Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 26: General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speaks during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • The Boston Bruins did not and do not need defenseman Mitchell Miller. 

    They could lose the remaining 71 games of their season and I’ll stand by that belief. They could lose an entire defensive depth chart to season-ending injuries – and, boy, have they come close numerous times over the years – and I’ll still believe this to be the case. There’s simply no level of bullshittery that would make the headache of adding Miller, who was dropped by the Coyotes less than a month after they drafted him in 2020 due to his straight-up demented past, worth it.

    Even — or maybe better yet, especially — in what’s perhaps the last ride with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and their quest for one more Stanley Cup.

    Which makes the decision to sign Miller, who was picked up at the airport by Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, to an entry-level contract Friday all the more confusing.

    Through 11 games, the Bruins have been the top story of the NHL. Left for dead in the nursing home in the offseason, and with their most important players on the shelf to begin the year, the Bruins are off to their best start in team history under first-year Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. Thursday’s win over the Rangers, which featured a passionate Montgomery almost punching through Chris Kelly’s soul in celebration of Trent Frederic’s go-ahead goal on the reigning Vezina winner, was the latest ‘statement win’ in what’s been an unbelievable and undeniable string of ‘em. They’re actually just three wins off from tying the 2007-08 Ottawa Senators for the best start by any team in league history. 

    Sweeney, a man who a large segment of this fanbase wanted fired a mere five months ago, was on the cusp of making everybody eat their words. The running shoes were on, and the victory lap was about to take its first step.

    But instead, Sweeney and the B’s inexplicably decided to step in the biggest mess the sidewalk had to offer before the lap even started.  

    And to make matters worse, Sweeney knows this. 

    “I’m not going to downplay that this has been a personal struggle as well as a professional struggle as we go through and try to separate the hockey player and the person,” Sweeney said in a Zoom. “This has been a struggle as to what is right and what is wrong.”

    The internal struggle of making this signing was discussed at least 15 times more than the on-ice attributes of the 20-year-old Miller. That’s never been a good sign. 

    “And I can’t categorically tell you this is the absolute right decision,” Sweeney admitted. “This is an opportunity that we’re providing for a young man that is going to work to continue to earn trust and respect, as each and every one of us do every day. My own personal judgment on this wasn’t a final say. It was just part of the equation.” 

    An equation that’s still coming up without a clear and definitive answer. 

  • MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 05: A detail of the Boston Bruins logo is seen during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 5, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 5-4. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

    MONTREAL, QC – NOVEMBER 05: A detail of the Boston Bruins logo is seen during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 5, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

  • Whether or not Miller deserves another chance is its own story. 

    It’s the absolute worst kind of story to find yourself in, too, as it blends the tribalism of sports fandom (where almost anything can be accepted in the name of a championship parade) with the recreational screaming and identity politics of “cancel culture.” One side thinks there’s not enough to be done to scrap someone’s entire existence from the planet, and the other thinks that there’s not a single thing that’s bad enough for society to decide that you’re through and your actions have consequences. Neither approach, which is almost always accompanied with stubborn and uncompromising positions on the matter, seems like the right call as we continue to hurl towards extinction on this space rock. 

    To think that Miller deserves a second chance, however, comes back to an idea that this was a one-time mistake made as a 14-year-old. In the team-provided statement, Miller called it an “incident” while Bruins president Cam Neely referred to it as a “mistake.” 

    The problem is that this was not a one time mistake or lack of judgment. This was a pattern of targeted bullying of a developmentally disabled peer. And it was absolutely sickening. 

    Over the course of multiple years, practically spanning Miller’s entire childhood, Miller and his peers tormented, humiliated, and traumatized Isaiah Meyer-Crothers. 

    They subjected Meyer-Crothers to physical abuse, and slammed his head into a brick wall. They targeted Meyer-Crothers, who is Black, with racial slurs beyond the n-word, and reportedly told him to “go pick their cotton.” They wiped a push pop candy inside a urinal at a public restroom and tricked Meyer-Crothers into licking it. Miller ‘nearly fell over with laughter’ when Meyer-Crothers, who had to be tested for potential sexually-transmitted diseases after the incident, put the push pop in his mouth. 

    This goes beyond being young and stupid. This is hateful. The abuse and trauma inflicted on Meyer-Crothers went on for years, and with no noticeable or genuine remorse from Miller. 

    Convicted in juvenile court in 2016, Miller’s first apology was a court-ordered one. William Hutchenson, the juvenile magistrate in the case, even said to Miller, “I don’t have a sense of real remorse. But I do feel that you feel sorry for yourself.” It’s since been said that Miller recently reached out to Meyer-Crothers on Instagram and said that he was sorry and that his apology ‘had nothing to do with hockey’. Sweeney himself admitted in Friday’s Zoom conference that he was ‘certainly part of’ Miller contacting Meyer-Crothers. 

    A second chance would indicate that Miller has matured and truly understands that what he did was heinous and wrong. Thus far, Miller’s only examples of showing that have come in the form of a forced apology that an unbiased court official didn’t even believe and at the nudging of teams with NHL contracts on the table. 

    Nothing about this screams contrition.

  • MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JULY 07: President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins look on during Round One of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre on July 07, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    MONTREAL, QUEBEC – JULY 07: President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins look on during Round One of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bell Centre on July 07, 2022. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • Sweeney and the Bruins were aware of the incident when Miller was first draft eligible in 2020.

    They did not have Miller, who went to the Coyotes with the No. 111 pick, on their draft boards. They simply weren’t comfortable enough with the information – or lack thereof – they had on Miller and his past. (One would say that’s also to be expected from the team that was too scared to draft Mathew Barzal after he was ‘immature’ in his interview, and with core front office heads that felt Tyler Seguin partied too much.)

    But the Bruins started to do their homework on Miller about a year ago, and things intensified from there.

    Miller’s game also soared, as he manned the point for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, and tallied 39 goals and 83 points in 60 games, and captured both the Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year honors for the USHL’s 2021-22 season. 

    “We just have a much better understanding, and we feel we’re in a position that when doors were slamming, that maybe we would allow one to open up,” Sweeney said of the talks with Miller over the last year. “And we felt as an organization we’d be strong enough to do that and hold him to the standard that we put forth in our release that each and every one of us as employees and part of Delaware North and the Boston Bruins are going to hold ourselves to that standard and Mitchell will be held to that.” 

    Sweeney and the rest of the front office’s ‘much better understanding’ of the situation did not come with any contact with Meyer-Crothers or his parents, who have remained critical of Miller’s post-conviction actions, and have pushed back on the idea that he even apologized to their son, who still deals with the trauma of the bullying.

    “[Miller]’s never reached out to my son, he never reached out to us,” Joni Meyer-Crothers, Isaiah’s mother, said in an interview with WBZ on Friday in the aftermath of Miller’s signing. “I don’t care how talented any player is, he could be the next Wayne Gretzky, but if your player that you’re taking doesn’t have character and isn’t a good human being, then you really might want to rethink what you’re doing.”

    (If your due diligence didn’t come with reaching out to the victim’s family, you didn’t do the proper due diligence. Not with a case as nauseating as this, anyway.)

    And the players tasked with playing for the Bruins and in Sweeney’s ultimate vision are also wondering what they’re doing. When Sweeney approached the team’s leaders and told them what the team was going to do, one player summed it up best and asked a simple, “Why?”

    Speaking with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Friday, Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron by all means admitted that the move didn’t fit in with his beliefs on and off the ice. 

    “I think as a person, but also as a team, we stand for integrity, inclusion, and diversity,” Bergeron said. “That was the first thing that, I guess, came out of my mouth. [Signing Miller] goes against what we are as a culture and as a team, and for me as a person.”

    It was as close to a ‘I don’t like this’ as you’ll get from Bergeron, who was tasked with the unenviable duty of either saying he’s on board with Miller before evening meeting the man and understanding his contrition or going against his front office and creating a storyline that would completely overshadow the team’s 10-1-0 start to the season. 

    Answering for a decision made by management? Just what he wants to after coming back to the B’s on the most team friendly deal imaginable, I’m sure.

  • There’s also absolutely no way this plays. 

    In more ways than one. 

    Boston is simply too big of a media and sports town, and is home to a fanbase that cares too much to let this slide. Even a 70-degree Friday in November wasn’t burying this one. 

    The fan outreach to the team and fan relations was so strong on Friday that emails to the organization were bouncing back with an auto-reply stating that the team was experiencing higher traffic volume than normal. The disapproval of the signing has also been nearly universal, with fans not wanting this kind of player on their team. 

    The story of the signing was also a lead item on most local news channels. The poundings will also continue, both locally and elsewhere, as Bruins players and coaches will be forced to answer questions about this ahead of Saturday’s road game in Toronto (not a big hockey market or anything) and walk into a media frenzy when they return home on Sunday. Monday’s home game against the Blues, which is supposed to mark the debut of the ‘Pooh Bear’ Reverse Retro jerseys, will now become a sideshow for everything but the jersey. 

    Organizationally, it’s tough to see how this signing ever “works.” 

    In addition to their various partnerships and community outreach programs, which often focus on issues of inequality and diversity, the Bruins begin every home game at TD Garden with a ‘Take The Lead’ anti-racism PSA. The campaign, which was introduced over five years ago, urges fans to speak up when they see or hear any sort of racism or inequality. “Stand for our teams, but don’t stand for racism,” the PSA states, with the 2022 version of that specific message shared to the arena by Bergeron and the Celtics’ Robert Williams.

    The Bruins have also entered a multi-year, big-time money partnership with Rapid7 as the team’s official and inaugural jersey patch sponsor. Rapid7’s CEO, Corey Thomas, is Black, and has a disabled son. One of the things that Thomas was most looking forward to as part of this partnership was their work with the “Hockey Is For Everyone” campaign. 

    Everything about Miller’s signing flies in the face of their own words and efforts. 

    The Bruins are well aware of this. 

    “Walking away would have been a much easier decision in this regard,” Sweeney admitted. “It invited a lot of negativity that, quite frankly, we didn’t need [and] we didn’t want.

  • So, why not do exactly that? 

    “Every time we got to the point where we’re just walking away, we’re walking away, we came back to [Miller] was in the eighth grade [and] he was 14 years old,” Sweeney said.

    (Again, this suggests that this was an isolated incident, when the evidence and accounts from the other parties involved in the incidents indicate otherwise.)

    “I came to a position that if the organization was willing to support a person and give an opportunity, [I] recognized that I come from a lifelong [family of] educators, my father in particular was a vice principal, principal of board of education that has suspended kids throughout his professional life, but he always welcomed them back if they were willing to abide by the rules and to continue to move forward in their life,” Sweeney offered. “Because it was about opportunity and it wasn’t about punishment. Mitchell’s paid a punishment that he’s going to continue to carry for the rest of his life.” 

    Hey, speaking of paid… 

    To give Miller his ‘second chance’ after he bullied and tormented someone he actually called in a friend (wrap your head around that) in the court-ordered apology, the Bruins offered Miller the most money one can make in the AHL on an entry-level contract. The contract was loaded with the maximum signing bonus and performance bonuses, too. 

    This is not an example of the Bruins or Miller realizing that he truly needed to rebuild his image from the ground up. No, that would be an AHL-only contract or a standard contract, or even a tryout and seeing where things went from there. There’s a lot of different ways that a joint effort of an image rebuild can go. One way it cannot go? The maximum money allowed under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. At least if you’re sincere. 

    For a team that made it known how much of an agonizing struggle this decision was, they sure didn’t have an appetite for letting someone else agonize themselves into winning the apparent bidding war for a radioactive 5-foot-10 defenseman with sociopathic tendencies. 

    In no world is this a player that’s worth it. Not for what the Bruins are trying to accomplish this year and beyond, and not for the culture that the team has built for two decades. This was not an invitation that needed to be extended by this team, even if it’s coming with a warning shot from Sweeney that can only help but ring hollow given what we know. 

    “I told Mitchell this and I stand by this, I might have been the person that picked him up at the airport when he arrived in Boston, but I will be the first person to drive him to the airport if anything goes sideways,” said Sweeney. 

    As if it hasn’t already?

    And for what? 

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