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Watson Keeping Perspective, Believes NHL On Right Track to Return Soon

Once it became clear the pause to the NHL season wasn’t about to be a quick fix, Austin Watson brought a new piece of equipment into his home.

“I was one of the probably thousands of people that ordered a Peloton very early in the pandemic,” the Predators forward said as he flashed his classic hockey smile via video chat on Monday morning.

We’re now entering the 10th week of NHL rinks being closed, as the coronavirus pandemic continues. However, there are signs hockey could still return sometime this summer.

On Monday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said while there’s no fixed timetable for a resumption of play, the goal remains to award the Stanley Cup some way, somehow.

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Watson would be all for that opportunity, and while safety remains a top priority, he’s eager to get back to playing hockey – as much as anyone is – if it’s feasible in the near future.

“It is fluid and things are changing on a daily basis, but the main thing I take out of all that is that I believe we are moving in a forward direction and getting closer to playing, whatever that might look like,” Watson said. “There are some things that are definitely outside of all of our control on this, and as the months and the weeks progress, the timeframe gets shorter and shorter. We are going to have to make the best out of the situation, whatever that might look like… But I think that’s great. I think whatever we can do to get back safely [will be a good thing].”

Pedaling away on that Peloton has helped to keep Watson in shape, while he’s been home in Nashville with his partner, Jennifer, and their daughter, Olivia. Chasing a toddler around the house isn’t bad cardio either, and Watson has cherished the time he’s gotten to spend with the two people who mean the most to him.

“With anything that happens in my life, it’s about perspective,” Watson said. “Being at home and having that added family time that isn’t normally available, especially during the season, [is great]. I’m not told very often to stay home and not do anything but be with your family… so, while it takes some definite adjusting to your routine, it’s been such a blessing. With Livey being two right now, she’s changing every day… I can’t sit down for more than 30 seconds and she’s yelling at me, ‘Dad! Play! Let’s go!’ That’s the one of the definite silver linings in this whole situation.”

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Watson knows if NHL hockey does return this summer those moments will no longer occur on an everyday basis. Safety, for him and his family, is one of the things that dominates Watson’s thoughts more than others these days, and getting back on the ice will need to strike a measured balance between sport and life in general.

“First and foremost is the health and safety of me and my family, and it is for everybody in the world right now,” Watson said. “You see it in all walks of life, whether it’s sports, whether it’s retail business, restaurants, etc. Opening up the economy has to happen here at some point, and it has to happen in a way that’s safe for everybody. We, as a League, as a players union, it’s no different for us than anybody else in any other walk of life or any profession. We want to get back as quickly as possible within the parameters of all of us being safe. When we come up with that and when that opportunity presents itself, we’ll do that. I don’t believe that anybody, players, management, league affiliation, is interested in putting anybody in harm’s way, and we won’t do that. I believe that our best interests, personally, are being looked after, and when we can get back on the ice safely, we will.”

That timeframe seems to be tracking toward a matter of when, not if, but there will undoubtedly be changes to what was known as “normal” just a few months ago. Professional sports like golf and NASCAR returned to action over the weekend with enhanced guidelines in place, but those activities already have some amount of social distancing built in.

When it comes to hockey, physicality is part of the game. It’s nearly impossible to not come in contact with an opponent at some point, even over the course of a single shift, let alone an entire night. Watson, whose job is to use physicality to his advantage, says it’s something that will need to be examined.

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“Golf is definitely different from hockey, and they’re not body checking each other on the green while they’re putting,” Watson said. “While that might be fun to watch from my perspective, that’s not part of the game… There’s the staples within our game that can’t be changed [without compromising] the integrity of the game… When we, as a union and a League, finally can come up with a way to play our game safely, we will, but it does present challenges.

“If you look at my specific role, it’s body checking, it’s playing guys tightly, it’s fighting on occasion; those aren’t really within the social distancing parameters. When it can become safe for us to do those things, and it is fluid, we’re not sure what that’s going to look like in a day’s time, a week’s time, when it comes to testing or vaccines and things like that. But I’m sure we’ll continue to monitor it, and when it does become safe for us to potentially do those things, we’ll look at how to do it.”

No matter how it’s done, optimism is perhaps as high as it’s been at any point over the past two months for a return to the ice this summer. If it happens, Watson’s Peloton has him ready – not to mention the motivation to give Predators fans something to cheer about again.

“First and foremost is safety… and then from there it’s a matter of being able to put our product on the ice and give people some hope and some different things to watch on TV that aren’t past documentaries or past games that we already know the results of,” Watson said. “Whatever the League and the [Players’ Association] come up with – obviously I’m involved in that from a PA standpoint – we’re working hard together to come up with the best-case scenario. It is fluid, but I believe we’re going to come up with that here at some point, and at some point here, we’ll see it. We’ll see hockey back on the ice, and that’ll be a great day when that happens.”

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