Calling it his biggest regret “by far” as a Bruins executive, team president Cam Neely said the franchise made significant errors in the vetting and signing of Mitchell Miller, the 20-year-old defenseman who admitted to bullying and racial abuse as a teen.
Chief among them:
“We didn’t talk to the family,” Neely said, referring to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, the Black, developmentally disabled classmate Mitchell bullied for years. “We should have talked to the family.”
Why didn’t they?
“It’s a great question,” he said. “Something I need to find out.”
When he spoke to reporters for 15 minutes Monday morning, Neely still hadn’t reached out to the Meyer-Crothers family. It was the latest failure in a dark chapter in the franchise’s history.
The Bruins announced their intention to cut ties with Miller Sunday evening, two days after signing him to a three-year rookie contract and one day after player leadership — including captain Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Nick Foligno — expressed misgivings about the move.
The ongoing backlash flooded the team’s social media and fan relations departments. Any post by the team was met with hundreds of calls to dismiss Miller. An email address to fan relations began returning auto-replies.
Neely said Miller became unwanted because of “a combination of everything — certainly our fan base being upset, and rightfully so,” he said. “For me, it was not worth putting the organization through this any longer.”
The Bruins have not officially cut ties with Miller. To do so, they would have to place him on waivers for the purpose of contract termination, which they did not do by Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline.
The NHL Players Association would have 60 days to file a grievance if Miller is placed on waivers. An NHLPA spokesperson said the union is “obviously aware of the matter and actively reviewing it.”
A grievance case, which would be likely, could be one reason Neely was light on specifics Monday, beyond expressing shame.
“I’m extremely upset that we have made a lot of people unhappy with our decision,” Neely said. “I take pride in the Bruins organization and what we stand for. We failed there.”
What did he think the fan reaction would be?
“Initially I was thinking it was going to be, ‘OK, this kid deserves a second chance,’ ” he said. “I thought there would be some people that were going to be upset about it. But to the extent of this — I misread that.”
He would not get into the financial implications of cutting Miller, whose contract can be worth as much as $2.85 million over three years. Neely said the Bruins have not spoken to Miller about their decision to cut him.
Speaking in Finland Saturday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the Bruins did not inform him they were signing Miller and he would not be eligible to play in the NHL until meeting with Bettman. Neely pushed back on that, saying that Sweeney did reach out to deputy commissioner Bill Daly last Wednesday.
Neely said the Bruins’ hockey operations department — though members of the organization expressed “a lot of trepidation and hesitation” — erred by not discovering the extent of Miller’s abhorrent abuse of Meyer-Crothers, his classmate whom he coerced into consuming a piece of candy that had been wiped in a urinal. Neely said they believed that Miller had made a single mistake as a teenager, echoing general manager Don Sweeney’s comments Friday.
“From everything I heard, he was working on himself, working in programs to better himself,” said Neely. “I was under the impression he was a 14-year-old kid who made a really, really bad decision and did some horrible things. And he’s 20 years old now, so I was under the impression that he had done a lot of work on himself.”
However, publicly available news reports after Miller was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in 2020 — including by the Columbus Dispatch, near where Miller and Meyer-Crothers grew up in Sylvania, Ohio — noted that Miller’s torment of Meyer-Crothers went on for years.
When a reporter noted that deeper information about the ongoing mistreatment was widely available, Neely reiterated that the club had focused on what happened from when Miller was age 14 to today.
“Again, I don’t want to get into specifics,” Neely said. “We should have had a conversation with the family.”
Speaking on his own involvement, Neely said he was first informed of the team’s interest in Miller in early August. He relayed the information to Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and CEO Charlie Jacobs.
Neely said he made it clear to the hockey operations department — headed by Sweeney, senior adviser Scott Bradley, assistant GMs Evan Gold and Jamie Langenbrunner, and director of amateur scouting Ryan Nadeau — “that we had to vet this out properly,” Neely said. “This is a massive decision for the organization to make.”
The incident could mean discipline within the Bruins’ front office.
“Something I have to deal with today and this week,” Neely said. “See where it takes me.”
Asked if he felt let down by the hockey operations department, Neely said, “There’s a lot of people who are let down today. I’m disappointed 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.”
Neely offered his public apology.
“I want to apologize to Isaiah and his family,” Neely said. “It’s something that they shouldn’t continue to go through.”