Alain Vigneault Addresses Robin Lehner’s Comments as Goaltender Clarifies Tweets

Alain Vigneault
Photo credit: Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

One of the weirdest and most unprecedented hockey events in recent years took place over the weekend as Vegas Golden Knights netminder Robin Lehner sounded off on a number of perceived wrongdoings by organizations across the NHL, catching the Philadelphia Flyers and head coach Alain Vigneault in the cross-fire.

What began as a Twitter thread, lauded by some as the best way to bring accountability to the sport and league, was also rife with threading issues and mixing of accusations that amounted to long-range buckshot. It brought with it calls for the Flyers organization to investigate its head coach and Vigneault himself to answer tough questions about player treatment.

Vigneault met with the media, addressed the tweets, and firmly stuck his flag in the ground. Not even an hour later, Lehner appeared to either clarify his statements or backtrack entirely, depending on which narrative the reader prefers.

The Thread

Lehner appeared on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast on September 28, which included some comments about a “dinosaur” coach effectively berating him one offseason following a stint in rehab. On October 2, Lehner went to bat for former Buffalo Sabres teammate Jack Eichel, who was stripped of the team’s captaincy this off-season:

This led to Lehner offering up his personal experience with the Sabres, including a nasty ankle injury that clearly left him in a poor mental state:

That’s where things started to go sideways. Lehner tweeted:

Enough for today.. for everyday that goes by and this shit keeps going I’ll be releasing a story and proof from my self, ex players and current players on what is going on. Truth tweets starts tomorrow unless things don’t get fixed. Have fun. #nofilter #nhl #nhlpa #mentalhealth

But it didn’t stop there. That’s when Vigneault and the Flyers got pulled into things.

Accusations of Pill Pushing

Just when it seemed Lehner was done tweeting for the night, he put out a three-tweet thread that became the hot-button topic of the next few days:

This thread led numerous fans and media members to ask for clarification. Which teams were providing pills? To what extent was this happening throughout the league?

As for the latter two tweets, Lehner referred to Vigneault as a “dinosaur” coach who needed to be fired. He had previously taken aim at Vigneault, saying that Flyers goalie Carter Hart is a “great goalie with another example of old school coach making it more difficult for a young player to perform.”

After putting Vigneault on blast for treating people like robots instead of humans, Lehner continued by saying he had proof for a first story and said, “try to shake your way out of this one” –

Asked to clarify his statement, Lehner tweeted:

The next tweet in the thread was one in which Lehner talked about issues related to Ambien not allowing REM sleep. This led many to infer Lehner was accusing Vigneault of wrongdoing in either providing or allowing for members of the organization to hand out pills without a prescription.

The situation was an odd one, as it appeared a current NHL player was accusing a current NHL coach whom he had never played for of some pretty awful things.

Vigneault Responds

On Monday, Alain Vigneault addressed the tweets and the firestorm they’d caused:

Vigneault often attempts to disarm through humor, which appeared to be the case when he said he’d rather be referred to as “experienced” rather than a “dinosaur”. Noting that he didn’t know Lehner, he admitted to pushing players hard with respect.

The coach then said of the accusation that he’d been 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.”

Perhaps some would argue this part of the response as glib, but given the severity of the apparent accusations, as well as the circumstances surrounding the accusations being via a forum on which they’d been levied was unprecedented.

One thing that came out while Lehner was originally tweeting was this tweet from a verified account:

Vigneault responded to this as well:

The person then appeared to retract the “report” on Monday afternoon:

The issue with the original tweet from this account is that it was cited in numerous threads as a legitimate report that fed into the narrative that Vigneault and/or the Flyers had been pushing pills.

Lehner Attempts to Clarify

The focus then shifted back to Lehner, who attempted to clarify his thread on Monday:

This is where things can go one of two ways. The replies to Emily Kaplan’s tweets became the same kind of dichotomic cesspool found too often on social media, including on Lehner’s original thread.

What to Make of It All

It’s hard to say how this will ultimately play out. The NHL and  NHLPA are in a difficult position. The player in question has been open and vocal about his own mental health history, including being diagnosed bipolar. The aforementioned cesspool of public reaction included myriad responses ranging from Lehner being “cuckoo” to having a “manic episode,” while others praised him for being a brave whistleblower:

This entire situation, however, could have been avoided. While it’s possible Lehner had previously attempted to promote progress and bring visibility to various issues across the league, his thread caught an organization and its head coach in the crossfire, smearing the former and latter’s image, if but for the people who won’t bother to read the follow-up clarification.

This is the inherent issue that exists with shoot-from-the-hip social media posting: someone is bound to be collateral damage.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts   

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