The NHL has suspended Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson for 27 games, the league announced Wednesday. The suspension pertains to “unacceptable off-ice conduct.”
Th 26-year-old from Ann Arbor pleaded no contest in July to a domestic assault charge from a June incident.
The NHL held an investigation and hearing into the incident last week and Wednesday’s suspension is the result, with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman making the determination.
“I have determined that Nashville player Austin Watson engaged in a physical confrontation with his domestic partner,” Bettman said. “Today’s ruling, while tailored to the specific facts of the 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.”
Watson will also sit out the preseason and will be permitted to join his team December 3 against the Buffalo Sabres.
It is possible that the Predators will add to the suspension, as some have been calling for. Nashville spent time in March last season raising awareness over issues of domestic violence and even named Watson an ambassador to the AMEND program, a program of the YMCA in Nashville and Middle Tennessee designed to provide education on the subject.
“The Nashville Predators supported and worked closely with the National Hockey League investigation regarding Austin Watson,” the team said in a statement. “During his suspension, we wish Austin, Jenn and their baby the best as they take the necessary steps to move forward, with the support of the Nashville Predators, the NHL, the NHLPA, and all the collective resources they can provide.”
The Associated Press is reporting that the NHLPA will be appealing the suspension on Watson’s behalf, which is pretty much standard procedure.
But given the context of this situation and Watson’s support for the AMEND program, you do have to wonder how the organization will act coming out of this. If public pressure is sustained, we could see some contract issues come up with Watson – like a potential buyout.
Another thing: unlike the other major sports leagues in North America, the NHL does not have a written or specific policy on domestic abuse. Each situation is adjudicated separately.