Bruins’ Neely: Team ‘dropped the ball’ in signing Miller
BOSTON -- Bruins President Cam Neely said the team “dropped the ball” with its internal vetting of Mitchell Miller, ultimately leading to the decision to rescind its contract offer to the defenseman.
The 20-year-old Miller was selected by Arizona in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, but the Coyotes relinquished his draft rights for bullying a Black classmate with developmental disabilities in middle school.
Boston signed Miller to an entry-level contract on Friday, leading to sweeping criticism from Bruins players from captain Patrice Bergeron on down, as well as Boston’s fanbase. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also weighed in, saying Miller would not currently be eligible to play in the league without major changes.
“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. And we failed there.”
The offer to Miller was rescinded late Sunday, with Neely saying in a statement the Bruins thought Miller’s conduct was an isolated incident and that the team reversed course based on new information - particularly that the team hadn’t spoken to victim Isaiah Meyer-Crothers or his family.
“We didn’t have enough information,” Neely said. “We could have dug deeper.”
Neely met with Miller, agent Eustace King and Miller’s mother prior to signing him. Neely said he shouldn’t have assumed the vetting process also included a meeting with Meyer-Crothers’ family. Asked why that didn’t happen, Neely said: “It’s a great question. Something I need to find out.”
Neely reiterated that in his meeting with Miller he felt he was remorseful and worthy of an opportunity to play in the NHL.
“I was under the impression it was a 14-year-old kid that made a really bad decision and did some horrible things,” Neely said. “He’s 20 years old now. So I was under the impression that in the last six years he’s done a lot of work on himself. ... I believe in second chances and maybe some don’t deserve it.”
Miller pleaded guilty at age 14 to one count of assault and one count of violation of the Ohio Safe Schools Act. He and another teenager were accused of making Meyer-Crothers eat a candy push pop after wiping it in a bathroom urinal, and surveillance video showed them kicking and punching him.
Meyer-Crothers’ mother Joni told The Arizona Republic that Miller started bullying her son in second grade and used racial epithets.
The Coyotes drafted Miller despite knowing of his 2016 assault conviction. The team parted ways with Miller amid criticism after learning more about the bullying.
Miller sent a letter to all 31 NHL teams acknowledging what happened and apologizing for his behavior. Joni Meyer-Crothers said Miller never personally apologized to Isaiah or their family other than a court-mandated letter.
“When I was in eighth grade, I made an extremely poor decision and acted very immaturely,” Miller said in a statement. “I bullied one of my classmates. I deeply regret the incident and have apologized to the individual. Since the incident, I have come to better understand the far-reaching consequences of my actions that I failed to recognize and understand nearly seven years ago.”
Miller sat out the 2020-21 season before scoring 39 goals with 44 assists for Tri-City of the USHL in 2021-22. He was named the USHL’s player and defenseman of the year after setting league records for goals and points by a defenseman.
Neely apologized again to Meyer-Crothers’ family and said he planned to reach out to them.
“It’s something they shouldn’t have to continue to go through,” he said. “We could have done a better job, we should have done a better job.”