NHL slams arbitrator's decision to reduce domestic violence suspension of Predators' Austin Watson

The National Hockey League on Friday took the unusual step of criticizing the decision by arbitrator Shyam Das to reduce the suspension the league had imposed against Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson for a domestic assault.

The league had suspended Watson for 27 games, but after an appeal, Das reduced that to 18 games. The NHL does not have a specific policy for handling domestic violence issues but it acted quickly to suspend Kings defenseman Slava Voynov in 2014 after Voynov assaulted his wife and she required hospital care.

Watson was arrested in June after allegedly hitting his girlfriend during an incident at a gas station in Franklin, Tenn. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault in July and the NHL suspended him for 27 regular-season games. The NHL Players’ Assn. appealed to a neutral arbitrator on his behalf, and Das cut the suspension by a third. Das formerly served as an arbitrator for Major League Baseball.

“We have reviewed Arbitrator Shyam Das’ opinion in the NHLPA’s appeal of Austin Watson’s suspension for domestic assault which reduced the League-imposed suspension of 27 games to 18 games. We are disappointed with the Arbitrator’s decision,” the league said in a statement. “We firmly believe that the right of appeal to an arbitrator of League discipline was never intended to substitute the arbitrator’s judgment for that of the Commissioner, particularly on matters of important League policy and the articulation of acceptable standards of conduct for individuals involved in the National Hockey League.

“The NHL remains committed to continuing to do what we believe is right. And, in this regard, we intend to continue our steadfast efforts to ensure everyone in our League is adequately educated and sensitized to the importance of this serious social issue. We will not hesitate to adhere to and enforce — through firm discipline as necessary — the standards of personal conduct we feel are appropriate for our League.”

After assaulting his wife four years ago, Voynov pleaded no-contest to a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse and his six-year, $25-million contract was voided by the Kings, who retain his rights. Voynov served nearly two months in jail and returned voluntarily to his native Russia rather than face deportation proceedings. His conviction was dismissed earlier this year. The league has been conducting its own investigation into the incident as part of a process that could lead to Voynov’s eventual return.

In a statement released Friday, the NHLPA said it "takes domestic violence seriously and continues to work together with the NHL to ensure that players are educated on this important societal issue. As part of those efforts, the NHL/NHLPA conduct domestic violence awareness training at our Rookie Orientation Program and during the season for all NHL players.

"The [collective bargaining agreement] provides players with the right to appeal discipline imposed by the NHL for off-ice conduct to an impartial arbitrator. This essential right is intended to encourage the fair and consistent application of discipline. The arbitrator’s independence helps ensure that the process and decision are fair. That is a principle to which we should always strive to adhere, even in cases where the subject matter is as difficult as domestic violence.”

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