HARD HITS: Mitchell Miller fiasco not worth it for Bruins


On the ice, the Bruins have been the class of the NHL. Winners of seven in a row and boasting a league best 10-1-0 record entering Saturday’s game at Toronto, they have lit it up so far.

After erupting for four third period goals in a 5-2 win over the Rangers on Thursday night, they’ve outscored opponents 50-28 for a league best diferential of plus-22. They rank first in offense with a whopping average of 4.46 goals-per-game. Their 2.55 goals allowed a game is tied for fourth best.

The Bruins also are tops in penalty killing with a remarkable 94.9 percentage down a man. They’re 37 for 39 with a shorthanded goal. So, they’ve allowed permitted one more power play goal than they’ve scored on the kill. They’re only 13th on the power play (22.5 pct) and have allowed two shorthanded goals.

That speaks to how well they’ve played at five-on-five. So far, so good for new coach Jim Montgomery. He’s done a masterful job despite not having defense anchor Charlie McAvoy. They also didn’t have Brad Marchand for the first eight games. David Krejci missed the last three. He will return tonight. The veteran hasn’t missed a beat with eight points in eight games.

Leading the way is star David Pastrnak. Off to a spectacular start with 19 points (8-11-19), he’s among the league leaders in scoring. Without McAvoy, Montgomery has turned Hampus Lindholm loose. The former Ducks defenseman is showing newfound offense. A dependable player in his end, his 13 points are third among all NHL defensemen. He also has a plus-12 rating.

Linus Ullmark remains the story in net. He’s a perfect 8-0-0 with a 2.17 GAA and .929 save percentage. He had to replace Jeremy Swayman in a recent game due to the second-year goalie leaving with an injury. With journeyman Keith Kinkaid up as the backup, it’s safe to say the B’s will be riding Ullmark for now.

With a balanced attack that includes Patrice Bergeron, Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk with even Nick Foligno and Pavel Zacha contributing, the Bruins are clicking on all cylinders. At least the on ice NHL product is.

So, why then did GM Don Sweeney decide to sign free agent defenseman Mitchell Miller to a contract? The backlash from signing a controversial player with a checkered history dating back to his teens makes no sense.

It was at age 14 that he bullied a black kid with a disability in the eighth grade. The disturbing part is according to the victim’s Mom, it wasn’t the first time Miller bullied her son. It dates back to the second grade. Even worse, the gross details of what he did are too much to repeat. That a teenager would do what Miller did to another teen with a disability is mind-numbing.

Somehow, throughout all this time, he never showed remorse for what he did. An Instagram message isn’t the same as publicly apologizing for his despicable actions. It really makes no sense. Then again, the Coyotes took Miller in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Draft. When the red flags were raised, they rescinded the pick.

Even worse, the Bruins didn’t bother to reach out to the family. Joni Meyer-Crothers gave her permission to reporters to inform them how she felt about the Bruins signing Miller without any communication whatsoever.

Kudos to Guy Flaming for going the extra mile to clarify the situation. It is very sad that the Bruins didn’t consider getting in touch with the Mom. The pain and grief Miller caused her family over the years is unforgivable. What the heck were they thinking?

Doesn’t that information above sound hypocritical? On one hand, they didn’t contact the victim Isaiah Meyer-Crothers or his family. But the Bruins organization were ‘involved in the process’ of Mitchell Miller reaching out and talking to Meyer-Crothers. That comes off weak.

When they have even some of their leadership including captain Bergeron questioning the move, that speaks volumes.

“I had my concerns,” Bergeron said in an article that appeared in The Athletic.. “I shared my opinion. In a way, I was not necessarily agreeing with it. To be honest with you, the culture that we’ve built here goes against that type of behavior. We’re a team that’s built something about character, character people and individuals. What he did, obviously, is unacceptable. We don’t stand by that.

“For me, I know for myself anyways, in this locker room, we’re all about inclusion, diversity, respect. Those are 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.”

Bergeron isn’t alone in his views on the idea of signing Miller. Both Marchand and Foligno voiced their strong opinions as well. They understand the dynamics of the locker room and what they stand for as a team.

It doesn’t matter what Mitchell Miller’s numbers were for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL. At 20, he’s hoping to put his awful past behind him. It comes down to whether a player with his issues that include racist and hateful actions should be given a second chance. Why didn’t he show more remorse and reach out to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers and his family over the years? Why did he wait until just recently when an opportunity presented itself to play hockey?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made himself clear on where he stands on Miller. For the foreseeable future, Miller shouldn’t expect to be allowed to play in the NHL until several hurdles are cleared. Good for Bettman. He has principles.

When even Bruins fans are upset by what the organization decided, that should send a clear message of what they stand for. This isn’t going over well. It shouldn’t. Sweeney, Cam Neely and owner Jeremy Jacobs will feel the heat over such a controversial decision. Where it goes from here remains to be seen.

BODY CHECKS

Who had Erik Karlsson rediscovering what made him the league’s best defenseman on a rebuilding San Jose Sharks under David Quinn? A recent hat trick and four-point game followed up by a three-point (1-2-3) effort in consecutive shootout losses highlight the return of Karlsson to the game’s elite. He has a four-game point streak in which he’s totaled a ridiculous 12 points including seven goals over that dominant stretch.

It’s the 32-year old Karlsson who leads all defensemen in scoring with 18 points (10-8-18) in 13 games. That includes a league-leading nine even strength goals and three game-winners. Remarkable stuff for a player who hadn’t been the same since 2017 after playing hurt for the Senators during their run to the Conference Finals.

It’s a great story for the two-time Norris winner. The Sharks need it. Ironic how it happened after they unloaded Brent Burns to the Hurricanes.

A look at the Devils roster and you’ll notice a lot more players with pluses than minuses. Thirteen skaters are in the plus column including former Pen John Marino. He’s stabilized a blue line that struggled badly last year. A good player who can play his end, Marino is plus-10 with six points. So far, so good on the trade that sent former first round pick Ty Smith to the Pens. He’s currently in the AHL. That’s an early win for GM Tom Fitzgerald.

Jesper Bratt is at the center of the Devils renaissance. Betting on himself by taking less money coming off a career season of 26 goals, 47 assists and 73 points, the 24-year old former sixth round pick has set a new franchise mark to start a season with a record 11-game point streak.

He’s been terrific posting five goals, 12 helpers and 17 points. His game-winner to stun Edmonton following Ryan Graves’ tying goal came just seven seconds later in a thrilling comeback win over the McDavid/Draisaitl Oilers. Making $5.45 million, can you say contract extension?

Captain Nico Hischier is healthy having missed only one game early. He’s at a point-per-game clip with 11 points in 10 games followed by Jack Hughes (4-6-10), who hasn’t exploded yet. That bodes well for the Devs, who are winning without key addition Ondrej Palat (groin surgery). That’ll keep him out a while.

After losing their first two including a home opener they were never in which Miles Wood called a “must win” due to being “sick of losing,” the Devils have stormed back under Lindy Ruff. They bring a five-game win streak into Calgary tonight. Wood is also healthy having scored four goals including twice in the 4-3 win over the Oilers. Talk about backing it up.

With 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points already, just how many points will Connor McDavid wind up with? He had a helper earlier in a 6-2 loss to the Stars. It looks like 60 goals is attainable for electrifying superstar. How many assists? Between 80 and 90 is possible. Yes. The 90’s era before the trap decreased scoring.

Even with a good record of 7-5-0 after today, Jack Campbell isn’t doing well in the Defense Optional Edmonton system. Stuart Skinner has been the better goalie. Will the Oilers ever figure out how to tighten it up? With Vegas much improved and the Flames sure to be in the mix, the Pacific Division isn’t going to be as easy.

The Canucks outscored the Ducks 8-5 in a game that didn’t have any defense. Neither team plays any. Just ask Thatcher Demko and John Gibson. At least Demko wasn’t in for that? As for Gibson, he must be praying for a miracle. That’s how bad Anaheim is in its end. It doesn’t help that they lost Jamie Drysdale for almost the rest of the season. It doesn’t look like it’ll get better.

If Ryan Lindgren has to miss time due to the blindside hit Pastrnak put on him as retaliation for a clean check Lindgren delivered moments earlier the other night, how does the league not at least have a phone hearing with Pastrnak? It doesn’t matter if he’s a big star. Those are exactly the kind of dangerous hits they must legislate out of the game.

Brock Nelson remains underrated playing for the Islanders. It’s been his stellar play that’s helped them turn it around. Not goalless Mat Barzal. Nelson is an important player for the Isles. At $6 million through ’24-25, he’s a bargain.

Martin Necas is making the Hurricanes fans forget Vincent Trocheck. On fire to start the season, the former 12th pick in 2017 is finally getting to show why he was taken so high. With seven goals and 17 points, he has been excellent. Trocheck has nine points in a dozen games on the Rangers.

Rookie Watch:

Logan Thompson VGK

Matty Beniers SEA

Shane Pinto OTT

J.J. Peterka BUF

Matias Maccelli ARZ

Calen Addison MIN

Owen Power BUF

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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