Predators’ Watson: Alcohol issues led to his arrest

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson says the arrest last year that led to his 18-game suspension came when he started drinking again after 23 months of sobriety.

Watson, who turns 27 on Sunday, said Friday in an Instagram post that he’s been dealing with anxiety, depression and alcoholism since the age of 18. Watson said he voluntarily entered the NHL’s substance abuse program after his June 16 arrest.

”I am currently sober and committed to living a healthy lifestyle so that I can be the father, partner, teammate and person I want to be,” Watson said.

Watson pleaded no contest July 24 to domestic assault and agreed to a judicial diversion program that enabled the misdemeanor charge to be dismissed if he served three months of probation and completed an in-patient treatment program and a batterer’s intervention program.

He initially received a 27-game suspension from the NHL, but an arbitrator reduced it to 18 games. He was reinstated in mid-November and has six goals and two assists in 28 games this season.

Watson was arrested in connection with a June 16 incident after a witness flagged down a police officer to a gas station in Franklin Tennessee. According to the incident report, 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’s girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, issued a statement in October taking blame for the incident and saying Watson would never hit or abuse her. In her statement, Guardino said she had ”struggled with alcoholism for many years.”

In his Instagram post, Watson said that he and his girlfriend were ”engaged in a heated, nonphysical argument” that day. Watson said that both he and his girlfriend had relapsed in their battles with alcoholism during the month leading up to the incident.

”I did not cause marks on her chest or blood on her leg,” Watson said. ”I did handle matters that day poorly and did not uphold the standards of an employee of the Nashville Predators or National Hockey League.

”I take full responsibility for my involvement in the argument and have learned from the situation and taken the necessary steps to ensure that nothing of this nature happens again.”

Watson added that he and his girlfriend are ”healthy, happy and committed to our own individual sobriety as well as continuing to strengthen our relationship.”

”We have learned from our mistakes and are excited to move forward in our relationship,” Watson said. ”We wish only to raise our daughter Olivia in the most healthy and loving atmosphere we can provide.”

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Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.