The Bruins did their best to close the ugly Mitchell Miller chapter Monday, but a Cam Neely contrition tour followed by a home-ice win over the Blues doesn’t mean the dust has settled on one of the worst organizational fumbles in memory.
With a defense strategy rooted in incompetence, Neely left the door open for additional repercussions within the organization as he promised to search for an explanation as to how the Bruins “dropped the ball” so badly. From a rushed, hushed Friday afternoon announcement that clearly spoke to the desire to keep the news of Mitchell’s addition under the radar to the ensuing days of public scrutiny and scorn that ultimately had the Bruins cut ties with the player whose troubled history of bullying/racist behavior toward a youthful classmate, Bruins management need only look in the mirror for culprits.
That should include both Neely and his partner-at-the-hip Don Sweeney, the general manager whose attempted justifications for the signing rang hollow, and not only in the public discourse, which is bad enough, but in the private confines of the Bruins locker room, which is unforgivable.
Sweeney’s decision completely obscured what should have been the only Bruins story worth talking about — the 10-1 record that represented the best start in franchise history. Dropping this steamer in the middle of the room robbed the players of joy they had rightfully earned, leaving them to address a decision they could not control.
Turns out it was one they could help change, however, and with Patrice Bergeron once again proving himself among the wisest, smartest adults in the room, the players’ voices were heard.
Bergeron said before Saturday night’s loss in Toronto that Miller’s signing “goes against” the culture he and teammates like Brad Marchand, Nick Foligno, and former captain Zdeno Chara built.
By Monday, by which time ties had been cut and the Bruins were back to their winning ways, he spoke to the importance of sharing those feelings both with his bosses and the fandom.
“To stay true to my values, really. What it comes down to and what is important is to stand up for what you think is wrong,” said Bergeron, who just happened to pot the game-winning goal against the Blues. “That situation, it goes back to what we’ve built here as an organization, as a team, as a locker room. That is to be inclusive and a locker room of respect and integrity.”
With Bergeron’s help, the Mitchell chapter was closed, but not before public embarrassment put the Bruins in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Amid one of the busiest portions of the sports schedule, the Bruins’ self-inflicted idiocy managed to overshadow their brethren Boston teams.
But a look around the city reminds us why the turn into fall and march toward winter is rife with sporting drama:
▪ The Celtics.
Funny, the transition to interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, which loomed as a huge early-season question for the defending Eastern Conference champions, has been seamless. Players seem to be hearing Mazzulla’s voice just fine as he replaces Ime Udoka, and with their Monday night win over Memphis fueled by late-game defense, they are showing progress in areas of concern.
Marcus Smart looked more like himself defensively, Jayson Tatum continues to score at an all-NBA level, and Mazzulla is showing his adeptness at handling bench depth.
But that doesn’t mean the season has been drama-free, and it’s all thanks to Udoka, the coach suspended by the Celtics for the season after reportedly having an inappropriate intimate relationship with a subordinate, and to former point guard Kyrie Irving, whose antics continue to ripple in the Celtics locker room.
Udoka may or may not end up as the new Nets coach, still casting his shadow over Boston. And while Irving serves a five-game suspension for his recent posting of a link to an antisemitic “documentary” and his ensuing refusal to disavow it, the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown addressed the situation in his role as a vice president of the NBPA.
But as much as Brown has to help protect Irving’s professional interests, it means he also has to wade into the surrounding controversy and could draw his own criticism.
“I don’t believe Kyrie Irving is antisemitic,” Brown told the Globe’s Gary Washburn. “I don’t think people in our governing bodies think he’s antisemitic. He made a mistake. We understand from an outside perspective how important sensitivity is to not condone hate speech and not condone anything of that nature. It’s sensitivity to the dialect around that. We don’t want to stand up for somebody in order to not condemn hate speech, but I don’t believe Kyrie Irving is antisemitic. And hopefully the NBA feels the same way.”
▪ The Patriots.
Buoyed into the bye week by Sunday’s smackdown of the hapless Colts, the Patriots are still very much a work in progress. From the stalled development of quarterback Mac Jones to the overall sluggishness of an offense that still doesn’t have a big enough playmaker at wide receiver, there is plenty of work for the two-headed coaching duo of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to get done this week. It should start with getting Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakobi Meyers the ball as much as possible, as well as more use of tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith as we saw against Indianapolis.
The AFC East won’t make this easy; with the Jets clipping the division-leading Bills over the weekend and the Dolphins already having a win over the last-place Patriots, Bill Belichick & Co. have to make up ground in the second half. The two games against the Bills loom large, but it all starts a week from Sunday against the revenge-minded Jets.
▪ The Red Sox.
While Houston celebrates, the Red Sox fiddle.
Xander Bogaerts is officially off the roster, and Chaim Bloom wants us to believe the lifelong Red Sox shortstop is the team’s “first choice” and “Option A” on the free agent market. What evidence backs his promises that he’s actually willing to put action, and cash, behind those words?
Bloom’s Sox are not the free-spending Phillies and don’t have the consistency or depth of the Astros, and after a last-place finish in the uber-competitive AL East, where’s the faith that it’s getting better?