By Ron Wynn
NASHILLE, TN — The Nashville Predators will lose one of their top players for not only the entire preseason, but quite possibly 27 games of the regular season following last week’s suspension of forward Austin Watson. Watson was suspended following the completion of a league investigation into a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend.
“I have determined that Nashville Player Austin Watson engaged in a physical confrontation with his domestic partner,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a league-issued statement last Wednesday. “Today’s ruling, while tailored to the specific facts of this case and the individuals involved, is necessary and consistent with the NHL’s strongly held view that it cannot and will not tolerate this and similar types of conduct.”
The NHL Players Association announced it will appeal the suspension. The NHL currently has no domestic violence policy in place. Instead, incidents are judged on a case-by-case basis. But the current collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players does allow the NHL to suspend players who are under criminal investigation.
Watson previously pleaded no contest to a domestic assault charge in July, receiving probation. He also must complete 26 weeks of a batterer intervention course. If the appeal is not successful or the sentence not reduced, he will be out at minimum until December. “We’re not hiding from it, but we are facing it,” Predators President and CEO Sean Henry said of Watson’s suspension Thursday. “We’re not focusing on the suspension but on [Watson] and his family [as well as] the organization continuing its efforts on ending domestic violence.”
Watson signed a new deal with the Predators last summer. It was a three-year, $3.3 million contract. He’s due to make $1.1 million for the coming season, and $1.2 million for the 2019-20 season.Last season he set career highs in goals, points and assists, and was the team’s most consistent player through much of the playoffs.