Members of the Buffalo Sabres offered their support to former teammate Robin Lehner on Thursday after the ex-Buffalo goaltender revealed why his season ended prematurely last spring.
In a chilling first-person story written for the Athletic New York, Lehner said he was diagnosed "bipolar 1 with manic phases" and then spent seven weeks at The Meadows, a suburban Phoenix facility, for treatment of multiple symptoms that included alcohol abuse.
"It's tough. That's one thing in sports that a lot of people don't see," Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian said after the team reported for physicals and testing in KeyBank Center. "You see on TV at 7 o'clock the bright lights and everything is great. You're getting paid to play a great game for a living, but there's a lot of things that go on away from the rink that a lot of people don't understand or see. It is tough to see a teammate you care about go through stuff. It is good to hear he's doing well."
Lehner wrote he was having a "major, full-blown panic attack" during the second period of the March 29 loss here to Detroit and thought he might be having a heart attack. The Sabres sent him home and Lehner drank heavily before waking up in the middle of the night and telling his wife he needed treatment.
Lehner revealed he had been having suicidal thoughts and was dealing with depression. He reported drinking a case of beer a day and needing pills to sleep before finally calling the NHL/NHLPA treatment program to get help and head to Arizona.
"It was extremely hard," Lehner told reporters in New York on Thursday about writing his story after reporting to Islanders camp. "The main reason I did it was hopefully it helps somebody else. It's been an emotional couple of days."
"As a group we kind of gave him his space and allowed him to address that," Jack Eichel said. "He reached out to me whenever he felt it was the right time. I spoke with him on the phone for a little bit just talking to him. It's really good to see he's doing well and on a better path. Obviously, we had a personal conversation and talked about a lot of things. It's nice to see. He's a really good guy and he was a good teammate to us."
"Take hockey out of it, it's good to see personally he's doing well," Bogosian said. "At the end of the day, that's what you live for. You're trying to raise a family, support your family. It's good to see he's in the right frame of mind now and has gotten help."
The Sabres walked away from Lehner as a restricted free agent and he signed a one-year, $1.5-million contract with the New York Islanders but the 27-year-old had high praise for Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill.
"During this whole process our GM in Buffalo was so incredibly supportive," Lehner wrote. "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."
Speaking Thursday on WGR/MSG's "The Instigators" Botterill said he continues to support Lehner in his recovery.
"I thought it was a very powerful article that Robin wrote," Botterill said. "I'm very happy it's been a really good summer for him. The biggest thing is Robin is really trying to be a great father. That's why I've tried to support him as much as possible."
With no new contract, unsigned Sam Reinhart did not report to camp with his teammates.
Negotiations continue between Botterill and Reinhart's agent, Craig Oster, on a new deal for the 22-year-old, who is coming off career highs in goals (25) and points (50).
"That's Jason's job and Sam's agent and I don't want to get in the middle of that," coach Phil Housley said. "We're going to mainly focus on the guys that are here. Push forward tomorrow, have a good day of work and we'll go from there."
"Sam is not here today," Botterill said on "The Instigators". "We'll continue to work with his advisers to try to get him in as quick as possible."
While Eichel switched his number to 9 this season from 15 to match what he wore in youth and college days, Bogosian is the other returning Sabre to change jerseys.
After wearing No. 47 since being acquired from Winnipeg in 2015, Bogosian has now claimed the No. 4 worn by departed blueliner Josh Gorges.
"I've worn 4 my entire life," said Bogosian. "When I got here, 4 and 44 were taken (by Gorges and Nic Deslauriers) so I put 47 together. Didn't really like the way that went, so just trying for a fresh start. Go back to my youth. There's not a crazy story behind it. It's been my favorite number growing up and now that it's available I figured I'd bounce on the opportunity to take it."
Bogosian, who only played 18 games last season before undergoing hip surgery in January, has been skating since July and even played some summer league games at Da Beauty League outside Minneapolis.
"I'm good to go," Bogosian said. "It's been a long time since I've been able to say that."
Here's an update on the Sabres' 2019 draft selections in the wake of Thursday's trade that sent All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson from Ottawa to San Jose:
-- The Sabres presently own three first-round picks for the draft next June in Vancouver: Their own, a pick from St. Louis as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade and a pick from the Sharks because San Jose re-signed winger Evander Kane, whom they acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline in February.
-- In the unlikely event San Jose misses the playoffs this year, Ottawa would get the Sharks' first-round pick and the Sabres' first-round pick from San Jose would be delayed until 2020.
-- If St. Louis misses the playoffs and ends up with a top-10 pick, the Blues have the option to keep the pick and send Buffalo their 2020 first-rounder instead. The Blues missed the playoffs on the final day of last season and finished with 94 points.
Camp opens Friday morning at HarborCenter and all sessions are free and open to the public. Housley started alternating between rinks during practice last season to always have fresh ice and the team will again use that concept during camp.
The first session is on the New Wave Energy (secondary) Rink, running from 9:45 to 10:20. Activity moves to KeyBank Rink, the feature rink, from 10:25-11:15.
It moves back to the New Wave Energy Rink (11:45-12:20) before concluding at KeyBank Rink (12:25-1:15).
Practices continue Saturday and Sunday before the preseason opens Monday night in Columbus. The home exhibition opener is Tuesday against Pittsburgh.