32 Thoughts: The fallout from Robin Lehner’s comments

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner addresses the media to talk about speaking out on social media and clarifies some of his remarks.

• Push is on to find solution to the Jack Eichel situation
• The philosophical disagreement holding up Brady Tkachuk contract talks
• Kylington, Eklund among players turning heads in pre-season

As Robin Lehner’s frustrations exploded on to Twitter, he specifically tagged the NHL and the NHLPA — demanding to be heard. There were several conversations with the Players’ Association over the weekend, and Monday came his first interaction with the league.

“The last 72 hours have been incredibly difficult, but also incredibly valuable to me, to my career, my life goals,” Lehner said Tuesday. “It’s not easy to do this. But I had a great talk with the NHL and the NHLPA over the last day…This is something I’ve been advocating for for years, and I’m encouraged about the approach they want to take.”

“What happened over the weekend brought conversation, brought everyone to the table. The rest will be behind closed doors, and not in the public eye…I believe they are sincere. I’m an optimistic person; this is something I’ve fought for for a long time.”

The NHL and NHLPA declined comment, choosing to let Lehner’s voice be heard. So, let’s look at the reaction to his tweet storm:

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The number one question asked was…

“Is he okay?”

As Lehner’s tweets shook social media on Saturday night, the obvious reaction was to try and verify the accusations. However, there was no shortage of people concerned for the goalie’s well-being. Lehner is unafraid to discuss his difficult battles with bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and addiction. Society is much more understanding of these issues than it ever has been, and there was worry something had gone wrong.

He eased those concerns, saying the weekend was “a hard 72 hours with mixed emotions. Some tears, but also some joy of seeing” that he’s reached the right people and been able to “express my feelings.”

“I’m not comfortable with this; I did it anyways. It’s extremely hard. People think I’m seeking attention, I really don’t. I really don’t like it, it’s not easy for me mentally…If it can help one per cent I’m happy about that.”

“People point a lot to my mental health. I’ve come in to camp in really good shape, really good mind-frame. Very excited.”

This is not a bad conversation to have…

In 2013, the NHL and NHLPA added Article 34.8 to the CBA — Prescription Drugs. It reads: “Each Club shall identify one (1) individual who is responsible for monitoring on an ongoing basis, or auditing on a regular basis, prescription drugs that have been given to each Player on the Club, with a particular emphasis on monitoring controlled substances and sleeping pills, if any, that have been prescribed.”

Personally, I have to be in really bad shape to take even one Advil or Tylenol. I’ve seen what abuses can do. Sports has a long, fateful relationship with sleep pills, anti-depressants and painkillers.

There’s zero harm in Lehner wanting something done about things he doesn’t like. You’d be naive to the extreme to believe everything’s perfect. Vigilance is key. I’m curious to see what comes out of this.

One trainer who was willing to talk privately said his organization has taken a much harder line on the availability of medication as crises like opioid addiction gained greater media coverage. You’d like to know that’s a unanimous opinion.

His Jack Eichel stance is hugely popular among players…

Lehner’s brethren didn’t agree with all of his recent suggestions — especially anything where Eichel voluntarily jeopardized the $50M remaining on his contract — but they loved that someone spoke up for the Sabres captain, in limbo due to a medical dispute and trade stalemate. (More on this later in the blog.)

“I don’t want to see things like Jack Eichel happen to anyone else,” Lehner said Tuesday. “I can’t stand by and see a fellow player, a friend, what’s happening when I’ve kind of been though similar things. We all worry about his neck, but what about his mental health?”

“What is happening to him right now is not in the best for the patient.”

Unsurprisingly, there are teams that disagree, feeling a club must have say where so much is on the line.

Monday on the Jeff Marek Show, Commissioner Gary Bettman called it “a terrible situation.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to point the finger at anybody in terms of who’s right or who’s wrong. I think everybody’s approaching this with the best intentions. And the injury is complex, both in its diagnosis and its treatment. And I think people need to be a little more patient, because it’s not good for anybody. But most importantly, we’ve got to focus on collectively worrying about Jack’s health, both in the short term and the long term.”

I understand why that’s his position. But, players assumed this would be settled by now.

The Jeff Marek Show
Gary Bettman on Lehner, Eichel and the upcoming NHL season
October 04 2021

Alain Vigneault handled it a lot better than many others would…

The criticism for Lehner was related to the Philadelphia coach. Lehner clarified he didn’t mean to state anything indicating Vigneault illegally or immorally distributed pills to players. Vigneault had to publicly deny it, but didn’t harshly fire back at the goalie, saying he “was obviously very disappointed.” (More to come on the Flyers.)

That’s the danger in spraying things across social media. It doesn’t take much for thoughts to get mangled, go haywire. There was some real anger this unintended narrative hung around almost 36 hours.

I would guess a major reason Lehner said he will keep further discussions private is to avoid a repeat of this scenario.

32 THOUGHTS

1. It was lost on Tuesday night, but there will be an important injury update from Los Angeles sometime Wednesday. Quinton Byfield’s left leg awkwardly went into the boards during a puck battle with Arizona’s Christian Fischer, and he had to be helped off the ice. Hoping for the best possible news not only for Byfield, but also linesman Ryan Gibbons. Gibbons had a freak collision with Liam O’Brien after the anthem, and was taken off on a stretcher.

2. On Eichel: there is a real push to find a solution, because Eichel’s displaced disc can’t be allowed to just sit on the nerve. He is going to need a procedure sooner rather than later. What’s helped is he’s getting his own MRIs, so he and his representatives can share proper information. That’s a big deal. More difficult to answer is whether or not he is traded first or gets surgery, returns to health and plays games for the Sabres to regain his trade value. No one will go on record, but there is a growing belief there are teams willing to accept Eichel’s preferred disc replacement. However, you have to be able to make the trade first. There’s definitely a push to get him healthy — which should be the number-one priority.

3. Only Lehner knows what upset him about Vigneault, but several who played for the coach backed his self-appraisal: “I am tough. I am demanding. But I care about my players. I want their best.” One of the reasons Philadelphia is on my “Comeback Team of 2021-22” list is from top-to-bottom, the organization asked itself hard questions about what went wrong and worked to address them. COVID life made a rough year even worse; with one source calling it “a spiral of negativity we couldn’t escape.” It affected everyone. Players and coaches were beyond frustrated with each other, making their complaints known. There were no secrets, few were spared. That’s one of the reasons Philadelphia acquired the likes of Ryan Ellis, Nate Thompson and Keith Yandle. It’s not only about on-ice performance, but players pushing themselves to a better mindset. That goes for the coaches too. It was a collective failure to right the ship. If you can’t trust your processes when things inevitably go badly, you’re doomed. After a season like that one, someone as competitive as Vigneault wants to lead the fix.

4. When Carter Hart signed his three-year extension in August, he didn’t reveal much about off-season work. But, for the first time, he had on-ice sessions with both his personal teacher, Edmonton’s Dustin Schwartz, and Philadelphia’s goalie coach, Kim Dillabaugh, present. It’s another example of how the Flyers attacked the off-season, as repairing Hart was a major — if not the major — project. Everything was discussed, from communication with him to technique. He’s had two impressive pre-season performances, and a friend who saw him at the western Canadian BioSteel camp said Hart looked terrific. Last March, the goalie whisperer, Vancouver-based reporter Kevin Woodley, went on Jason Myrtetus’s Flyers Daily podcast, saying Hart’s “technical elements seemed to have slipped,” adding, “I see a setup that doesn’t look like Carter Hart. Everything looks slightly off.” The talented young netminder had a miserable season, exacerbated by a schedule that didn’t allow practice time. The goal was to make sure everyone knows how to stop a repeat scenario. The Flyers aren’t fooling around.

5. It’s not Defcon 1 between Ottawa and Brady Tkachuk, but there’s a challenging philosophical disagreement. The Senators believe Tkachuk wants to be there long-term, and I don’t think they’re wrong. But Ottawa wants that commitment now and the winger is not ready to go seven or eight years. There’s two factors at play. First, the shackles should be off the cap in three seasons — opening new contract possibilities — and even though coach DJ Smith and linemate Drake Batherson were extended, I think Tkachuk wants to make sure ownership instability is not something he regrets locking-in for.

6. Coaches are natural worriers. Smith knows Ottawa’s youth means some rough nights. One day in the Canadian capital and it was obvious, however: there are a lot of good, young pieces who are excited about playing together. And, in that lineup are some guys who will drive opponents crazy.

7. That salary-cap prediction also played a role in Elias Pettersson’s negotiations. Commissioner Bettman was optimistic about the financial picture during his Marek interview. Some estimates are the league hopes to be within three or four per cent of revenues pre-COVID. That assumes, of course, the virus doesn’t wreak havoc this season. There is some room to manoeuvre, but the cap is scheduled to go up $1M per year until the players repay what they owe the owners. Most predications are for the summer of 2025, when we could see a big jump.

8. Last week, Sportsnet reported that Evander Kane was under investigation for breaking COVID protocols. Tuesday night, Front Office Sports’ AJ Perez reported it involves “the possibility (Kane) submitted a fake vaccination card.” I don’t know where this is going to go, but when I was working on it, I wasn’t under the impression that this particular transgression (should it be proven true) could jeopardize Kane’s contract.

9. When it comes to Tomas Hertl, one of the questions San Jose must be asking itself is this: if the Sharks decide they need new blood, is anyone more capable of getting it in a trade than he is?

10. Early-season prediction: Montreal takes a serious run at extending Nick Suzuki sooner, rather than later. No more offer-sheet games.

11. I think Toronto lets things play out before making any decision on Morgan Rielly. It’s not only about what it costs to sign him, but what else they need to do cap-wise if they sign him. This season’s performance — and not just his own — determines what happens here. And, with several months to consider it, I don’t think money was the deciding factor in Zach Hyman’s negotiation. It was trade/no-move protection, which will be something to watch with Rielly, too.

12. Great to see Anders Lee return to action Tuesday night, scoring a typical Anders Lee goal right in front of the net. It’s hard not to think how a healthy Lee could have impacted the terrific Islanders/Tampa Bay seven-game semifinal. New York is a popular Stanley Cup pick. “We have a special group, we have a good room,” the captain said. “We’re coming back knowing what we are capable of.”

13. One executive on GM Lou Lamoriello: “He has his own Central Registry.”

14. Over the past couple of seasons, the Islanders avoided putting Ross Johnston on waivers. They know there’d be interest. It’s hard to say how their salary-cap picture will look until all contracts are revealed, but other clubs are keeping an eye out.

15. I’m really careful about the first week of pre-season. The best players aren’t dialled in. But if there’s one player who piqued my interest, it was Calgary’s Oliver Kylington. He had one 25-minute game, and it is clear Calgary is giving him exhibition opportunity. But the Flames have a lot of defencemen, and Kylington is not waiver-exempt. (Bonus: His Instagram game is very good.)

16. Others who have opened some eyes: San Jose first-rounder William Eklund, for sure. Adam Raska, competing for a forward job there, is definitely making opponents aware of him. Tampa Bay’s Simon Ryfors, a 24-year-old Swedish free-agent forward. Waiver-exempt, so it might be the AHL to start, but the talent is there.

17. Matthew Tkachuk said during his 32 Thoughts podcast interview that if there’s one thing he’d like to change, it’s the Flames habit of poor starts. Here are Calgary’s 10-game records since the winger made his NHL debut in 2016-17: 4-5-1, 5-5, 4-6, 5-4-1 and 4-6. The loser point makes crawling out of a hole very difficult in this league.

18. The Flames and Johnny Gaudreau are wisely going to keep contract discussions private. However, it’s not like it’s hard to figure out what will satisfy both team and player. Calgary will need to make a long-term commitment to him as their highest-paid player. I don’t think that’s major breaking news, it’s common sense. Again, how the season goes determines the outcome.

19. As Marc Bergevin continues to negotiate an extension with the Canadiens, his biggest value is that he’s shown he can make a plan and stick with it. That’s not insignificant in hockey’s most intense market. Not everyone can handle it, not everyone is built to deal with it. It’s clear ownership believes in that plan, too. That’s the question I’d be asking if I was running the organization. Can you find someone who has that ability? Being GM of the Canadiens is not for the wishy-washy.

20. Nathan MacKinnon on last season’s Colorado/Vegas series, which the Avalanche lost after leading 2-0: “We beat them in Game 2 but they dominated us in the second and third (periods), and I remember thinking, ‘Ooof.’ Talking on the plane, our whole thing is the process. Be good at the process, results will take care of themselves. And that process that game was so bad…In Games 3-4 they dominated us and we got hesitant. Our whole thing is being aggressive, making plays and being confident with the puck. No one really wanted the puck, no one wanted to make mistakes. I know we will learn from that. When things get tough, it’s the playoffs, teams are going to have good games, we are going to have to stop the bleeding a little bit quicker than (we did).” What is a successful process to the Avalanche? “We like to track all five guys above their five guys,” he answered. “When we do that, we’re actually much better offensively, we don’t get lazy coming back in our zone. We swarm quick in the D-zone, we play physical, fast and aggressive. When we do that, we’re a tough team to beat. All credit to Vegas, they were great. Even in Game 5, we’re up 2-0 going into the third period. Couple of mistakes, they tie the game and win it in OT. And then in Game 6, I think we outshot them 40-20 or something, it was just too late. They had all the momentum on their side. It’s just too bad, because you think you can win, you want it so bad, it’s frustrating.” Added stud defender Cale Makar: “Vegas started chipping pucks behind us as a d-core, we weren’t doing our job well enough. We just need to stay patient, we got on our heels a little bit because they were coming at us so fast with their transition game. It’s a learning curve.”

21. MacKinnon added that GM Joe Sakic tried to loosen him up, get him back on track. “Joe was just like, ‘“Let go.’ I was trying to play the perfect game, not take any risks or anything. That’s not my style either. You kind of have to go through it, and when you start to feel that again, you remember how to get through it. And that’s not by being hesitant. If anything, you double down on your aggressiveness and your assertiveness. I can’t let that feeling take over because I think hesitating is the worst thing you can do. Hockey is such a fast sport, when you get the puck you can’t have a negative thought in your head. It has to be an assertive thought, a confident feeling. Easier to say that now in an interview in September, but that’s what I think our whole team — and myself — pick up from last year.”

22. One member of the Avalanche joked he was happy Gabriel Landeskog re-signed because “we need him to tell Nathan when to stop yelling at the rest of us.” MacKinnon laughed that off, too. “I don’t even want to be captain,” he said. “I just want to be who I am. (Landeskog) is the perfect captain, anyways. So happy he’s around for eight more years.” The perfect move would have been not even trying to deflect Nikita Zadorov’s comments about his diet, instead firing back with something like, “So what, I take things seriously, I have high expectations of myself and my teammates. Don’t like it, too bad!”

23. Olympic deadline for the NHL to withdraw without financial penalty is Jan. 10.

24. So, you want to run a league? So many things pop up you can’t even imagine. One example is player-family lounges. With COVID protocols still important, it didn’t look like there would be any possibility for family lounges this season for safety reasons. That wasn’t well-received. So, ideas are being exchanged to find solutions.

25. One thing I’d love to see: the Canadiens play a regular-season game at the Quebec Pee-Wee tournament. Have the kids in the crowd. Potential for a tremendous environment.

26. I’m a Steve Levy guy, so I split my Monday Night Football watching between his call and the Manning-cast. When the opening broadcast of the season (Baltimore/Las Vegas) went into overtime, Russell Wilson made an outstanding suggestion. If still tied at the end of the extra session, he said flip a coin, and the winner decides if they want to try a field goal to win, or force the the other team to do it. It’s awesome. Imagine in the NHL if the shootout was still tied after five attempts each. There’s a coin flip, and the winner chooses if they get one shot to win, or makes their opponent do it. I’d argue that if the coin flip winner makes the other team do it, that team gets to pick their shooter. So someone like Edmonton can say, “Fine, we lost the toss and you want us to go? Okay Connor, have fun.” Fans would love it.

27. Don’t know a ton about Mason Geertsen, claimed on waivers by New Jersey from the Rangers. But it’s hard not to root for a 26-year-old who continues to grind towards a first NHL appearance. That’s dedication.

28. Dylan Larkin called it on Kirill Tyutyayev. “He can score,” the Red Wing said during the NHL/NHLPA media tour in Chicago. Larkin added you never know how someone is going to do until you see him in games, but when they skated together before camp Tyutyayev impressed the Detroit captain with his nose for the net.

29. Dustin Tokarski, one of the good stories from Buffalo, is pushing Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell for a spot in the Sabres’ net. Dell has particularly struggled, and with only one pre-season game to go, has put himself in a precarious position.

30. Happy to hear that long-time Rangers executive John Rosasco was brought on by Toronto to work on a variety of special off-ice projects for the organization. Rosasco, who started in New York as a student in 1987, has seen just about everything during his career. He’s also working closely with Czech GM Petr Nedved on that country’s Olympic Team.

31. What an interview last week between Detroit broadcaster Ken Daniels and Columbus goaltending coach Manny Legace. Take the six minutes to watch.

32. All the best to Scott MacArthur, Richard Deitsch, Josh Goldberg, Andrew Nie, Scott Rintoul, Jason Rozon, Rob Wong and Mike Zigomanis. Some of those names will be more familiar than others, but they were victims of our radio changes. It’s important for them to remember this is not a referendum on their abilities as it is a referendum on the medium itself. It’s volatile — once dominant, now struggling with the podcast revolution.

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