There’s honor in the brand of the Boston Bruins, perhaps more than the team’s ownership has ever understood.
The Bruins and their fans have always stood for something around here, a tad different from our other three franchises. The Bruins have been around much longer than the Celtics or Patriots and play in a house populated by rowdy, respectful, demanding folks who probably make less money but tip better than fans of our other three teams.
The Black and Gold have lived up to the love of their fans most winters since they first skated here in 1924. They are usually competitive, traditionally pugnacious, and ever-accountable. And Cam Neely — a big, tough, skilled leader brought here by Bruins godfather Harry Sinden in 1986 — has been a worthy steward of the franchise since taking over as team president in 2010.
All of which made it so crushing to see Neely and the Bruins blunder into one of the worst decisions in team lore, bringing distraction and dishonor to the Hub Home of Hockey just when the surprising Bruins were off to their best start in franchise history.
Mitchell Miller, a 20-year-old junior player with a juvenile history of racially abusing and bullying a Black classmate with developmental disabilities, was released by the Bruins Sunday at 9 p.m., just 2½ days after they signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract that would have guaranteed a minimum payout of slightly more than $530,000.
Monday at 9:15 a.m., a broken Neely apologized from a podium at the Bruins practice facility in Allston.
“We like to take pride in what we do in our community and how we hold ourselves accountable,” said the somber executive. “We dropped the ball and we apologize for that.
“I’m extremely upset that we have made a lot of people unhappy with our decisions. I take pride in the Bruins organization and what we stand for. We failed there.”
Neely’s morning confession, which outrageously was not aired live by NESN (gambling fans were treated to the latest episode of “Follow The Money”), unfolded 10 hours before the Bruins defeated the St. Louis Blues, 3-1, at the Garden to improve to 11-2-0.
Neely characterized the four-day (thus far) Miller debacle as “absolutely, no question, by far” his biggest regret as a Bruins executive.
And for what?
For what? For an undersized defenseman, an “asset” who might have been helpful in a few years?
Let’s agree that everybody deserves a second chance. We all make bad and regrettable decisions. None of us knows Miller personally, and perhaps he can move on to a productive life, maybe even as a professional athlete.
But the (easily discovered) background of his case suggests little contrition or remorse. His victim’s mother is willing to tell anyone that Miller never apologized to her son until a couple of weeks ago when he reached out on Instagram, and then only because he knew he had a chance to sign with the Bruins.
“I do believe in second chances,” Neely said Monday. “But maybe some don’t deserve it.”
Clearly, the Bruins did not do their homework. Not even close. They allowed Miller in a statement to apologize for a single “incident” rather than a pattern and years of abuse. They never reached out to the victim’s family to hear their side of the issue. They didn’t inform NHL commissioner Gary Bettman of their plan, and within 24 hours Bettman was telling the world that Miller needed to clear a number of hurdles, and even then might never be allowed to play in the NHL.
Miller was not properly vetted. He seems to have duped the Bruins. And as of Monday morning, Neely said, he still hadn’t reached out to the victim’s family.
A complete cluster by the Boston Bruins.
One has to wonder whether this is over for the Bruins. Would owner Jeremy Jacobs sanction Neely or general manager Don Sweeney? Will Neely punish Sweeney or anyone in his hockey operations department?
When Neely was asked about handing out discipline, he answered, “That’s something I have to deal with today and this week and see where it takes me.”
Does he feel let down by his hockey ops people?
“There’s a lot of people that are let down today,” he said. “I’m disappointed that we’re in this position. We shouldn’t be in this position. We could have done a better job, we should have done a better job. We released this Friday, [Sunday] we made a decision. I’ve got more work to do.”
Bruins players no doubt are relieved to have this behind them. Several team leaders were asked Saturday about Miller when the Bruins played in Toronto and their careful, tense answers indicated they wanted no part of this new teammate.
Neely understood. Had this happened when he was playing for the team, he said, “I probably would have been upset, too.
“The timing of it was never probably going to be good,” he added. “It came down to the point where we’re doing it or we’re not. And we made the wrong decision.”
What was the tipping point?
“A combination of everything,” Neely said. “Certainly our fan base being upset and rightfully so. For me, it was not worth putting the organization through this any longer.”
It was never worth it. This was totally unnecessary. The Black and Gold tarnished themselves for no good reason, and the man doing the explaining was one who did much to build the brand.