Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner is absolutely livid over the NHL's handling of COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated teams and players, saying they were blatantly mislead by the league.
A furious Lehner took the podium for an impassioned, nearly 11-minute long speech Wednesday afternoon, saying among other things, that players were lied to by the NHL and the NHLPA about loosening the tight restrictions currently in place once players are vaccinated, which a majority of U.S.-based clubs have been.
"We are vaccinated and we are still trapped in a prison," Lehner said.
Players, coaches and staff have been forced to scale back basically all social activities and essentially live in isolation when not at the rink for games or practices or travelling, a policy that has taken a tough toll on a lot of players in particular.
"They told me yesterday that they're surveying all the teams to see who has taken the vaccine, and who has not taken the vaccines, and they're not going to change the rules for us as players until all the players have the vaccine at the same time so it's not a competitive edge," Lehner said.
"That made me go crazy to be honest. This is human lives and people are struggling with this stuff a lot in society, and we are humans as everyone else."
The NBA and MLB implemented policies stating that when 85 per cent of players and staff on a team are vaccinated, restrictions surrounding things such as social gatherings, team dinners, mask wearing in locker rooms, and frequency of testing would be eased or lifted entirely. Lehner said he was told the NHL was planning adopt a similar policy.
"That was a lie," Lehner said. "A blatant lie."
Shortly after Lehner's fiery presser, however, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly disputed Lehner's account, telling ESPN's Emily Kaplan that those promises were never made.
"It's been a matter that's been raised and discussed as between us and the NHLPA, but no decision to modify has ever been made nor communicated to anyone," Daly said.
Lehner, always outspoken on the topic of mental health, seemed disgusted and appalled at the league's attempt to prioritize competitive balance among teams rather than the mental and emotional well-being of its players and employees.
"At some point we have to start looking at the mental health at people around us — not just NHL but everyone in society and see how can we start getting back to normalcy because the problem is going to be huge."
"But being lied to about things changing, to kind of force us to take the vaccine ... unacceptable. And now when we have taken the vaccine to have the excuse of saying 'nah, we're not changing, because of competitive advantage,' it's outrageous."
In a multi-post Twitter thread following his lengthy presser, Lehner clarified his comments and reiterated that his stance is simply advocating for all those dealing with mental health issues.
"As I’m frustrated like a lot of people in the world right now everything didn’t come out of today’s press in the right way. Main point is that we need to start take the mental health important as well In this situation. It has a huge impact on everyone in society right now," Lehner wrote.
"But this missed the mark. My bad to say it’s like prison and I apologize but with mental health issues that is developing in the world it develops problems mentally. We will see exactly how this affects everything with time. I don’t mean to offend anyone."
Lehner has been a staunch mental health advocate — arguably the NHL's most active and vocal player on the subject — for the past few seasons since first opening up in September 2018 about his own personal battle with bipolar disorder. Lehner spent much of that season pushing for more open dialogue and discussion on the issue.
Lehner, who also deals with ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder spawning from childhood trauma, said that for his particular disorder — bipolar 1 — it has been strongly recommended that he not isolate from others, which has obviously been a huge struggle for him and others throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking from a position of power — compared to much of society, at least — Lehner continues to use his platform to advocate for those battling various mental health conditions and struggling with the battles we don't necessarily see.
And it's pretty safe to say he doesn't plan on letting up any time soon.
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