Robin Lehner opens up about his mental health and addiction issues

Former Sabres goaltender talks about the challenges he’s been facing for years now

In a gritty and hard-hitting article published in The Athletic, former Buffalo Sabres Robin Lehner has opened up about the mental health issues he’s been facing for years, culminating in a nervous breakdown late last season.

Lehner left Buffalo at the end of last season and signed a one-year deal with the New York Islanders for this upcoming season. He won equal numbers of admirers and naysayers in his three-year tenure with the Sabres, a time marked by volatility as the Swede always appeared to be a powder keg primed to explode at any time, and he did, often.

It all came to a head for him the last time he suited up for the Sabres who were hosting the Detroit Red Wings. Please read the article for Lehner’s first-person narrative of how he came to grips with his addiction and mental health issues.

“March 29, 2018 was the day my life would change forever. It all started the night before. I made a phone call to my goalie coach with the Sabres, Andrew Allen. I told him that I was personally in a bad place and was not sure that I would be able to play in the game we had the next day. I was having trouble making up my mind if I could suit up. I was mentally and physically battling a lot of things. The conversation ended with him telling me we could talk about it in person at the rink in the morning. When I arrived, I said I was good to go… as I always did.

“I was not good to go.”

With today being the first day of Islanders’ training camp, the goaltender chose to go public with his situation and has received the blessings of his team to do so.

Lehner is very candid in his revelations, and talks about how he realized after entering the NHLPA’s substance abuse program that the drinking and pills were symptoms of a much larger mental health issue, and was able to seek help for it.

“I was not going to the hospital because the media along with everyone else would find out and I did not want that. I felt so drained both physically and mentally. Everything hurt. On my way home, I did the one thing that was common for me … I stopped to grab beer. I went home and drank … and drank. I finally woke up my wife in the middle of the night and said the five words I never had the courage to say.

“I have to go away.”

While it is very easy for Sabres fans to look back and retrospectively criticize Lehner and blame some of his worse performances on his mental health situation, we urge everyone to be empathetic to his struggles.

“For a long time, I always lived at the extremes mentally — manic and hyper-manic and depressed. What that means is the highs are high and the lows, well very low, and the depression is awful.

“I am an addict that was diagnosed as bipolar and ADHD with PTSD and trauma. I had never had a sober season of hockey my entire career. With those manic swings, I could see the pattern. When I was hypomanic and in a good mood, I was a solid goalie. The depressive state, not so much.”

The goaltender also mentioned how supportive the Sabres organization and GM Jason Botterill were at the time, and into the summer as well.

“During this whole process our GM in Buffalo was so incredibly supportive. We met when I came back and had a great and productive discussion. Jason and the Sabres organization had decided to move on from me as their goalie and, in the end, my family and I thought a restart would be the best thing. I still wanted to stay if they wanted me. But deep inside I knew changing scenery would be the best thing for my recovery. Now what to do. My relationship with Jason didn’t end in that meeting. He contacted me during the summer a few times to check in on me. His check-ins still continue today, despite me not being on his team.

“With my last GM checking in on me, my new one working with me, I am finally beginning to find a place of comfort without having to find something to make everything go away.

“I am truly ready to battle now.”

Kudos to Lehner for seeking assistance and getting his life back together. As Sabres fans and fellow human beings, we wish him well on his recovery, and hope nothing but the best for him going forward. Good luck Robin.

PS - The article in The Athletic is not locked behind a paywall, and we encourage everyone to read his harrowing narrative. Like he said, if he can help even one person by opening up, it’ll make it worth it for him, and for us sharing this piece.