Nashville Predators player, Austin Watson, is suspended for 27 games for domestic violence. He was arrested on June 16th at a gas station in Tennessee and pleaded no contest on July 24th. Watson had allegedly pushed his girlfriend during an argument and caused red marks on her neck.
The league did not make a decision on how (or even if) they would penalize Watson for over a month, during which they spent the time investigating the matter themselves. Bill Daly, NHL’s deputy commissioner, said “Austin doesn’t really have club duties currently. It will be dealt with in due course and prior to next season.” The final ruling announced on September 12th was a 27-game suspension and unfortunately there was no additional information provided by the league that explains how they landed on that number.
The NHL, unlike all of the other major sports leagues in America, do not have a policy in place for domestic violence. The only thing that comes close is about players who are under criminal investigation: “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.”
There was another suspension announced over the summer for Nate Schmidt, Vegas Golden Knights defenseman. He’s been suspended 20 games for testing positive for seven billionths of a milligram per milliliter of a performance-enhancing drug (the NHL nor Schmidt have specified which one). This wasn’t announced until after the league informed Schmidt and he appealed the ruling. Once the appeal was denied by an independent arbitrator, the information was released.
It’s difficult to pinpoint if it was the league’s choice to wait until after the appeal to disclose the suspension or if it was Schmidt’s request to keep things private for the time being, but it still begs the question: why deal with a drug infraction so quickly and seriously but drag out a domestic assault charge lackadaisically over the course of a month?
“Not only did I not intentionally take a banned substance, I could not have received any performance enhancement benefit from the trace amount that inadvertently got into my system at a level that was far too small to have any effect,” Schmidt said in a statement. “This low amount was consistent with environmental contamination that I could not possibly have prevented.”
“One of the experts in environmental contamination who testified on my behalf at the Appeal hearing described the amount of the substance found in my system – 7 billionths of a milligram/mL – as the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
The league’s decision to suspend Watson for 27 games and Schmidt for 20 leaves a lot of room for questions. It’s not being argued here that Schmidt’s suspension shouldn’t occur, but that it lacks coherency when compared to Watson’s.
When looking back at how the NHL dealt with domestic assault charges in the past, they’re a bit all over the place. Slava Voynov, former Los Angeles Kings defensemen, was arrested in 2014 for domestic violence and was prosecuted and charged with 90 days of jail and 3 years of probation. An officer had testified that his wife had told police Voynov punched, kicked, and choked her, and that her face was cut after Voynov pushed her into a flat-screen television. He also said he saw a laceration above her left eye, streaming blood, and red marks on her neck. The league suspended him indefinitely, a ruling he is currently trying to appeal in an effort to be reinstated. The league is currently considering letting Voynov back into the NHL, but haven’t made a decision as of now.
Semyon Varlamov, a goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche, was also arrested for domestic violence, but in this case, he received no suspension by the league. This was most likely because the charges were dropped, but there was still no punishment by the NHL for this arrest.
Alternatively, players who’ve tested positive for PEDs in the past like Shawn Horcoff, Zenon Konopka, Carter Ashton and Sean Hill, were all were suspended 20 games just like Schmidt was. It’s important to point out that the NHL’s policy on PEDs is that even the smallest amount of it can trigger a punishment, regardless if it was accidental intake or if it would affect the player’s abilities on ice. However, for domestic violence charges, it seems like they’ll take their time to determine what’s suitable.
The question here is what constitutes a suspension and its length for domestic violence? The severity of the assault? Watson had supposedly shoved his girlfriend and caused marks on her neck while Voynov punched and kicked his wife resulting in bleeding and cuts. Is it the rulings of the court? Watson pleaded no contest and got 27 games, Voynov spent 90 days in jail and is suspended indefinitely, and Varlamov’s case was dropped and he received no suspension. Unfortunately, it looks like the league takes all of this into account when determining a suspension. This is a gross negligence on their part because, in the end, domestic violence is domestic violence, just like a PED infraction is a PED infraction no matter how minute it may be.
NHL is consistent with PED infractions because it’s written in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is a written set of terms and conditions between the NHL and its players, while domestic violence is not. At the next lockout (most likely in a few years) the CBA should be amended to include domestic violence and perhaps specify rules about other off-ice related criminal incidents. This way there isn’t a huge discrepancy between the results of the same crime.
Why domestic assault isn’t already mentioned in CBA is baffling. This suggests that the league doesn’t seem to care about basic human values. In this case, they’re saying domestic violence is just seven more game suspensions worse than having 7 billionths of a milligram/mL of PEDs in your body. The inconsistent distribution of suspensions by Player Safety is unfortunate but slightly understandable. The inconsistent distribution of suspensions by the league for non-play related regulations is disheartening and troubling.