Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson is suspended 27 games, as well as all of the preseason, for “unacceptable off-ice conduct,” the NHL announced in a news release Wednesday.
The decision comes after a league investigation and in-person hearing in New York Friday, Sept. 7. Watson was involved in an incident June 16 with his girlfriend and pleaded no contest to the domestic assault charge July 24.
The NHLPA is appealing the suspension. The Predators released a statement Wednesday, and Preds President and CEO Sean Henry spoke publicly Thursday about it during the third annual AMEND experience, a gathering of Nashville and Middle Tennessee community leaders committed to ending violence against women and girls.
NHL commissioner determines Watson domestic violence suspension
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman determined the suspension under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, based on an investigation and conduct hearing.
“I have determined that Nashville player Austin Watson engaged in a physical confrontation with his domestic partner,” Bettman said in a statement. “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 is the only one of the four major sports that does not have a domestic violence policy in place and decides suspensions on a case-by-case basis. It did not share any details from its investigation or hearing.
Watson pleads no-contest to assault
Watson was arrested and charged with domestic assault in June after arguing with his girlfriend at a gas station outside of Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee. Their 2-month-old child was with them. A witness flagged a police car to report the situation; the officer said he noticed red marks on the victim’s chest. Watson admitted to shoving her, according to the report in the Tennessean.
The 26-year-old Watson made his plea in late July and was sentenced to three months’ probation, a 26-week batterer’s intervention course, and an impatient treatment program for drugs and alcohol.
Predators, NHLPA make statements
The NHLPA said it will be filing an appeal on behalf of Watson, while the Predators said they worked closely with and supported the NHL in its investigation. It wished Watson, his girlfriend and their child “the best” during the suspension “as they move forward.”
“Our commitment to AMEND is the same today as it was when we partnered six years ago with the mission of making Nashville the safest city for girls and women,” the Predators said in the statement. “We will continue to evolve and grow our programming to work toward this shared objective.”
An impartial arbitrator will hear the case and make a decision within 30 days of the hearing, per the CBA. If the suspension stands, Watson won’t be eligible until Dec. 3 against the Buffalo Sabres.
Preds CEO speaks at AMEND Experience
Team President and CEO Sean Henry spoke at the AMEND Experience one day after the NHL made its determination, telling a group of more than 500 the organization is moving forward, according to the Tennessean.
“We’re not hiding from it but we are facing it,” he said.
“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,” he said.
YWCA, which started the AMEND program. AMEND Together is a prevention initiative to end the domestic violence epidemic that focuses on empowering young men and boys.
Watson was one of three Nashville players who participated in an anti-domestic violence video for the YWCA. The Tennessean reported it was pulled from the YWCA site after the arrest.
Watson’s impact for the Predators
Watson scored a career-high 14 goals last season for the Predators with five assists for 19 points. He had five goals and three assists in 13 playoff games. All 216 of his regular season games have come with the Preds.
Nashville drafted him in 2010 with the 18th overall pick. The same year he helped the United States win gold at the World Under-18 Championships.
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