VOORHEES, N.J. — As Alain Vigneault walked into the press conference area at Flyers Training Center, he quietly quipped: "What are we going to talk about today?"
The Flyers' head coach knew exactly what topic of conversation was ahead.
But he had no idea why.
Following his team's morning skate Monday, Vigneault was asked about comments made on Twitter Saturday night by Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner. In one tweet, Lehner alleged that he knew of NHL teams committing medical malpractice by issuing medication to players, without it being prescribed by a doctor. In a second tweet, which was in reply to his initial medical malpractice comments, he berated Vigneault, labeling the head coach as a "dinosaur" and calling for his firing. Lehner also said he had "proof" of something in relation to Vigneault.
Vigneault was left befuddled Monday by Lehner's accusations. Was the 30-year-old goalie claiming the 60-year-old head coach had mistreated players? Was he accusing Vigneault of giving them pills?
Vigneault, who is in his 19th season as an NHL head coach and third with the Flyers, has never coached Lehner. Vigneault called the goaltender's claims "completely false."
"Well, I don't know the young man," Vigneault said. "Two things he said about me were I was a dinosaur. I consider myself experienced. Dinosaur, I mean, saying you have experience, you become a dinosaur maybe. I do know I've been coaching a few years — I am tough, I am demanding, but I care about my players. I want their best. Through the years, probably there's some guys that have liked me and some other guys maybe a little bit less. But I've done it with the best intention, with respect. I don't know the young man that said that.
"As far as the other thing, me 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."
On Monday, Lehner clarified to ESPN's Emily Kaplan that he wasn't accusing Vigneault of distributing pills to players. Instead, Lehner said his claim was in regard to the way Vigneault treats players, which he believes is unacceptable.
One could also argue Lehner's tweets were borderline unacceptable and irresponsible given what they implied. The NHL and NHLPA are looking into the entire matter.
The Flyers are Vigneault's fourth stop in his NHL head coaching career. He coached the Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers before arriving to Philadelphia in April 2019. He ranks eighth in all-time wins with 714. Since Vigneault's success in Year 1 with the Flyers, Philly, for the most part, has embraced the French Canadian's blend of toughness and lightheartedness.
Vigneault said Lehner's claims were brought to his attention by the Flyers' communications and public relations staffs.
"I was obviously very disappointed," he said.
Vigneault noted how, unfortunately, one can't control what another says or believes.
"Do you believe that COVID is real?" Vigneault asked. "A lot of people don't. Do you believe that vaccines are good? Some people believe that if you get the vaccine, you become a magnet or some other people believe that it changes your DNA. Do you believe President Biden won the election? A lot of people don't. So, there was something that was thrown out there that is completely false. Maybe not the dinosaur part; I would rather say I'm experienced. But the other part, this organization treats its players professionally.
"There is not one head coach in the National Hockey League — this is the National Hockey League, it's not slap shot era, this is the National Hockey League — there's not one head coach, there's not one of the 90 assistant coaches that if a player would come to them with a problem, that wouldn't steer them the right way. It's the National Hockey League. It's disappointing, but it's out there now, some people are going to believe it, some other people are not. It is what it is."
James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers' NHLPA representative, said he believes over the course of his career there has been "more and more education" on medication in the game of hockey and the concerns of potential drug abuse.
He was surprised by Lehner's comments about Vigneault.
"It's always surprising when you hear someone maybe from a different organization who has never necessarily played for someone saying stuff like that," van Riemsdyk said. "In the instances that I've been here, all the medical sort of decisions go through the medical staff and the training staff and stuff like that. That's been my experience from being here.
"The game's come a long way over the course of my career. I can't speak to every individual instance. I'm sure there are guys that are struggling with things and maybe there's stuff going on, I'm not going to be blind and naive to that. But as far as in the open, certain things, I haven't really seen much of that. It's not just a sports thing, if you look at the whole country, there's issues with these sorts of things too and just the general population. That's why it's important to really be informed on stuff like this."
Vigneault said he had "no idea" why Lehner would make those claims.
"I know players that play on Vegas," Vigneault said. "[Jonathan] Marchessault, [Mark] Stone, [Shea] Theodore — they played for me at the worlds, they played extremely hard for me. I don't think that they'd say negative things about me and I know they wouldn't say that I push pills. The other player that was in Vegas, Nick Holden, I had him with the Rangers. I'm very confident he would say the same thing, that, yes, I'm demanding, but I do it for the benefit of the team and players."
With the Golden Knights, Lehner is currently a teammate of Nolan Patrick, who Vigneault coached last season. Patrick missed all of the 2019-20 season as he recovered from a migraine disorder. After going 650-plus days without playing an NHL game, Patrick returned to the Flyers' lineup last season and played in 52 of the club's 56 games.
"The only other player that's there is Nolan Patrick and all I did to Patty was give him 13 minutes of ice time, try him almost every power play, some PK, I tried everything I could to get him going," Vigneault said. "It was a challenging year for him coming back after not playing but I know Patty wouldn't say that I'm pushing pills. So I have no idea; you're going to have to talk to [Lehner]."
Vigneault said Monday was the first and only time he would address Lehner's comments.
"This is the National Hockey League," Vigneault said. "We've got the best of everything. The Flyers have the best medical staff. Players know that if there's something they need, they know who to see. ... We care about them and we want what's best for them."
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