Knights’ Lehner opts out of Olympics, cites health

NHL

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner has told Sweden that he won’t accept their invitation to play in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Lehner is the first high-profile NHL player to announce he won’t participate in the Beijing Games, which will feature restrictive COVID-19 protocols and potentially lengthy quarantines for those who test positive and exhibit symptoms in China.

Lehner, 30, said he made the decision “for health reasons” and after discussing the situation with his psychiatrist. He made the announcement in a postgame news conference following the Golden Knights’ 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames on Sunday night.

He was expected to be in the mix for Sweden’s Olympic starter with Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom following the retirement of Henrik Lundqvist, who was their primary goaltender in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

“I wish him all the best,” said Lehner.

Lehner has been one of the NHL’s leading voices on the mental health consideration of players. He was critical of some aspects of the league’s “playoff bubble” that it created in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also critical of the league’s restrictions on vaccinated players last season, saying “we need to start [making] the mental health important as well in this situation.”

The NHL intends to send its players to the 2022 Winter Olympics after skipping the 2018 Games in South Korea. The league and the players collectively bargained to have NHL participation in the next two Winter Games. However, the NHL has until Jan. 10 to opt out without any financial penalties should COVID-19 conditions worsen or otherwise pose a threat to the health and safety of players.

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