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Answering the big questions on the NHL's domestic violence policy

Slava Voynov's last NHL shift came on Oct. 19, 2015. He's attempting to return to the league, but the situation is complicated. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov is due in a Los Angeles court for an expungement hearing. He is looking to remove from his record his no contest plea on a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse. That would clear the way for his re-entry to the NHL.

How will the league handle his case? Considering they don't have a specific domestic violence policy, it's complicated. Here's everything you need to know:


What are the facts of the Slava Voynov case?

On Oct. 19, 2014, Voynov and his wife, Marta Varlamova, got into an argument at a Halloween party. The fight spilled back to the couple's home in Redondo Beach and escalated. According the Los Angeles Times, which obtained the police report, Voynov choked Varlamova with both hands, repeatedly pushed her to the ground and kicked her five to six times on the ground. She was shoved into the corner of a television mounted on a wall and, according to the L.A. Times, told police in a recorded interview: "My blood, all over bedroom and bathroom ... and it's not the first time."

At about 1 a.m., police were called to the Little Company of Mary Hospital in neighboring Torrance, where Varlamova was being treated for injuries. Voynov was in the waiting room. Police arrested him that night.

How did the NHL respond?

At 10:32 a.m. the next day, the NHL released a statement announcing that the 24-year-old Voynov was "suspended indefinitely from all club activities pending a formal investigation by the National Hockey League of an arrest this morning on charges of domestic violence."

What happened next?

Voynov pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse. The Kings terminated his six-year, $25 million contract and placed him on their voluntary retirement list. Voynov spent nearly two months in jail.

Instead of navigating custody and deportation proceedings with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Voynov agreed to voluntarily leave the country and return to his native Russia. He played in the KHL for the next three seasons and competed in the 2018 Olympics.

Didn't Voynov sign a six-year deal with the Kings in 2013-14? That would run through the 2018-19 season.

That's correct. The six-year deal was worth $25 million. The Kings "terminated" Voynov's contract on Sept. 17, 2015, but Voynov is technically on Los Angeles' voluntary retirement list. The team retains his rights. According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the Kings have the ability to trade those rights if they choose.

Now Voynov wants to come back?

He does. The NHL confirmed that Voynov had a meeting with commissioner Gary Bettman this spring to begin outlining the process. However, the league is taking a wait-and-see approach for what happens next. The NHL isn't going to decide anything before Monday's hearing.

Will the court drop his case?

Even if that happens, there is an issue of immigration. If Voynov sorts through those hurdles, the NHL would then start from scratch regarding his league re-entry.

"At the time everything happened, he was dealing immediately with legal issues and immigration issues," Daly said in Las Vegas before the NHL Awards. "He really was not in a position where he could allow us to investigate in any meaningful way. And then he ended up going back to the KHL. Really, in a lot respects, we're starting from ground zero with him in terms for understanding exactly what happened, what transpired since, what all the circumstances are. Obviously, all of those would go into any ultimate decision by Gary [Bettman] as to his eligibility to play."

Well, what's the league's policy on domestic violence?

There is no blueprint. The NHL is the only of the four major North American sports leagues without a specific domestic violence policy. The league handles each incident on a case-by-case basis, with the ultimate ruling coming from Bettman and Daly.

Are folks within the NHL calling for reform?

Not exactly. After the most recent GM meetings broke out, I asked Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon if he believed the NHL should adopt a specific domestic violence policy.

"It's something I've never even thought of because we've never had any issues," Tallon said. "I'm all for getting somebody all the help they can get. It would have to be brought up at the next [GM's] meeting. And I don't think it's ever been brought up. I have no problem bringing it up. It's a good idea. It's good to be ahead of the curve, I would think. We've always been reactive and gone about it that way."

When asked the same question, Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee said: "It's probably a better question for the league to handle. I'm a hockey operations guy, and that's the area I know."

One Eastern Conference GM said: "The league handles these things, and they do a good job. It probably would be good to have some guidelines on paper, but as long as they are consistent, I haven't heard of anyone who has a problem with it."

Why would the league need a domestic violence policy?

Advocates for a specific domestic violence policy in sports leagues aren't necessarily looking for stricter punishment, but rather for a framework that includes support services.

"It's very important to talk about who should be served by the policy," said Terry O'Neill, the former president of the National Organization for Women who now serves as the executive director of the National Employment Lawyers Association. "It's important to hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their action, but the league must also put provisions for the survivors of domestic violence."

O'Neill noted that many spouses are financially dependent, as most have put their careers and lives on pause -- often involving relocation as far as across continents -- for the sake of the athlete.

Is there anything else on the radar regarding the NHL and domestic violence?

The league is monitoring a situation involving Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson.

On June 16, Watson and his girlfriend were parked at a Shell gas station in Franklin, Tennessee, "having an argument about her drinking and not being able to attend a wedding," according to the affidavit of complaint obtained by ESPN. A witness flagged down a police officer, who responded to the scene. The officer found red marks on the woman's chest, according to the affidavit, and Watson admitted to pushing her. Watson was arrested. He is being charged with a misdemeanor assault.

Watson's June 28 court date was pushed back to July 24. The league says it will monitor the situation, letting the legal process play out before determining how to handle it. In the Watson case, the NHL has the luxury of time, considering the season doesn't begin until October.

When did other leagues adopt policies?

The NBA's policy was born through the latest collective bargaining agreement in 2016. MLB released its guidelines on domestic violence in 2015, while the NFL amended its personal conduct policy in the wake of the 2014 Ray Rice incident. The current policy was written in 2016.

It should be noted that each of the policies includes language about treatment programs -- including counseling and further education -- for violators.

What would happen to Voynov under the NFL's domestic violence policy?

The NFL would have immediately launched an internal investigation as soon as it became "aware of a possible violation of the personal conduct policy." Voynov could have been put on the commissioner's exempt list (leave with pay) when formally charged with a violent crime or if the internal investigation led the commissioner to determine that he might have violated the policy by committing a violent crime.

Based on the internal investigation, a report would be written and the commissioner would make a discipline decision -- similar to how Bettman is in charge of making the NHL's ultimate decision. The baseline for a first offense in the NFL is a six-game suspension, which is 37.5 percent of the regular season. That equates to about 30 games in an NHL season. That six-game suspension is just a baseline and can be longer or shorter, depending on the circumstances.

If, three years later, Voynov tried to get back in, his NFL suspension either would have expired or -- if indefinite -- would have provided an outline for him to petition for reinstatement. If he were reinstated, the question would become: Would an NFL team sign him after three years away from the game?

Unlike in football, there are competitive hockey leagues outside North America. In the KHL, Voynov was playing at a high level, and by all reports, he has been staying in shape and still can contribute as a high-level defenseman in the NHL.

What would happen to Voynov under the NBA's domestic violence policy?

The NBA also would have launched an investigation into Voynov's case. The commissioner would have had the option of putting Voynov on administrative leave while the investigation was pending. In the NBA, there are no guidelines for discipline, as the commissioner decides on a case-by-case basis, considering both aggravating factors (including prior allegations and convictions, the use of a weapon, the vulnerability of the victim and the presence of a minor) and mitigating factors (including acceptance of responsibility, evidence of self-defense, cooperation with the investigation, reputation and voluntary participation in treatment or counseling programs).

Then-LA Clippers center Willie Reed was the first (and currently only) case covered under the NBA's new domestic violence policy. In August 2017, Reed was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge after arguing with his wife when she asked for a divorce. Reed's wife requested not to press charges, and he entered a pre-trial intervention program. In February, the league announced that Reed was suspended six games.

The league said the decision was "based on all facts and circumstances of this matter, and considers the conduct and its result, the outcome of the criminal matter, and Reed's voluntary participation in counseling as well as the court-mandated program, among other factors," according to a statement.

It's fair to assume that a Voynov suspension might be longer, considering the nature of the incident (aggravating factors). It should be noted that the NBPA came out with a statement saying that it felt Reed's six-game suspension was "excessive and inappropriate."

What would happen to Voynov under MLB's domestic violence policy?

The commissioner's office would have investigated Voynov's case. The commissioner could have placed Voynov on paid administrative leave for up to seven days while the allegations were investigated. Administrative leave is not considered discipline. Technically, Voynov still would have been able to practice (if the team asked for permission). After that, the commissioner would have determined whether Voynov would be suspended with pay or without pay until the legal proceedings were complete.

Regarding discipline, there is no minimum or maximum penalty, "but rather the Commissioner can issue the discipline he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct."

MLB has had quite a few domestic violence cases. In the current season, four players have been investigated for domestic violence. Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox was suspended 15 games, Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins was not suspended, Jose Torres of the San Diego Padres received a 100-game suspension, and most recently, Roberto Osuna of the Toronto Blue Jays received a 75-game suspension.

Consider that Osuna was arrested on May 8 and charged with assaulting a woman. (Toronto police have released scant details to protect the identity of the woman). Hours after the arrest, Osuna was put on administrative leave. On June 22, MLB announced a 75-game suspension, retroactive to May 8.

It's difficult to project what a suspension for Voynov would look like in MLB, given all of the factors involved.

It appears the NFL sometimes disciplines players even if there aren't criminal convictions.

Under that league's current domestic violence policy, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has had no problem enforcing his own justice system.

Consider former Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy was convicted of assault and communicating threats against an ex-girlfriend in a bench trial. However, upon an appeal, prosecutors dismissed the charges when the woman stopped cooperating. Even still, the NFL launched its own two-month investigation and levied a 10-game suspension (later reduced to four games).

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was never arrested or charged by prosecutors after allegations of domestic violence. The NFL launched a one-year investigation, and cited statements from Elliott's former girlfriend as well as photos of injuries Elliott allegedly inflicted on the woman in justifying a six-game suspension.

Is that the NHL's style?

Not really. If you consider the NHL's recent experience with domestic violence or sexual assault cases, you'll see the league tends to wait for the judicial system to play out before even considering punishment. In the Watson and Voynov cases, the NHL has the luxury of time, considering the season doesn't start until October. And if there are no convictions, the NHL has backed off on supplemental discipline, though it is hard to draw any trends with a limited number of case studies.

In 2013, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree kidnapping of his girlfriend during the season. Varlamov was never suspended -- and even played two days after his arrest. For nearly two months, he was free on a $5,000 bond and played with the team. The charges were dropped when prosecutors said they uncovered new information that led them to believe they wouldn't win a conviction.

The NHL did launch its own internal investigation into Patrick Kane after a Buffalo prosecutor announced Kane would not be charged with rape following a three-month police investigation in 2015. The NHL's review included a meeting with Kane and Bettman in New York, and concluded with the league emphatically declaring in a statement that "the allegations made against Kane were unfounded" and therefore he would not be disciplined. Kane was allowed to play during the investigation.