Sports

Robin Lehner backtracks from scorched-earth approach to calling out NHL

On second thought ...

On second thought …
Illustration: Getty Images

Robin Lehner unleashed fury and chaos over the weekend, but he’s had a change of heart after a talk with the NHL.

The Las Vegas goalie appeared clearly stressed as he held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon regarding his string of shocking tweets on Saturday night, in which he accused teams of illegally passing out benzodiazepines and Ambien.

“I’m always going to advocate for mental health, but moving forward I’m looking to help in a more private manner,” said Lehner, who has been open about his struggles with addiction, depression and bipolar disorder. “This weekend was a cry for help from this league. The league that I love and has given me so much, but I’m looking to protect the younger players, and the only way to affect change, in my mind, is to do it in a nonpublic fashion. I feel very encouraged about the talks I’ve had with the league.”

Let’s be clear. Lehner absolutely put his future prospects in jeopardy, as organizations will be reluctant to sign someone who may blow the whistle on them and air the league’s dirty laundry. It takes a lot of courage to step up and speak out about such things, and there’s no doubt the league pointed out that it was hurting his future employment options.

It’s also clear that he’s upset with how teams deal with mental illness and physical injuries, as he called out Buffalo’s treatment of Jack Eichel. Eichel, who asked for a trade in the offseason, was stripped of his captaincy and remains on injured reserve for a herniated disk in his neck. The team wants Eichel to get fusion surgery, while Eichel would prefer to get disk replacement surgery — which has never been performed on an NHL player but gives him a higher chance of avoiding further procedures.

He also called for Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault to be fired, calling him a dinosaur. It appeared that his stream-of-consciousness tweets connected Vigneault to the pill-pushing, but Lehner later clarified that wasn’t the case.

Vigneault, who has never coached Lehner, held a press conference on Monday denying he was involved in distributing drugs, saying, bizarrely, “I don’t need another income.” Lehner has previously made comments regarding Flyers goalie Carter Hart, tweeting on Aug. 13 that he was a “great goalie with another example of an old school coach making it more difficult to perform.”

Now Lehner is convinced that going all Joker isn’t the most productive way to go about his business.

“I don’t want to fight with the league. I want to implement change. There are different ways to do it, but I’m doing what I believe in, and I’m willing to give up my public voice about these matters to implement change, and I think that’s the way to do it.”

It remains to be seen if the NHL will address any of Lehner’s concerns. This is a league that has denied a link between hockey and CTE. A league that’s doing it’s best to close its eyes and hope a sexual assault scandal involving the Chicago ’Hawks goes away. The NHL promised Akim Aliu that it would investigate his allegations of racial violence at the hands of junior hockey teammate and former NHLer Steve Downie and discrimination from former coach Bill Peters. That was two years ago.

Standing up to sports leagues for the rights of players or for social and racial justice has never really worked out for players. See Curt Flood, Colin Kaepernick, and Eric Reid. So it’s hard to blame Lehner for, after much reflection, to reverse course and opt for a less public action. But we can assume the NHL will do its best to sweep as many scandals under the rug as possible until proven otherwise.

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