On Wednesday, the NHL finally announced the punishment for Austin Watson, who pleaded no contest to misdemeanor domestic assault chargers back in July.
The NHL conducted a lengthy investigation into the incident in which Watson was charged with domestic assault. In June, Watson was arrested outside a gas station in Franklin after a witness called police and reported that Watson had gotten physical with his girlfriend. Watson admitted to shoving his girlfriend, whom he was arguing with about being too drunk to attend a wedding. Police reported that the woman had marks on her chest. Watson’s girlfriend also told police that Watson “sometimes gets handsy.”
At his court appearance in July, Watson pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year of probation. Terms of that probation included inpatient treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, a 26-week batterer intervention course, and peaceful contact with his girlfriend.
After looking over all the information, the NHL decided to suspend Watson for 27 games without pay. He can still use team resources, but he won’t be eligible to play until Dec. 3 against the Buffalo Sabres.
In the name of full disclosure, I was dreading writing about this. I’m not qualified to have these types of nuanced discussions. I’m just some dummy who liked sports and writes about a hockey team in his parents’ attic. However, we do have to talk about this. A little while ago, I suggested a punishment for Watson that included a one-year suspension in which he had to meet all the terms of his probation before rejoining the team. Some wanted to take it a step further in the form of the Predators releasing him. I understand that. I do. I would have been fine with that. Then, there are some who believe 27 games is too steep. The only thing I would ask those people is to put Watson in a jersey of another division opponent. What is your reaction to this 27-game suspension then? Is it too little or too much? Should he be allowed to continue playing for that team? Perhaps my biggest issue with this punishment is that Vegas’ Nate Schmidt got suspended 20 games for having a trace — and I mean trace — amount of a banned substance in his system. Apparently the team owned up to it and admitted it may have been from something the training staff or other personnel had given Schmidt. Watson’s punishment is only seven games more than that.
As for how the Predators handled all this at their media availability, it was a bit of a mixed bag. By not releasing Watson, they had to know they would catch plenty of heat. The team’s president, Sean Henry, reiterated the franchise’s commitment to AMEND, an organization committed to ending domestic violence. Roman Josi did the same and added that members of the team had talked to both Watson and his girlfriend. In one of the more cringe-worthy moments, Poile stated that he hoped that this would end up being a blessing. That’s what will surely make the rounds nationally. That’s not a good line. It was a very ill-advised thing to say. I hope, and think, that Poile wasn’t saying it was a good thing that Watson committed domestic assault. However, I also won’t speculate what exactly he did mean because that was pretty off the wall. He also said that the team is backing the entire Watson family.
Ultimately, there is a lot of nuance in this discussion. For instance, if Watson does get treatment and does rehabilitate himself, should he never be able to find work in the league again? For some, the answer is yes. For others, the answer is no. I see both sides. That sounds like a middle-man answer, but it’s genuinely how I feel. Personally, I do think Watson should be able to play again if he completes his required treatment. I just don’t think he should be able to play just 27 regular season games from now.