Lehner v. NHL

The latest on Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner's outrage over the Jack Eichel situation.

Lehner Looking for Change in Medical Treatment of NHLers

What’s Happening: Sparked by the ongoing Jack Eichel saga, Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltender, Robin Lehner, took to Twitter to express his opinion in a number of areas earlier this week.

  • First, he expressed his displeasure with the NHL, NHLPA, Buffalo Sabres, and media for not supporting Eichel’s freedom to choose the medical treatment of his neck problems.

  • Next, he voiced concerns about the implications to Eichel of the Sabres’ desired treatment, emphasizing the likelihood of Eichel requiring long-term pain management via medication.

  • Then, he spoke of his experience with ankle surgery, including subsequent related injuries and prescribed medications.

  • And finally, he dropped the bombshell allegation of medical malpractice by NHL teams, including insinuating related mistreatment by Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach, Alain Vigneault.

NHL’s Response: Since Lehner’s tweets, the NHL has reached out to him to discuss his allegations, expressing they will “take his comments seriously,” and stating they will examine his case in order to determine if an independent investigation is warranted. Moreover, Lehner is reported to have had a “good call with the NHLPA” regarding the matter.

Lehner spoke with Emily Kaplan of ESPN and clarified that “he never was accusing Alain Vigneault of distributing pills to players,” but rather that the coach generally mistreats his players. Vigneault responded, stating, “Through the years, probably there’s some guys that have liked me, some other guys maybe a little bit less, but I've [coached] with the best intention [and] with respect."

The Bigger Picture: At this point, it’s difficult to say how the whole story will pan out regarding Eichel. On one side, in “the CBA extension negotiated last year ... players relinquished the right to NHL teams having the final say on how to treat injuries.” In other words, regardless of how Eichel and Lehner feel, the official policy is already decided.

Conversely, it’s obvious that a player controls their physical person; that is, Eichel has to physically lay down on the table in order for any surgery to take place. However, in reality, both perspectives are likely to be trumped by the business, in turn bypassing the underlying issue. Since Eichel is an asset that drives team performance and revenue, and both teams and the league want to capitalize on this value, it’s likely there will be a trade to a medical opinion in Eichel’s favor. Why not sweep the problem under the rug until next time? And how much would people care if it didn’t involve a star player?

Regarding Lehner’s allegations, it’s a similar story. It doesn’t seem like Lehner will let things go, but proving player mistreatment worthy of firings or resignations is difficult and takes time. If Lehner’s allegations are true and the impacts were substantial, all we can do is hope that they surface and the perpetrators are punished for their actions. But with all of the bureaucracy and money involved in professional hockey, don’t be surprised if nothing materializes any time soon.

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