has been “ongoing” throughout.
No doubt it’s been a difficult process. The public relations landscape has changed dramatically in the wake of the Ray Rice incident and the NHL is in some ways handcuffed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement that is a step behind the times.
Catching up with the times is something that Major League Baseball looked to address last week when, in conjunction with its own players’ association, it released its first official policy outlining discipline and treatment plans for players involved in domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases.
Under this plan, MLB’s commissioner has the power to hand down discipline with no maximum or minimum suspensions and no prior precedents affecting his decisions. Teams will have no say in these matters unless the commissioner defers to them. The commissioner may also place a player on paid administrative leave for up to seven days before a decision is made.
That time frame is deemed sufficient by MLB to investigate charges. Whether that holds true on a real-life, case-by-case basis remains to be seen. As the Patrick Kane case illustrates, there are going to be situations that aren’t so clear cut within those first few days. But it is an admirable goal.
Daly said he is aware of MLB’s new domestic violence policy.
“As a reminder, we made our initial disciplinary decision to suspend [Voynov] the same day we became aware of the incident and arrest,” he said.
That’s true, and that swift and decisive action is something for which the league earned universal praise. But with Voynov on the verge of paying off his debt to society, the moment has long passed to come to a final resolution in a timely fashion. He deserves to know whether he will be given the privilege to return to the NHL. And if he’s given that, the Kings deserve the chance to make their own decision regarding his future employment by the organization.
This is virgin territory for the league, and taking careful, considered steps is understandable. But nearly a year on, it’s time to set a standard.
Hopefully, it won’t be needed as a reference anytime soon.
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