After serving a lengthy suspension for off the ice issues, Nashville Predators winger Austin Watson put up some of his best career numbers, in just 43 total games.
2018-2019 was a rough season for Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson, who served two separate suspensions, that caused him to only play in 37 regular season games. After being suspended for the first 18 games of the season, Watson returned to the ice, where he tallied seven goals and six assists in 34 games, including a hat trick on November 25th.
However, Watson was suspended again in January by the NHL and NHLPA and admitted into the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program. He was reinstated on March 20th, and eventually returned to the ice on April 2nd, where he would record three assists in the final three regular season games.
Back in September, Watson was suspended for the first 27 games of the regular season, following the league’s investigation that stemmed from Watson’s July arrest for misdemeanor domestic assault. After appealing that suspension, nine games were knocked off of his punishment, bringing that suspension down to just 18 games.
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After serving that suspension, and forfeiting nearly $241,000 of his salary, Watson returned for 34 games. However, the reinstatement was short-lived, as Watson was suspended again in January by the league, this time indefinitely, after an alcohol-related relapse.
Predators general manager David Poile worked closely with the NHL and the Watson family, in order to find the best course of action in a complex situation. When asked about what the length of the suspension meant for the team, Poile said as per an article written by Paul Skrbina of the Nashville Tennessean:
"“All the conversation was with Austin, (his girlfriend) and the baby and whatever we could do to help improve their lives and their situation. I couldn’t care less about the suspension.“We’re dealing with this as a family situation. It’s very complex. There’s (a) lot of layers I don’t know about, you don’t know about.”"
Side note here, but that’s something that you love to hear from the general manager of a team. The Predators weren’t working with the NHL and Watson family just so they could get a forward back. They were genuinely working for the family so that they could get the best help and resolution possible.
After his second suspension, Watson rejoined the team on April 2nd for the last 3 regular season games.
Despite his suspensions, Watson denies physicality with his girlfriend Jenn Guardino.
Although his season was broken up by suspension, Watson still put together nice numbers when he was on the ice. After his first 18-game suspension, Watson returned for 34 games. In that time, Watson tallied seven goals and six assists, including a hat trick on November 25th against the Anaheim Ducks. He averaged 14:30 on ice per game, a career high, along with 28 blocked shots and 109 hits, all while playing on the team’s fourth line.
After returning from his second suspension, Watson added three more assists in three regular season games, then one goal, one assist, eight blocked shots, and 35 hits in six playoff games.
Despite playing less than half as many games as he did in 2017-2018, Watson recorded just three points shy of his career best of 19. Watson was more efficient on offense, he improved his possession numbers, and he took fewer penalties, all things that the Predators wanted.
After completing much of the NHL’s treatment program, Watson came back looking like a new player. He played much smarter, much more efficient, and became much more of a weapon for the Predators.
His final grade from me?
Next season, Watson gets a clean slate but is due $1.1 million on the last year of his deal. If he wants to stay in the league, he’ll need to prove that he can continue that improved style of play, and become maturer off the ice.
Watson had a solid year, considering his two stints away from the team. However, he was a liability to his team and caused many problems for Poile and company. For that, he gets a C+.