Robin Lehner touts mental health benefits of return of sports, NHL

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As the NHL and other sports leagues continue elaborate plans to return, plenty wonder: is it really worth it? For Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner, it sounds like the answer is a resounding “Yes,” particularly from a mental health perspective.

Lehner, the 2019 Masterton Trophy winner, has been candid about his mental health struggles. It makes sense, then, that Lehner shared his perspective on the subject, as Jesse Granger of The Athletic reports (sub required).

“I think (the conversation) is so surrounded by COVID, where a lot of other issues get pushed to the side,” Lehner said. “I think it’s important for a lot of people’s mental health to get back to following something, and having something to plan for the next day. For families to watch a game, or watch some type of sport.”

Again, Lehner has been open about his mental health struggles. He opened up about addiction issues, as well as being diagnosed as bipolar, in The Athletic back in November 2018. Lehner also shared his story while accepting the Masterton Trophy:

As Granger notes, Lehner worries that larger mental health concerns get “swept away” while so much attention is placed on COVID-19. That’s a fair point, and a broader one can be made. (Take, for instance, emergency backup goalie extraordinare David Ayres using his platform in hopes of people remembering those with kidney-related issues.)

Lehner believes it’s worth it for NHL, sports to return

No doubt about it, people cling to hobbies during tough times. It’s no surprise that the NHL and other leagues are pushing hard to return amid COVID-19.

Yet the larger debate remains a fascinating one.

Lehner touts the mental health benefits of watching and participating in sports, but what about players taking such risks? In Lehner’s case, his biggest issue is about missing his family. Others may have more direct concerns.

That said, it seems like the NHLPA membership vote would indicate that players approve of the plan … at least enough, in tandem with a CBA extension.

Of course, voting in favor of the larger plan doesn’t mean players sign off on every detail. And some likely believed that they were merely choosing the lesser evil.

The “is it worth it?” question is difficult to answer

Even beyond the risks players take on, there’s the question of the larger impact.

Consider the scale of what the NHL is pulling off, and the resources required. During Phase 2 alone — which involved at least 600 players, but not everyone involved in the return to play — the NHL required almost 5,000 COVID-19 tests.

Imagine how many tests the NHL might burn through in aiming to award the 2020 Stanley Cup. Think of the risks not just to players, but also to staff members, including coaches old enough to be considered at-risk. Beyond players like Lehner, there are service workers needed to make everything run.

Ultimately, we may not really be able to answer the “Is it worth it?” question until after the fact. At the moment, Lehner and others believe that it is, though.

More on NHL return to play, CBA extension, COVID-19:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.