Less than 72 hours after their controversial signing of Mitchell Miller, the Bruins Sunday night parted ways with the 20-year-old defenseman because of what team president Cam Neely noted in a 9 p.m. press release was “new information.”
Thus ended a startling and revealing episode in club history, one in which both general manager Don Sweeney and Neely appeared rudderless when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that it’s possible Miller may never be allowed to play in the NHL.
Bettman’s comments came one day after the Bruins signed Miller, a fourth-round draft pick by the Coyotes in 2020, to a three-year contract that would pay him a minimum $500,000 over three years.
The signing, which immediately set off a firestorm among many fans and media members, finally was renounced by Neely, who cast a contrite tone in the news release.
“Based on new information, we believe it is the best decision at this time to rescind the opportunity for Mitchell Miller to represent the Boston Bruins,” the releasequoted Neely. “We hope that he continues to work with professionals and programs to further his education and personal growth.
“We owe it to our fans, players, staff, partners and community to make sure that our practices and protocols are in keeping with the ethos that we demand from ourselves and as an organization. As such, we will be reevaluating our internal processes for vetting individuals who wish to earn the privilege of playing in the National Hockey League for the Boston Bruins.”
The release did not specify the nature of the new information. Neely will be available to the media at 9:15 a.m. Monday at the club’s practice facility in Brighton.
The release did not say if Sweeney, who was the lead representative in announcing the signing on Friday, also would meet with the media.
Miller was cut free by the Coyotes soon after reporting in Arizona detailed his troubled past as a teenager, pleading guilty to charges related to his hazing of a Black classmate, Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, in Ohio.
“We are sorry that this decision has overshadowed the incredible work the members of our organization do to support diversity and inclusion efforts,” Neely added in the release. “We will continue to stand against bullying and racism in all of its forms.
“To Isaiah and his family, my deepest apologies if this signing made you and other victims feel unseen and unheard. We apologize for the deep hurt and impact we have caused.”
In signing Miller, Sweeney spoke of giving Miller a shot at redemption, while also expressing personal concerns, noting he was unsure if it was the right thing to do.
The episode not only overshadowed the club’s stellar start (10-2-0) to the new season, and left some veteran roster players openly struggling to understand why, it made both Neely and Sweeney look out of touch with the fan base, the media and particularly inept at how to go about framing such a controversial signing.
The deal had been in the works for at least a month. The Bruins did extensive interviews with and evaluations of Miller. They came away convinced he was worth a second chance, along with the slings and arrows that would come their way.
Yet, when it came time to announce it to the public, they dashed out a news release early Friday afternoon, then scrambled together a Sweeney Zoom session with the media and a one-on-one in Providence with Miller, assigned to the AHL Bruins, that had ex-Providence Journal scribe Mark Divver as the lone journalist asking questions.
All of it was a revealing, risible snapshot in how to bollix a sensitive and controversial case and how not to set up a kid to refurbish his crippled public image. It was a slovenly, amateur rollout that resulted in the ongoing pillory of the management team, the Bruins brand as a whole, and Miller.
On Sunday, hours before the Bruins backed out of the deal, Miller’s agent took to social media in an attempt to patch the self-inflicted open wound.
“As a Black man who has spent his entire life in hockey,” wrote the agent, Eustace King, “I understand the gravity of the situation and respect the fierce emotions and reactions to the initial reporting and commentary around Mr. Miller’s past behavior.”
King was striving for Miller eventually to attain what he termed “restorative justice” — a way to win back his name and career, if not his life.
It would have been the public that had the final say in the days to come.
Sweeney and Neely needed a do-over of their own. They needed to provide everyone with a clear, unhurried, concise explanation of why they thought Miller was worth all the bother and where they thought he could go in their franchise. They needed to bring all the people involved in the process to the table and let them talk, explain, educate.
Miller indeed may been owed little, but he was owed at least that.
The Bruins gave Willie O’Ree a chance when others dared not, making him the first player of African descent to play in the NHL.
Over the summer, Sweeney and Neely chose Jim Montgomery as their new coach, when others were afraid to give him a second chance because of his history with alcoholism.
It’s not a franchise afraid to take a bold, even controversial stance. But nearly 100 years into its history, it proved over the weekend that it’s in the dark ages when it comes to knowing its audience, the intelligence of its fans, the media, even its own veteran players, some of whom expressed dismay over the signing.
The Bruins told us Friday that Mitchell Miller can do better. Two days later they said goodbye. They now need to ask better of themselves.
Read more about the topic
- Read Cam Neely’s statement on the Bruins’ decision to cut ties with Mitchell Miller
- Tara Sullivan: Bruins’ justifications for signing Mitchell Miller are not convincing
- Bruins sign Mitchell Miller, who admitted to bullying, racial abuse of a developmentally disabled peer
- Commissioner Gary Bettman has informed Bruins that Mitchell Miller has not been granted the right to play in the NHL
- ‘I was on the fence’: Patrice Bergeron says he was consulted before Bruins signed abuser Mitchell Miller
- Signing of Mitchell Miller difficult for many Bruins to comprehend
- Mitchell Miller’s agent releases statement after Bruins’ controversial signing
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.