Montreal Canadiens fans understand the Mitchell Miller situation quite well

SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY - JULY 23: Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY - JULY 23: Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Like all Montreal Canadiens fans and hockey lovers in general, I tuned into Hockey Night in Canada last Saturday to enjoy the weekly ritual, only to be met at intermission with the roundtable host declaring that in lieu of talking about games around the league the discussion would be exclusively about Mitchell Miller, NHLer, whom I knew not from Mitch Miller, music icon.

Surely, I was not alone in asking, “What in the world?”

The ensuing chatter soon triggered for me memories of the 2021 NHL entry draft and the turmoil around Logan Mailloux, then, beyond that, the mess with Hockey Canada that surfaced last summer.

Montreal Canadiens fans are no strangers to the latest situation that arose.

I am sure most of us turn to the aesthetics of sports as a diversion from the every day social world. That does not mean sports cannot connect to our social selves; they provide interesting and effective exemplars for youth, especially to engage with life skills issues.

For example, Arber Xhekaj’s tussle with Zach Kassian could instigate a lesson in sticking up for your teammates (or on the ugliness of violence, if you prefer), or Juraj Slafkovsky’s gradual insertion into the Montreal Canadiens powerplay might inspire a conversation about the patience required when new to a group, with its pecking orders and seniority, etc.

But there is a difference between using what is manifest on the ice as a launching pad for broader discussion and reading into the game things that are completely outside its sphere.

The chaos and frustration that ensues when worlds collide leave the mainstream and social media, and the NHL reeling, mired in cacophony and blatant hypocrisy.

Despite having paid a penalty for his personal shenanigans while in Europe, Logan Mailloux’s invitation to the Montreal Canadiens training camp was withdrawn, and the OHL later suspended him for four months.

Last summer, it came to light that Hockey Canada had been hiding the misconduct of many of its players and members for years. Yet, when the current NHL season began, not one player missed a minute of ice time, nor was one name bandied about, nor one game cancelled, nor one arena emptied from boycotts.

Now, we have Mitchell Miller. His two-day-old NHL contract was cancelled for something he did as a youth while attending grade school.

How did we wind up in this ball of confusion?

The most important decision in any journey is the initial one, as famously captured in Yogi Berra’s quip, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” In others words, a choice of direction has to be made straightaway; otherwise, one is fated to uncertainty.

In the NHL’s case, one available path is to allow social and political issues to influence or dictate the game. The other is to recognize that the sport’s artistry is a separate world altogether from society, and societal mores are not to be a vetting instrument for inclusion.

If the first path is chosen, then, at very least, let’s, please eliminate the hypocrisy – everyone deemed “bad” gets turfed, not just convenient targets and weak sacrificial lambs like Mailloux and Miller, but also all involved in the Hockey Canada debacle and everyone right up to, well, Guy Lafleur, I suppose. Yes, Guy, the Montreal Canadiens legend. I mean, are you familiar with his biography? Surely one can find some “immorality” there…

Not yet having chosen a path of navigation through today’s cultural atmosphere, the NHL strata is being bandied about by the current, left to chaotic improvisation like a tone-deaf jazz musician.

This returns us to HNIC and last Saturday’s shameful roundtable, a piling-on session of institutionalized bullying by talking heads pontificating about morality vis-à-vis Mitch Miller.

One panelist asked what Miller has done to earn his way into the NHL, seemingly oblivious to the notion of talent, leaving me wondering what that panelist has done to earn a position as a hockey analyst and, furthermore, what supreme being designated them to be the sanctioned arbitrator of moral standards?

Not to mention the other highly publicized statement from Patrice Bergeron, tooting a hypocritical horn of “inclusiveness” while simultaneously excluding Miller. And for something he did as a youth? Why the lack of forgiveness? Why the need to bully? To destroy?

And why does anyone care about the moral character of Mr. Miller? Unless he is coming to dinner, our only interaction with him will be in watching him on the ice, the performance platform where we all connect.

The only legitimate question is one to be answered, not asked, by the HNIC panel and everyone bullying Mitch Miller and Logan Mailloux – it is writer Frank Lentricchia‘s “Have you no filth in your soul?”

In the social world, as I have mentioned, I once was charged with conducting math classes for young offenders in a maximum security prison, a facility for children and youth whose heinous crimes dwarf anything alluded to here.

Would you think it appropriate upon orientation to that special school that the youth be told they need not waste their time going to class or rehab or therapy because their immoral and illegal acts have cursed them for life, and the adults they will encounter upon release will see to it that’s the case?

Fortunately, in addition to penalization, the Canadian justice, and education system is premised on rehabilitation and forgiveness, after which all hopefully have a new lease on life. Many of my former students have gone on to be productive citizens and they, and the universe, are better for it.

Furthermore, why is there even a presumption or expectation that someone has to be a “good” person before they can be allowed to exercise their talent or that an organization needs to be in the business of making their employees “better” people? Is that not the role of family, friends, school, community, and the justice system?

The Correct Choice

History is rife with geniuses, artists, and great performers who were despicable people, and unless we are ready to cancel the world of quality altogether, might it be best for the NHL to go with path two and drop cancel culture asap?

Imagine this: you are at the Globe Theatre, London, a few hundred years ago, watching a play, and at intermission, there is some chatter about this new talent named Shakespeare, but he’s controversial because his personal life is untoward. Soon after, a decision comes down to rip up his contract. Would anything be lost, would you say?

And make no mistake, that is exactly what played out with Miller and Mailloux, whose gifts for the world have been postponed at the very least and destroyed at the most.

From the perspective of performance, the only moral concerns are those which affect the pursuit of excellence, a point a great musical performer, Tony Bennett, once expressed to me personally.

I had occasion to have an audience with Mr. Bennett during which he shared that his musical mentors – which included producer Mitch Miller, who helped launch Bennett’s career –  taught him that keeping his nose clean was a moral imperative, not because he was a ‘bad’ person if he didn’t (that’s a social thing!) but because failure to do so could jeopardize his artistic talent.

And it is only in that context that Mailloux, Miller, or others should ever be chastised. Once in the NHL hockey world, they owe themselves, their organizations, and their audience their talent, and it is immoral for them to put it at risk.

If Miller became a member of the Bruins and behaved like a degenerate, then potentially the team’s performance and brand could be harmed, and business decisions should be made accordingly, and similarly for Mailloux with the Montreal Canadiens.

Fortunately, as it happens, most fans of hockey already know what is right and wrong in these matters – the arenas are full, the television audience broad, the league’s business flourishing and the great Guy Lafleur’s number ten still hangs deservedly in the rafters. That is because the vast majority of us intuitively know the show must go on and that whatever is going on outside it must be kept at bay, for it has nothing to do with the art of hockey.

So how about we all assume a mentorship role towards the NHL and the media, similar to Mitch Miller’s vis-á-vis Tony Bennett, an ensemble piece that will rid the airwaves of ordained pontificators of moral value and political bandwagoners concerned more with fashion and career than ethical reporting?

Trending. Montreal Canadiens: Rem Pitlick waived amid numbers game with roster. light

Together we can school them in understanding that operating as if society and the art of sport are of the same sphere is a destructive transcendental illusion and insist they instead pursue cancelling cancel culture because, as a math teacher, I can assure you that those two negatives will definitely make a positive.