Golden Knights goalkeeper Robin Lehner on Wednesday criticized the NHL and NHL Players Association for their immunization, COVID-19 restrictions and attitude toward players’ mental health.
Lehner, who spoke on the subject for 11 minutes after the Knights’ morning skate, said players were told that they would be given new rules to follow if they were adequately vaccinated.
The NHL denied Lehner’s claim. Players currently have to follow strict guidelines to prevent COVID-19 exposure that largely limits their lives to their homes, hotel rooms and hockey rinks.
Lehner said that after the Knights players had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, they were told on Tuesday on call with the NHL and NHLPA that the protocols would not be opened immediately. He said that the NHL and the NHLPA wanted to wait until all teams had a chance to get their shots, so it could not become a competitive advantage.
This gave Lehner a chance to speak.
“Lying about things that force us to take the vaccine is unacceptable,” Lehner said. “And now when we get vaccinated to say ‘Nah, we’re not changing because of competitive advantage,’ it’s outrageous.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to The Review-Journal that he respected Lehner’s views but that any changes to the protocol were promised. NHLPA did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, Lehner, who has been public about his struggles for mental health and substance abuse, said he feels misled.
Lehner, who has bipolar I, said he had questions about the vaccine, but took it anyway for his mental health. He said that isolation is not healthy for him. He expected the vaccine to be a step toward normalcy, but did not see progress.
The NFL, NBA and MLB have banning policies after reaching certain restriction thresholds.
“We have been promised to take something that not everyone wants,” Lehner said. “So that was a lie. Lying.”
Lehner said he also felt that the league and the players’ union were prioritizing competitive integrity for the good of the players.
He said that he had talked to several players in the NHL bubble who were struggling with mental health away from their families and stayed in the same place. He said he is concerned about the long-term mental health effects of the epidemic beyond hockey.
Lehner said he felt it was his responsibility to advocate on his own and on behalf of others that the league and the NHLPA had to keep those things in mind when making decisions.
“Don’t talk to me about the competitive edge,” he said. “This is human life, and people are struggling a lot with this stuff in society. And we are human like everyone else. “