Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson has had his suspension reduced from 27 games to 18 games by arbitrator Shyam Das.
Watson was tagged with the initial suspension mid-September after pleading guilty to domestic assault from an incident in June.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made the initial suspension stick after a league investigation and a hearing, going with the non-tolerance approach regarding incidents of domestic assault.
The Predators, for their part, have supported Watson without actually having any formal involvement in the appeals process.
Watson was able to use team equipment and practiced with the squad during his suspension, plus he was on the ice as the Predators lifted the Central Division and Presidents’ Trophy banner on opening night.
“We are aware of its reduction to 18 games,” the Predators said in a statement. “As previously stated, our focus has and will continue to be the health and well-being of Austin and his family.”
Watson is eligible to rejoin the team on November 15, which comes at the tail end of a five-game road trip. Under the terms of the initial ban, he was to be out until December 3.
To put things in perspective, Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension means he’ll be eligible to return to hockey on November 21. He’s got an appeal as well, so we’ll see how the league comes out of this one.
Watson was charged after an incident on June 16 during which a witness flagged down police officers at a gas station in Franklin. The incident involved the hockey player’s girlfriend and an argument, during which Watson admitted to pushing her. Police stated they found red marks on the woman’s chest and she stated Watson was the cause.
The forward pleaded no contest to the charges in July.
The plea deal opens the door for Watson to have the misdemeanour charge tossed, which still means he has to serve three months probation and complete a few programs.
This incident has highlighted the fact that the NHL does not have a written domestic abuse policy.
Some called for the Predators to add to the NHL’s suspension of Watson, especially given the team’s support for the MEND program. It doesn’t look like that will be on the books now and it doesn’t look like Nashville will buy out Watson’s contract either, especially given their milquetoast approach to the forward thus far.