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Dinosaurs, Headaches and Tranquilizers: A Concerning Look For the NHL

Photo by Ethan Miller

Dinosaurs, Headaches and Tranquilizers: A Concerning Look For the NHL

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner has had himself a whirlwind of a weekend. Known by many as one of the only outspoken voices in hockey willing to provide raw content on social media, the 30-year-old dropped a number of bombs on Twitter Saturday. Included within his online activity were pointed comments on the medical malpractice amongst coaches and training staff throughout the National Hockey League.

Through a series of tweets, Lehner spoke passionately of coaches and medical teams providing injured players with high volumes of prescription drugs in order to help bring the wounded back quicker. He also touched on the mistreatment of many young, star players, while naming coaches who have resorted to old school thinking in what he is calling a new school world.

With attention to Jack Eichel and his troublesome situation with the Buffalo Sabres, Lehner spoke passionately about his friend and former teammate who has been denied the surgery he wants to help deal with a back/neck injury. Relating to his own experience with injury in Buffalo, Lehner called his mandatory recovery ‘forced’.

“They screwed my ankle… big time,” he wrote. “Then surgery and then pills… no care…almost died. But ehh.. after forcing leg press after few weeks after bad high ankle sprain first game. That is foot after treatment.. later is my soul gone after a month after surgery . It’s not all pretty.”

He then went on to criticize the open administration of Ambien and benzodiazepines – highly addictive ‘Z’ drugs, or ‘tranquillizers’ that significantly slow down the brain – which he claims occurs in a number of dressing rooms across the league.

Although clearly specifying that his current team – the Vegas Golden Knights – do not participate in the open distribution of prescription drugs, Lehner did say he has seen firsthandedly many players’ injuries dealt with in such manners.

“Is it common for work places to give out benzodiazepines to employees when they travel and Ambien?” he wrote? “Should that not be done by doctors or psychiatrist? Asking for a friend, this doesn’t happen in Vegas to be clear. But I know many other teams. I also been in on teams that do.”

“Philadelphia Flyers?” he asked. “Dinosaur coach treating people like robots not human. Fire these dinosaurs. Fire Vigneault first story. I got proof.. try to shake your way out of this one…And they say Ambien is sleeping pill, it’s funny that rehab told me that’s why didn’t have rem sleep. 8 years no rem sleep. Great. But yeah just sleeping pills.”

In mentioning Philadelphia Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault, Flyers scribe Drew Wheeler then quickly tweeted that the Philadelphia training staff gave Winnipegger and former player Nolan Patrick non-prescribed Ambien and benzodiazepines to help with his traumatic head injury, while not disclosing the medication given to him at the time. Patrick, who missed all of last season due to his ongoing headaches has since been shipped to Vegas, where he is expected to return to the lineup alongside Lehner.

Flyers’ GM Chuck Fletcher responded promptly to Wheeler’s accusations.

“The health and well-being of our players is our top priority, and any care provided to them comes from the team’s health care professionals, not the coaching staff,” Fletcher commented. “We have no reason to believe any of our players have received improper care.”

Lehner later clarified his comments on Vigneault as not solely serving as a person distributing pills, but using methods that are no longer acceptable, while “ruining” young, star players.

Vigneault, when asked on Monday about Lehner’s accusations, made it clear that he has never coached Lehner, nor has been one to provide medication to his players, or others.

“I don’t know the young man,” Vigneault told reporters. “The two things he said about me … Dinosaur? I consider myself experienced. Dinosaur? You could say with experience, you become a dinosaur, maybe. But I do know I’ve been coaching a few years. I am tough. I am demanding. But I care about my players. I want their best. Through the years, there’s probably been some guys that liked me, some maybe a little bit less. But I’ve done it with the best intention, with respect.”

“Like I said, I don’t know the young man that said that,” Vigneault continued about Lehner. “As far as the other thing, me pushing pills? I don’t need another income. I have no idea where that comes from. I don’t know what else to say. I have no idea.”

Lehner then responded to former NHL player Tom Sestito on Monday – who had also come forward with allegations – with follow up, as to a conversation he had with the NHL’s Players’ Association, citing some positive steps.

“I understand people are scared,” Lehner wrote. “I’ll be lying if I said I wasn’t. I just want change and have it better for the young generation of talents in this league. NHLPA had a great talk with me yesterday. Hopefully it will be with NHL too.”

Sestito, 34, most recently suited up with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 2018-19, following a number of season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets. He wrote a series of responses to Lehner, indicating that he has been subject to significant drug distribution throughout his playing days.

Fellow former NHL player Dan Carcillo also opened up on Twitter following Lehner’s comments, citing a number of incidents closely related to Lehner’s accusations involving NHL teams and doctors.

Clearly opening a can of worms that has been tightly guarded, Lehner continues to speak his mind on social media, while hinting at more to come.

Although loosely tying Vigneault into the accusations has caused somewhat of a stir, Lehner has clearly made up his mind that bringing details to the surface is the best way of getting help for his teammates – both current and past. Citing a number of stories yet to be revealed, the most interesting facts are likely just a few tweets away.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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