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On the Subject of Voynov

Just Say No

Edmonton Oilers v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Recently, social media has been filled with rumours and speculations about a return to the NHL for Slava Voynov. A return that could take place as early as July 3, 2018. Voynov has an expungement hearing on July 2, 2018 and is currently in the United States. If successful, his expungement hearing would remove the no contest plea from October 2014 from his record. Without a criminal record, Voynov would once again be capable of freely travelling in North America – a major component for a successful NHL return.

So, if Voynov is capable of playing at an elite level (and it appears he is) and not facing legal restrictions (which July 2, 2018 will determine), why shouldn’t the Oilers take a chance on making an offer? After all, Voynov is a right shot defenseman who was an impact player for the LA Kings until he beat his wife so badly in resulted in front page news and charges. But doesn’t that just mean Voynov might be affordable for the Oilers? With his reputation in shreds and having spent the last two years in the KHL, wouldn’t Voynov be a potentially cap friendly option?

The answer to that is he probably could be. Voynov comes with a host of publicity problems for whatever team wants him which may drive his price down. Still considering all that, the Oilers would definitely be stupid to try to sign him. And there are several reasons for this.

First, the Oilers are not the only team potentially interested in the returning domestic abuser. With multiple other roster spots to fill, the Oilers can’t afford to get caught up in a bidding war. The Oilers have a long history of overpaying for players other teams are reported to be interested in. They absolutely cannot afford to overpay another player. (I am aware they will anyway.)

Second, LA still holds Voynov’s rights. The price for a team in the same conference as them is probably higher than for a team in the eastern division. What LA wants from the Oilers is probably more than a team in its umpteenth rebuild can afford for a player who has been away from the NHL game for years. However, not even to get rid of Milan Lucic’s anchor of a contract would it be acceptable to have Voynov on the roster.

Third, integrity and sensitivity. The NHL talks a good game about valuing fans from non-traditional fan bases (visible minorities, people of colour, women, the LGBTQIA+ community), but it hasn’t done a very good job of listening to the diverse voices that make up those groups. Here is an opportunity for the Oilers to make an integrity based decision.

Voynov is not someone they want to introduce to the community they belong to because of previous criminal behaviour. There is a moral judgment that anyone who beats someone so badly they need medical attention is not someone you should endorse in any way. It is not behaviour you should normalize or excuse through endorsing the offender. The Oilers have an opportunity here to make an integrity based decision. Voynov did something horrible – don’t argue with me about what a plea of no contest means either – and he shouldn’t be rewarded for it. Just because it legally won’t have happened if his record is expunged doesn’t mean it didn’t actually happen. The Oilers, at a minimum, should take the position that intimate partner violence is unacceptable… even for those who play hockey really well.

Beyond that there are many voices in the hockey community that are speaking up against the idea of a team even considering this signing, among them many of the non-traditional fan bases in the NHL, especially women. Now would be a good time to actually hear what they are trying to say and take a pass on Voynov.

Finally, whether they acknowledge it or not, the Oilers have a responsibility to the community. The work they do through the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation is wonderful, but they can’t follow that up by courting a known abuser. It sends a message the Oilers would be best served by avoiding. The community that supports our team is not as important to us as winning hockey games. I mean it’s not like they’ve supported this franchise for the last 15 years.

Edmonton has at least three women’s shelters for victims of intimate partner violence, maybe more. I can personally think of three. Attempting to bring in Voynov would be disrespectful of the strength and resiliency it took each of the women residing in those shelters to leave there abusers. It marginalizes the suffering of every person who is in a relationship that involved intimate partner violence. That is not okay.

That will never be okay.

And that, more than any other reason is why the Oilers need to say thanks but no thanks to Slava Voynov.