Gary Bettman makes it clear that Bruins’ Miller not welcome to play in NHL

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that Boston Bruins prospect Mitchell Miller is ineligible to play in the league because of his admitted bullying of a classmate as a teenager.

Bettman, who is attending the 2022 NHL Global Series in Finland, said the Bruins’ front office didn’t consult the league office before signing Miller to an entry-level contract on Friday. The Bruins assigned him to Providence of the American Hockey League.

The Arizona Coyotes drafted Miller in the fourth round in 2020 but renounced his draft rights that October after allegations surfaced that he had bullied a classmate with developmental disabilities as an eighth-grader. The University of North Dakota also removed him from the hockey team.

Miller, 20, called his actions “an extremely poor decision” and said he “acted very immaturely.”

“I bullied one of my classmates,” he said Friday in a statement released by the Bruins. “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. I strive to be a better person and positively contribute to society.”

Bettman said apologies won’t wipe the slate clean

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Mar 16, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Crews prepare the ice after a Boston Celtics game before a match between Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

“What I understand and I’ve heard through the media anecdotally, what he did as a 14-year-old is reprehensible, unacceptable,” Bettman said. “Before the Bruins made the decision to sign him, we were not consulted. I happened to talk to (Bruins president) Cam Neely since the time he was signed.”

“He’s not coming into the NHL, he’s not eligible at this point to come into the NHL,” Bettman said of Miller. “I can’t tell you that he’ll ever be eligible to come into the NHL. If, in fact, at some point they think they want him to play in the NHL, and I’m not sure that they’re anywhere close to that point, we are going to have to clear him and his eligibility and it’ll be based on all the information that we get firsthand at the time.

“So the answer is they were free to sign him to play somewhere else — that’s another league’s issue — but nobody should think at this point he is or may ever be NHL eligible. And the Bruins understand that now.”

Bettman didn’t close the door permanently to Miller playing in the NHL but said he “would need to see a whole bunch of things and understand a lot more firsthand than I do now anecdotally” before welcoming the defenseman.

Miller, who grew up in Sylvania, Ohio, pleaded guilty at age 14 to one count of assault and one count of violation of the Ohio Safe Schools Act, NBC Sports reported. He and another teenager were shown on a security video punching and kicking the boy and also forcing him to eat a piece of candy that had touched the inside of a bathroom urinal.

Miller played with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL in 2021-22 and registered 83 points (39 goals, 44 assists) and a plus-43 rating in 60 games. He swept the league’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Neely said the organization did its due diligence before signing Miller.

“Representing the Boston Bruins is a privilege we take seriously as an organization,” Neely said. “Respect and integrity are foundational character traits we expect of our players and staff.”

Some Bruins players have spoken out against the signing, however.

Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron told reporters in Toronto on Saturday that the beliefs in the Bruins’ locker room run opposite to what Miller did.

“To be honest, the culture we built here goes against that type of behavior,” he said. “We’re a team that has built something about character and character people and individuals. What he did obviously is unacceptable and we don’t stand by that.

“In this locker room, we are all about diversity, inclusion and respect. Those are the key words and core values we have. We expect guys to wear this jersey to be high-character people with integrity and respect. That’s how they should be acting. My understanding is he’s going to put in the work in development programs and community programs to better himself. From my standpoint, it’s a hockey operations decision and we can only control what we can control. Truthfully, hopefully there is some growth and change. If it’s the same 14-year-old walking into this locker room, he wouldn’t be acceptable and welcomed in this locker room to be honest with you.”

–Field Level Media