There’s no rooting in this job, but that rule is suspended in matters of life and death. And make no mistake, the Austin Watson saga has reached that stage.
Alcoholism is a disease that kills. And when you consider what Watson risked while lapsing over the summer and getting into an argument with his girlfriend that got him charged with domestic violence, and when you consider the opportunity the Nashville Predators gave him after he pleaded no contest, then you must realize the obvious with this news that he has blown it: The guy is in danger.
So root with me. Root for Watson. Root for his girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, who is battling the same disease. Root for their baby daughter, who already was going to have to read about the incident her parents got into on June 16, 2018, and wonder — like the rest of the world — what exactly happened. Root for truth in Guardino’s public vows that Watson did not and does not abuse her. There are only two people in the world who will ever know for certain.
Root for this family to stick together and help each other through this. They no longer have the long-term security of financial support from professional hockey as an absolute. Watson’s suspension related to “ongoing issues with alcohol abuse” per a league statement means he is out indefinitely, and I’m assuming it means he won’t play for the Predators again.
NHL: Predators’ Austin Watson suspended indefinitely after alcohol-related relapse
There’s no word from the organization on that yet and things will have to play out, but I’ll be surprised if he returns to this roster. I don’t see any way he could be back this season.
So yes, this is a big blow to the Predators’ Stanley Cup hopes. Make no mistake about that. Watson was the best player on this team, period, in the first round a year ago against Colorado. He’s a tremendously versatile player and penalty killer who brings physicality that this team sorely lacks otherwise.
I believed GM David Poile and President/CEO Sean Henry when they said this fall that the organization cared about Watson and his family and wanted to help them through this. I also don’t believe for a second that they would have stood by just any player under the same circumstances.I thought, and wrote, that they should have moved on from Watson because ending domestic violence is a central quest of this organization — and because, again, two people know for sure what happened that night. Guardino told police that Watson “sometimes gets handsy” with her, and those words never left me and have never been directly addressed.
By sticking with Watson and counting on him, the Predators are now left in need of at least one move to add a physical forward by the trading deadline. That was a likely Poile move even with Watson on the roster.
But this is not the appropriate time to worry about that. This is the time to hope those Guardino words weren’t true, to pray that her words in support of Watson were, and to root hard for this family to overcome a disease that kills tens of thousands every year in this country alone.
Contact Joe Rexrode at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.