Friday evening Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion stated via Zoom, “Our priority is adding some pieces up front. We’re going to be diligent. We’re going to be sure, we’re going to add the right pieces and we’ll keep on discussing with free agents or acquire players via trade.”
Saturday, the GM went the trade route, adding Austin Watson from the Predators in exchange for the Senators 2021 fourth-round pick previously acquired from the Avalanche in the Vladislav Namestnikov deal.
Watson recorded 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 53 regular season games this past season. The Predators 2010 first-round selection was held without a point in four playoff qualifying games.
The right wing was tops among his club in penalty minutes (65) and hits (131).
“Austin Watson is a big, strong winger who will bring a significant presence to our forward group,” said Dorion in a team release. “He was among Nashville’s leaders in blocked shots last season, was the team’s leader in hits and is someone who is especially physical on the forecheck. We also expect him to be a valuable asset on our penalty kill.”
The Ann Arbor, MI native arrives in Ottawa already armed with a fresh contract. Watson signed a three-year extension last October. The deal has an average annual value of $1.5 million per season.
On the ice, Senators’ fans know what the 28-year old can bring to the team – as would head coach D.J. Smith who as an assistant coach to a then 17-year old Watson on the Windsor Spitfires 2009 Memorial Cup winning team.
However, Watson’s past off-ice issues raised some concerns in social media circles.
Watson pleaded no contest to a charge of domestic assault, July 24, 2018, for an incident in which a witness saw him “swat” his partner, Jennifer Guardino at a gas station in Franklin, TN one month earlier. The misdemeanor charge was dismissed when Watson agreed to complete an in-patient treatment program and a batterer’s intervention program.
Watson was suspended for by the NHL for the entire 2018-19 preseason and the first 27 games of the regular season. The suspension was commuted to 18 games after appeal.
In October 2018, Guardino released a statement stating that an assault wasn’t committed, that she herself was in a state of intoxication and was attending AA after struggles with alcoholism.
Jenn Guardino, Austin Watson’s girlfriend and mother of their daughter, released this statement: pic.twitter.com/mLvgW1k5YD
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) October 13, 2018
In an Instagram post January 11, 2019, Watson announced, “I have dealt with anxiety, depression and Alcoholism since the age of 18. I maintained sobriety for 23 months until the middle of May, 2018 when I began drinking. After the events of June 16th, I voluntarily entered the NHL SABH Program, and I am currently sober and committed to living a healthy lifestyle so that I can be a father, partner, teammate and person I want to be.”
“As Jennifer said in her previous statement, she also deals with Alcoholism. During the month leading up to the incident, we had both relapsed, our relationship had become tense, and we made a serious of poor decisions that lead us to that day.”
Unfortunately 18 days after this post, Watson suffered a relapse and was suspended once again. The CHL 2012 All-Star was placed in Stage 2 of the NHL’s substance abuse and program a second time.
On World Mental Health Day, October 11, 2019, Watson posted, “Life is hard sometimes. Everyone is going through something. Be kind and try to judge others less. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, we can’t battle our demons or hard times alone. It’s not weak to admit we’re having a tough day or not feeling ourselves.”
“Our lives have so much beauty to offer. Lift each other up, help each other out. We’re all worthy of everything good in our life.”
In a must listen, Austin’s partner Jennifer opens up on the Chat About Off Ice With Ida (wife Predators d-man Mattias Ekholm) and Julie, (wife of former Senator Kyle Turris) podcast to discuss her own struggles of growing up, being bullied, suffering her own insecurities and battling addiction. Jennifer also explains how she and Austin are in a much better place.
The pair are now heavily involved in supporting Mental Health Awareness in the Nashville community.
Watson made a pledge via Instagram Saturday evening to the Senators and the City, while thanking the Predators organization and its fans.
“To the Ottawa Senators and the City of Ottawa, I couldn’t be more excited to join the Ottawa Senators organization. Thank you to Pierre Dorion and D.J. Smith for seeing something in me that you wanted to add to your team. I can’t wait to get started in Ottawa with the incredible group of talented players already there. I can assure you I’ll give you 100% of everything I am capable of on, and off the ice. LFH!!!
With the turning of the page to a new chapter comes leaving behind previous memories, experiences, and growth.
I’d like to thank the Nashville Predators for the opportunities given to me in the 10 years since I was drafted. To Mr. Poile, Sean Henry, the Nashville Predators ownership group, and everyone in the front office, thank you from the bottom of my heart for choosing me to be a part of your organization. The Nashville Predators are a world-class organization that have treated myself, Jennifer and Olivia with nothing but generosity, love and respect. For that we thank you.
To all the staff, you were a pleasure to work with on a daily basis. Trainers, foundation staff, media team, I will broadly encompass you all so I don’t miss anyone. Day in and day out the last 5 years you’ve been nothing short of awesome and I thank you for the kindness and love you’ve shown me and family over the years!
To my teammates, I will miss you all. A lot of us having experienced so much together including riding buses in the minors all the way to competing for the Stanley Cup final. I’ll cherish forever the memories we made on and off the ice and I can only hope that I move forward to a new opportunity leaving you with some fond memories of me, or at least a couple at my expense.
To the City and Fans of Nashville, thankfully I posted a curiously well-timed share about my experiences with you, the fans, earlier today. It’s tough to express how much The City of Nashville means to me and my family. With you I’ve experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Through all of them I pray that you always found my words honest, my effort to be tireless, and my gratitude to be endless. We have made lifetime friendships here and Nashville will always hold a piece of my heart!”