Alain Vigneault says you can call him a “dinosaur’’ but please don’t refer to him as a “pill pusher.’’
At Monday morning’s skate at the Flyers Training Center, the coach addressed accusations by Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner that he should be fired for, among other things, giving out drugs to players.
Vigneault answered questions about the situation in a level tone to his voice and claims he has no idea where such criticism was generated.
“I don’t know the young man,’’ said Vigneault, who has never coached Lehner. “Two things he said about me were that I was a dinosaur – I consider myself experienced. . .you can say with experience you become a dinosaur. I do know I’ve been coaching a few years and I am tough, I am demanding but I care about my players. I want their best. Through the years, there probably have been some guys who liked me, other guys a little bit less. But I’ve done it with the best intention, with respect.’’
Accusing a coach of handing out questionable substances is a serious charge. The NHL has already made it known it wants to speak to Lehner about the situation, which includes the goalie’s opinion on the ongoing controversy in Buffalo over whether star player Jack Eichel should undergo neck surgery.
“As far as me pushing pills, I don’t need another income,’’ Vigneault said. “I have no idea where that comes from. I don’t know what else to say. I have no idea. Obviously I was very disappointed. Do you believe COVID is real? A lot of people don’t. Do you believe vaccines are good? Some people believe if you get the vaccine, you become a magnet or it changes your DNA. Do you believe President Biden won the election? A lot of people don’t.’’
Vigneault said there’s no truth to the allegations made.
“There’s something that was thrown out there that was completely false,’’ he said. “Maybe not the dinosaur part – I would rather say I’m experienced. But the other part, this organization treats its players professionally, there’s not one coach in the NHL – this is not the Slap Shot era, it’s the NHL, there’s not one head coach that if a player came to them with a problem wouldn’t steer them the right way.’’
Of course in today’s 24/7 media world, there’s no putting the horse back in the barn.
“It’s disappointing but it’s out there now,’’ Vigneault said. “Some people are going to believe it, some are not. It is what it is.’’
Vigneault has no clue why he was singled out by Lehner.
“I know players who have played on Vegas, (Jonathan) Marchessault, (Mark) Stone, (Shea) Theodore, they played for me at the Worlds (Championships), they played extremely hard for me,’’ Vigneault said. “I don’t think they would say negative things about me. I know they wouldn’t say I pushed pills. The only other player there is (ex-Flyer) Nolan Patrick and all I did was give him 13 minutes of ice time, tried him on almost every power play, PK, tried everything to get him going. I know ‘Patty’ wouldn’t say I’m pushing pills.’’
The Flyers’ NHL Players’ Association representative, James van Riemsdyk, basically came to his coach’s defense. If there’s bad stuff floating around the Flyers’ locker room, he hasn’t seen it.
That’s not to say there isn’t a “pill underground” around the league. To think there aren’t painkillers, etc. floating around such a physical, violent sport would be, in JVR’s words, “naïve.’’
“Over the course of my career, there’s been more and more education on these sorts of issues,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “I think players are more aware of things that can come along. We play a violent, physical game so there are going to be issues where you need some help to play and help deal with other issues, such as surgeries. There are things where these things can be useful. We get told a lot about the long-term effects that some of these things can have. I think it’s important to be informed as a player so you know exactly what you’re dealing with.’’
Former Flyer Mike Richards is an example of where things such as painkillers got out of hand. Richards played 11 years in the NHL, six with the Flyers and won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings. But eventually injuries and the substances he used to deal with those caught up to him. He was out of the game by age 31.
“I can’t speak to every individual instance,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “Again, there are guys who are struggling with things and maybe there’s stuff going around. I’m not going to be blind and naïve to that. But in the open, I haven’t 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.’’
Van Riemsdyk said he was surprised he would hear negative comments about his coach from a player on another team.
“Yeah, it’s always surprising when you hear from someone from a different organization who didn’t play for someone saying stuff like that,’’ JVR said. “Since I’ve been here, all the decisions go through the medical staff and training staff.’’