Getty

NHL suspends Austin Watson 27 games for ‘unacceptable off-ice conduct’

8 Comments

The NHL suspended Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson for 27 games (along with the entire preseason), describing his June 24 incident as “unacceptable off-ice conduct.” This comes after Watson pleaded no contest to domestic assault charges, receiving three months of probation.

“I have determined that Nashville Player Austin Watson engaged in a physical confrontation with his domestic partner,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Today’s ruling, while tailored to the specific facts of this 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.”

This suspension came after a Friday (Sep. 7) hearing in New York, according to the NHL’s release. The league also noted that Watson, 26, has been suspended without pay.

The Nashville Predators provided this press release following the announcement:

The Nashville Predators supported and worked closely with the National Hockey League investigation regarding Austin Watson. 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. Our commitment to AMEND is the same today as it was when we partnered six years ago with the mission of making Nashville the safest city for girls and women. We will continue to evolve and grow our programming to work toward this shared objective.

The NHLPA announced that an appeal will be made on Watson’s behalf.

Watson is under contract with the Predators through the 2019-20 season.

This thread provides early reports regarding the incident:

This 27-game suspension comes shortly after Nate Schmidt received a 20-game suspension for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. This suspension may be most relevant to former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s hopes of returning to the NHL, which is currently an unclear process:

Bill Daly also added that, when it comes to potential discipline for Voynov, “anything and everything is on the table,” according to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators’ Watson gets three months probation for domestic assault

Getty
7 Comments

Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson received three months of probation after pleading no contest to a charge of misdemeanor domestic assault, according to the Tennesseean’s Natalie Neysa Alund.

Alund explains that, going forward, there are two potential outcomes for Watson: a) the case would be expunged if Watson doesn’t violate the terms of probation or b) he could face as long as a year in jail if he violates the terms of his probation. You can learn more about the terms of Watson’s probation here, which include “peaceful contact with the victim” and completing a 26-week program.

These details were reported after the incident, which happened in late June.

As of this writing, the Predators have yet to release a statement regarding the court decision. The NHL announced in a statement that they will be opening up an investigation:

Following today’s events in Nashville, we have notified the Club and the NHLPA that the League will be initiating a full investigation into the matter, pursuant to the procedures set forth in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, to determine the extent to which League discipline for Mr. Watson’s off-ice conduct may be warranted and/or appropriate.

The Club understands and agrees fully with the League’s view as to the extremely serious nature of the situation and has pledged its full cooperation in the process.

We will refrain from making any further public comments on the matter until our investigation is complete.

Here is a statement via Watson’s attorney Mark Puryear:

The Tennesseean’s Jon Garcia provided an in-depth look at how the NHL and individual teams have handled allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence in the past, noting that Nashville continued to employ Mike Ribeiro while he faced a 2015 civil lawsuit (which was eventually settled). Garcia notes that the NHL doesn’t have an official policy regarding sexual assault or domestic violence, although this CBA clause more broadly addresses criminal investigations overall:

Section 18-A.5 states, “the League may suspend the Player pending the League’s formal review and disposition of the matter where the failure to suspend the Player during this period would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.”

Watson, 26, is currently under contract with the Predators for the next two seasons.

Predators’ Austin Watson charged with domestic assault

Getty
3 Comments

Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson has been charged with domestic assault, according to the Tennessean.

He was arrested on Saturday night in Franklin, Tennessee, but he was released on a $4,500 bond. Watson is due to appear in court on June 28th.

Last year, Watson was one of four Preds players that took part in the “Unsilence the Violence” campaign that was launched by the team to end “violence against women through education”. In January of 2017, the organization pledged $500,000 to the YWCA’s violence prevention program.

The 26-year-old was drafted 18th overall by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been playing for Nashville since the 2012-13 season.

Here’s the Predators’ statement:

“We are aware of the incident involving Austin Watson on Saturday night.  We are still gathering facts and it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time, but this is a matter that we are taking very seriously and will cooperate fully with the investigation by law enforcement. The Nashville Predators have and will continue to stand side by side with AMEND (sic) in the fight to end violence against women.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

What if Predators need more from second line in Game 7?

Getty
4 Comments

It’s remarkable that the Nashville Predators managed to push the Jets to a Game 7, and not just because of the wealth of talent in Winnipeg.

Instead, it’s a testament to how dangerous the top line (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson) can be and, while there have been some ups and downs, how much of a difference Pekka Rinne and that defense can make. Because, frankly, the Predators’ second line has been a letdown.

An effective second line really helped Nashville win its first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy in 2017-18.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

On nights that the top line struggled, or the Predators simply needed to trade goals, the trio of Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith often soared. Sometimes they looked like another top line, particularly during Turris’ hot start after being traded from the Ottawa Senators.

Now, it’s true that there have been some moments of brilliance. They came through during one especially big moment when the Predators needed them, as Turris made a nice play to unleash Craig Smith, who fed Fiala for a big overtime goal earlier in the Jets series:

Those moments have been few and far between for this intriguing line, though.

So far during the postseason, Turris has been a bust, only managing three assists in 12 playoff contests. Much like Johansen, Turris tends to pass first, but his minimal numbers stand as maybe the most troubling of that trio.

Smith’s numbers are a bit reminiscent of Rick Nash, as the possession stats and shots are there (29 SOG through 12 games). This moment captures some of Smith’s struggles:

Fiala might represent the most extreme highs and lows for the second line.

On one hand, he scored that huge OT goal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy winger made some big plays in Game 7. Fiala seems to have a sense of the moment, as he also scored a big OT goal against Chicago during the 2017 run.

The bigger picture is mixed for the young forward, though. He’s been limited to three goals and one assist for four points during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Fiala has even been a healthy scratch during this series.

When you consider these struggles, the Predators have to be pretty happy that they’re a win away from another trip to the third round. Forsberg’s ascent to stardom alongside that lethal top line stands as a big reason why, and Nashville’s seen players like Austin Watson and Colton Sissons step up (particularly during the first round).

[Soak in Forsberg and the rest of the first line’s dominant Game 6 performances]

It’s conceivable that Nashville could survive this huge challenge even if the second line flounders. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Predators are far from the only team that’s wanted more from supporting cast members during this postseason. You can file some of this under “easier said than done.”

Still, whether it’s in Game 7 against the Jets on Thursday, or against the Golden Knights if Nashville manages to advance, the Predators are going to want more from Fiala, Turris, and Smith sooner rather than later. So far, that group hasn’t really been able to deliver as hoped.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Second Round Preview: 10 things to know about Jets vs. Predators

NBC
3 Comments

Let’s not kid ourselves here, if you’re a fan of the game of hockey, the second round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators is the crème de la crème.

This isn’t throwing any disrespect or shade on the three other series going on around the league. It’s just the truth.

This matchup was on the tongues of fans in both markets and across the league before the playoffs even began. People wanted it, and they knew if both teams took care of business in the first round, they’d get it.

Now it’s here. And it’s massive in every measurable way.

Simply put, you have the two best teams in the regular season facing off against one another.

Nashville finished with 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy while the Jets slotted in three points back with 114. The hype begins there and runs rampant as each storyline branches out.

Both teams possess Vezina Trophy candidates this season.

Both teams have great offenses, stout defenses and excel in special teams.

And the hits just keep coming: Patrik Laine vs. Filip Forsberg. Mark Scheifele vs. P.K. Subban. Dustin Byfuglien vs. anyone brave enough.

Can Austin Watson and Colton Sissons keep it up? Will Nikolaj Ehlers find his scoring touch? What about Kyle Connor? Will injuries derail the Jets or will discipline issues spell doom for the Predators?

The list is endless and enthralling.

Schedule

Surging Players

Jets: On offense, Scheifele finished up the first round series with four goals and five points while Laine had two goals and two assists. Byfuglien had five assists as he chipped in from the point, but his biggest contribution outside of production was the hurt he put on the Minnesota Wild, physically.

But unquestionably, the Jet that is surging the most at the moment is Hellebuyck, who bounced back from a tough Game 3 outing to post back-to-back shutouts in Games 4 and 5 to close out Winnipeg’s first-round series against the Wild.

Predators: The first round was the Austin Watson coming out party. Watson had four goals and three assists to match linemate Colton Sissons’ three goals and four assists for the team lead at seven points. Add Nick Bonino‘s five points and the Predators third line made up three of the team’s top six scorers during their six-game series against Colorado.

Forsberg wasn’t far behind, scoring four and adding two helpers. Meanwhile, Mattias Ekholm had one goal and five assists.

Struggling players

Jets: Winnipeg works so well as a unit that even when there is a lull offensively from a player, they’re aren’t always immediately viewed as being stuck in rut.

That said, Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored 29 goals in the regular season and rookie Kyle Connor, who had 31 in his inaugural NHL campaign, have just two assists apiece thus far. This isn’t to say the sky is falling on those two, and you could probably chalk up their first-round offensive struggles to trying to sort playing in the playoffs in the big leagues.

Still, both will be looking for improvement in the goal-scoring department in the second round.

Predators: Ryan Hartman cost the Preds a first-round pick at the trade deadline on Feb. 26 and he was a healthy scratch for Game 6. Hartman already missed Game 5 due to suspension after throwing his own pity party and then trying to take Carl Soderberg‘s head clean off.

Hartman needs to be better, and so does the line of Kyle Turris, Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala.

Turris had no goals in the series, adding just two assists. Turris had 10 points in 19 games last year with the Ottawa Senators as they went on their run to the Eastern Conference Final. Fiala had a goal and an assist in the series and Smith had two markers. Turris’ line was solid during the regular season. That magic would be a welcomed addition to the second round.

Oh, and Mike Fisher could pitch in a goal or even a helper. He’s laid an egg through six games.

Goaltending

Jets: The backbone of the Jets, both in the regular season and through the first round.

Hellebuyck has been nothing short of sensational for the Jets this season. He posted a healthy 4-1 record with a .924 save percentage and two shutouts in the first round. Hellebuyck is able to string together solid start after solid start, and when he has an off night, like he did in Game 3, his ability to quickly forget it and move on is uncanny.

He’s a Vezina candidate for a reason and a problem the Predators must solve to move on.

Predators: Speaking of Vezina candidates, Rinne is likely the front-runner for the award this year, and his regular season was tremendous.

In the first round, however, Rinne looked fairly pedestrian, if not below average, with a .909 save percentage. Still, he backstopped the Predators to a 5-0 win in Game 5 with a 22-save shutout. And Nashville has all the ingredients in front of Rinne to make up for poor nights.

One area of concern for Rinne is his sub-.800 save percentage when facing high-danger scoring chances. It’s something to keep an eye on against a team that generates a lot of them.

This battle is paramount in the series. The Jets, even with their scoring prowess, have it all to do against Rinne if he’s on top of his game.

Special teams

Jets: Winnipeg’s penalty kill struggled in the first round, killing off infractions just 76.9 percent of the time. The Jets had the eighth best PK in the league during the regular season, so chalk this one up as an anomaly, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

The Jets were given just 13 power plays in the first round and converted on three of them for a healthy 23.1 percent success rate. Laine didn’t find the back of the net with the man-advantage as the Wild tried to take him out of the equation altogether. It didn’t help that they left Scheifele open twice, however. Winnipeg has a lot of weapons at their disposal on the PP. Nashville would do well to limit the number of times Winnipeg gets to deploy them.

Predators: The Preds were shorthanded 20 times during the first round but managed to kill off 90 percent of those. In theory, rinse and repeat should be on the menu, but the Jets are far more dangerous up a man than Colorado. Still, having Rinne in the crease and Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis to depend on in front of him is the envy of many.

Nashville’s power play was a bit of a bottom feeder during the first round, converting on just 15.8 percent of their 19 chances (three, for those who aren’t good at math, like me). That compares to their 21.2 percent during the regular season. If Winnipeg’s PK continues to struggle, Nashville could get back to that number.

Fancy stats

Jets: There’s not a better possession team in the playoffs thus far. The Jets are moving along with a 58.96 percent Corsi rating through five games, and showed their ability to dominate and hold teams in their defensive zone in some lopsided affairs against the Wild. Winnipeg’s expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) was highest at 61.9%.

Predators: The Jets might lead playoff teams in terms of possession, but right behind them is the Predators at 54.89%. The Predators had the edge between the two teams in medium-danger save percentage at .986 compared to Winnipeg’s .939. Nashvilles xGF% was third at 55.9%.

We’re splitting hairs here. Both teams are good in many analytical categories. According to TSN’s Travis Yost, “Winnipeg actually outchanced Nashville (53.5 per cent of scoring chances in their favor) over the five-game series, but Nashville did end up winning three of five games.”

Injuries

Jets: Laine missed Wednesday’s practice and Ehlers missed Game 5, both with “malaise” as Jets coach Paul Maurice preferred to put it. Maurice said he expects both to be ready for Game 1.

The Jets are without Mathieu Perreault, who has been out of action since picking up an injury in Game 1. Dmitry Kulikov (back) still remains sidelined. Backup netminder Steve Mason is nursing another lower-body injury but has been skating. Toby Enstrom, meanwhile, is finally back to practice after missing time with an ankle injury. His return could be a big boost for the Jets. Enstrom’s a solid puck-moving defender who is great at breakouts and works well beside Byfuglien.

Predators: The Preds emerged from the first round relatively unscathed. Watson missed team skates on Wednesday and Thursday but is expected to play. Otherwise, it appears all cylinders are firing for the Predators at the moment.

X-Factor for Jets

Some might say health, but the Jets have proved they can not only handle the injury bug, but spite it all together with impressive results. The Jets seem to click no matter who’s in the lineup. That said, they face a Predators team that can punish lesser players. But the x-factor here is goaltending. If Hellebuyck is on his game, the Jets are near-unstoppable.

X-Factor for Predators

Discipline. The Predators simply need to control their sticks and their extremities and take fewer minors. Nashville took 29 minor penalties (second most) in the first round and was shorthanded 20 times. They’re playing against the power play that clipped along at 23.1 percent in the first round and have Laine and Scheifele who can be devastating if given the opportunity with the man advantage. Nashville’s penalty kill was an even 90 percent against the Avalanche, but they can’t rest on that against Laine and Co.

Prediction

Predators in 7: I’m sticking to my pre-playoff pick, but it’s getting increasingly hard. The Jets were simply too good in the first round not to take notice and the Predators were largely pedestrian against the Avalanche to make this one a coin flip on paper.  The Predators gained a ton of experience last year, and they will have to lean on that in this series. The edge is razor thin, but the Predators are slightly ahead of the curve. I expect Nashville to tighten up defensively and not give Winnipeg’s stars the kind of space Nathan MacKinnon was afforded in the first round.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
10 things to know about Golden Knights vs. Sharks
• 10 things to know about Penguins vs. Capitals

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck