Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - You may have noticed the Los Angeles Kings haven't been playing like a team on the verge of a dynasty.
With a 9-5-4 record in 2014-15, Los Angeles isn't looking much like a club that won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons last spring. Part of the problem could simply be the dreaded Cup hangover, but there is another, more complicated issue currently hindering the Kings.
The thorny issue at hand involves defenseman Slava Voynov, who is suspended indefinitely by the NHL after being arrested in October on domestic violence charges. The Kings aren't claiming Voynov shouldn't be suspended, but the way his ban affects the club's salary cap situation has L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi livid.
As a result of the cap issues, the Kings have been forced to play with 17 skaters instead of 18 at one point this season and could only dress five defenseman on another occasion. L.A. also has been forced to use star blueliner Drew Doughty more than it would like to, as Doughty is second only to Minnesota's Ryan Suter in average ice time this season, logging 28 minutes, 49 seconds of action per game.
Last week, Lombardi made some interesting points about the inconsistency in the way the cap is affected by different kind of suspensions. The GM compared the Voynov situation with one in Toronto, which recently lost forward Carter Ashton to a 20-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance.
While the Kings receive no cap relief on Voynov's $4.1 million deal, Toronto is not responsible for Ashton's cap hit during his suspension.
"It has nothing to do with what he (Voynov) did. What he did is off to the side. That's indefensible," Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times last week.
"We've lost one of our top players. We get it," Lombardi added. "If he gets convicted, he's out. We get the space. Toronto's guy clearly does something out of bounds, they immediately get the space. How is this logical?"
Voynov is being investigated by the Redondo Beach Police Department for allegedly physically assaulting his wife on Oct. 20. Redondo Beach detectives have met with officials from the L.A. County district attorney's office, but so far, no announcement has been made on whether charges will be filed. Voynov is due in court on Dec. 1 and the D.A.'s office has until then to charge the 24-year-old Russian.
By banning Voynov indefinitely before he's been charged it certainly seems like the NHL is taking every precaution to ensure it doesn't have a Ray Rice situation on its hands. It's safe to say the NFL's ongoing issue with domestic violence and the public outcry over its handling of the Rice situation is causing the NHL to tread lightly in the current climate.
After all, when comparing the Voynov incident to the way the league handled a similar situation with Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov last season, it's obvious the contrasts are stark. Varlamov was arrested on Oct. 30, 2013 for his involvement in an altercation with his girlfriend and was later charged with misdemeanor assault, although charged were eventually dropped on Dec. 20.
Unlike Voynov, Varlamov was not suspended and was permitted to play through the whole ordeal.
With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy Bill Daly in Toronto on Monday for the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, the hockey media got to ask the league's brass about the Voynov suspension and how it affects the cap.
While Bettman issued general remarks at the Prime Time Sports Management Conference on Monday, saying "the integrity of the game requires teams to comply with the salary cap," Daly at least admitted the Rice case "probably plays some part in the (NHL's) thought process."
Lombardi fired back at Bettman on Tuesday via an email sent to the L.A. Times.
"(Bettman) says issue of cap relief not warranted and is just cap management," Lombardi said in the email. "I need to create some space in case (a player) robs a bank."
Later, Lombardi clarified that email with Rich Hammond of the Orange County register, saying NHL clubs already "build in a cushion for injuries" regarding the salary cap and Bettman's comments suggest they need to account for any unforeseen legal issues as well.
"We must build in a cushion in case one of our players is a bank robber, kleptomaniac, etc," Lombardi told the Register. "The seemingly better alternative is, we have to do a better job of educating our players and, in particular, monitoring our players away from the rink. While monitoring them away from the rink may have the Orwellian connotation of 'Big Brother'' oversight, that is the nature of the sports business in the cap era."
While Lombardi is locked in a war of words with the league, it seems the NHL Players' Association may actually hold the key to this problem, although they aren't likely to help out either. Because Voynov is getting paid during his suspension, any cap relief given for his contract would put more of the players' share of revenue in escrow, and the NHLPA already believes its constituents are losing too much to escrow as it is.
In short, the NHL is well within its rights under the collective bargaining agreement to force Voynov's salary to count against the cap, and the NHLPA is unlikely to agree to change that if it costs money for the players as a whole. That leaves Lombardi and his front office caught in the middle with few options other than crying foul.
The Kings aren't saying Voynov shouldn't have to pay for his alleged crimes. In fact, it'd be better for them if the blueliner was convicted today than for him to be exonerated a month from now. Of course, the legal system doesn't work that fast, and nor should it when a potentially serious case like this is under investigation.
Some folks probably think Lombardi should keep his mouth shut in light of what Voynov has been accused of doing, but so long as he's not defending his player and simply pointing out inconsistencies in the cap system, he should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Besides, Lombardi always has been one of the league's most outspoken GMs. It'd probably be impossible to quiet him down anyway.