Nashville, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators started training camp explaining why they’re keeping a player after the NHL suspended forward and Ann Arbor native Austin Watson for the entire preseason and the first 27 games of the regular season for domestic abuse.
Predators president Sean Henry and general manager David Poile made the move sound more like a family affair than a business decision Thursday.
“I think you would do everything you could do just to rehabilitate your child or make the situation whole,” Poile said.
“I’m hoping at the end of the day that maybe this is a blessing, that maybe this is what was meant to be for a lot of reasons and there’s going to be a good outcome for Austin and Jen and their baby. It’s a very difficult situation. It’s a private situation, and we’re the family that’s going to do our best to try to care of this.”
The NHL announced the suspension Wednesday night, and the NHL Players Association plans to appeal. Watson will not be paid during the suspension but can practice with the team and use the Predators’ resources all while not taking up a roster spot.
Watson, 26, was charged in an incident June 16 with his girlfriend after a witness flagged down a police officer to a gas station in Franklin, Tennessee. Watson told police he and his girlfriend were arguing and that he pushed her. Officers said they found red marks on her chest, and she said Watson caused them. Watson pleaded no contest to domestic assault on July 24.
As part of that plea, Watson can have the misdemeanor charge dismissed by fulfilling terms of the diversion program. Watson must serve three months of probation and complete both an in-patient treatment program and a batterer’s intervention program.
The Predators have been heavily criticized in Nashville for not commenting since Watson’s arrest. The franchise has been very involved with AMEND, a program fighting domestic violence over the past few years. Watson was even in a commercial against domestic violence for the program.
Poile said the Predators’ players leadership group have talked repeatedly with both Watson and his girlfriend, and players were in the room during the news conference as a show of support. Henry was asked Thursday morning at an AMEND event why the Predators are keeping Watson and said it’s possible to both support Watson while fighting domestic violence.
“Whenever something like this hits a little closer to home, you have to look at it in two ways,” Henry said. “You have a choice. Walk away from the person or walk away from the issue. That’s how everyone looks at it. You can’t have both, and we don’t see it that way. We see engaging with Austin and Jen deeper, and most importantly staying with our commitment with AMEND.”
Neither Watson, nor his girlfriend, have spoken publicly about the incident or suspension.
The 18th pick overall in 2010, Watson scored a career-high 14 goals with five assists in 76 games last season. He had five goals and three assists in 13 playoff games.
Watson played one season at Detroit Country Day and another at Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard before being drafted into the OHL.