Lehner encouraged after meeting with NHL, NHLPA

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Robin Lehner said he had a great conversation with the NHL and NHL Players’ Association on Tuesday and left encouraged with how they want to proceed with “potential change that could be made to protect the younger generation.”

The Vegas Golden Knights goalie sent out a series of tweets Saturday regarding the Buffalo Sabres’ treatment of his ankle injury during the 2015-16 season, and about the stalemate between the Sabres and center Jack Eichel concerning treatment for his neck injury.

The NHL subsequently reached out to Lehner to set up an interview. 

“It brought everyone to the table. The rest will be behind closed doors,” Lehner said Tuesday. “It’s something I’ve been advocating for years and I’m encouraged about the approach they want to take. 

“To build off that, I’ve tried many avenues to bring some change with some things I’ve gone through in my career and I don’t want to see anyone else [go through it] because I know how close it’s been for me, my family, my kids, close personal friends, teammates.”

Lehner has been a proponent for mental health since revealing in 2018 that he was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that he had struggled with alcohol abuse and an addiction to sleeping pills.

“I’m always going to advocate for mental health,” Lehner said. “I’m always going to advocate for this league. But moving forward, I’m looking to handle it in a private manner. I’m just looking to protect the younger players and the only way to affect change in my mind is to do it in a non-public fashion. I feel very encouraged about the talks that we might have, and we are going to have, moving forward.

“I’m not comfortable doing anything like this. It’s extremely hard, especially since I’m not hiding behind anything because I’m a bipolar person. It’s not easy. People think I seek attention with stuff like this, I really don’t. It’s not easy for me. I don’t think I have to do that anymore and that’s why it’s been a whirlwind of ups and downs and I think it’s turned into a joy right now of at least having someone listening and maybe make it a little bit better for the younger generation. Or maybe there are other sports that are listening to this. If it can help one percent, I’m really happy about that.”

Lehner, chosen by the Ottawa Senators in the second round (No. 46) of the 2009 NHL Draft, is 129-124-47 with a 2.69 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and 16 shutouts in 320 games (301 starts) for the Senators, Sabres, New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks and Golden Knights. He was a finalist for the 2019 Vezina Trophy given to the best goalie in the NHL after going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA, .930 save percentage and six shutouts for the Islanders, all personal bests in a full NHL season. 

Lehner alleged that the Sabres mismanaged an ankle injury that kept him out nearly three months and cited Eichel’s ongoing struggles with the organization. Eichel has expressed interest in an artificial disk replacement surgery, but the Sabres have said their doctors aren’t comfortable with a procedure that has not been performed on an NHL player and preferred an approach of rest and rehabilitation.

Eichel was stripped of Buffalo’s captaincy Sept. 23. General manager Kevyn Adams said Eichel has declined a fusion, and the team does not want the 24-year-old to have the disk replacement.

“It was definitely part of it, but it doesn’t take away what I’ve been fighting for a long time, which is mental health and problems I’ve gone through, what I’ve seen personal friends suffer from and friends outside the League,” Lehner said. “We just want some help with some change. 

“What happened to Eichel, I know Eichel. He was my captain. We all worry about his neck and whatnot, but what about his mental health? It’s a part of life. My whole journey, right? How many people are talking about his health mentally? All I’m asking is for to be a part of that change and that discussion to fix some of the things for us as players. I don’t want to see any players suffer in silence anymore. I don’t want to see things like Jack Eichel happen.” 

NHL.com independent correspondent Danny Webster contributed to this report

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