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Harry Sinden Conference Call Transcript

Wednesday, 08.09.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Boston Bruins
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Harry Sinden Conference Call Transcript
Jeremy Jacobs
As you all have read in the press release issued this morning, my longtime friend and Bruins President Harry Sinden has decided to step down from his post as President of the Boston Bruins. Harry will continue to be involved with the Bruins as the Senior Advisor to the team and to myself personally and my family. Harry will continue to be an inspirational force for the Boston Bruins and his expertise and insight is invaluable. This certainly isn’t goodbye; it is a formalization of Harry’s role as a strategist and an ambassador of hockey for generations to come. I would now like to turn this over to Charlie who will say a few words.

Charlie Jacobs
Thank you everybody for calling in. As my dad mentioned, this is really a process of restructuring. As teams evolve and expectations change, when I say evolve, I think fan’s expectations of a game night experience change over time, even players expectations of the team evolve over time of what is asked of them. This is really just a process in the evolution of our team. We, Harry and myself, still work closely, almost on a day-to-day basis for Bruins and league matters, and we will continue to do that as I seek guidance from Harry. As many of you know, Harry is really considered “the dean” of NHL matters league-wide and has been at his post with the Bruins in excess of 30 years. Again, today is more about a restructuring process. Without further ado, I will hand this over to Harry.

Harry Sinden
Thanks Charlie. In 1989, Mr. Jacobs called me and asked if I would take on the dual role, I was General Manager of the team at the time, the dual role of General Manager and President, and I said certainly I would. Along with that title came a much deeper involvement in the business affairs of the team and spread out my responsibilities, from not only the players and everything associated with the hockey team itself, but into the television, radio, sales and marketing, and the rest of it. With that in mind, we brought in what would be a successor to me in the General Manager’s role in Mike Milbury, who decided partway through the learning process to do something else. We eventually brought in Mike O’Connell and after a few years as the assistant General Manager, he became the General Manager and I was pretty well doing business affairs for the team and Mike had been, up until this season, handling all of the attendant things with the team and the players, the really most important part of this business. Now we have a new General Manager in place and he will be taking over the duties of the General Manager, which are very extensive. The fact that the business end of it is in a situation, that from my standpoint, the company would be best served if I let that go at the moment in terms of being the end authority for Mr. Jacobs in that particular part and continued on as I’ve been with Mike Milbury, Mike O’Connell, and hopefully with Peter Chiarelli, as a sounding board in any Questions they may have about the hockey business and play the same type of role for whoever is going to be in charge of the attendant business affairs of the team. For lack of a better name I guess, Senior Advisor is fine, much better than consultant. I’ll just really continue in the same role I’ve been doing except I’m probably going to back off some of the business things that I’ve been spearheading for the team.

Question
Harry, some people will wonder about the timing of this. Were you satisfied that regardless of the front office situation, who was there, that you would be retiring around now? There’s going to be some perception out there that you were eased out a little bit here. Could you talk about that?

Harry Sinden
We have a new General Manager in place and he must be in total control of the hockey team and its players. Unlike maybe one other team in this league, that’s the way we still see it here with the Boston Bruins. Any perception that I’m involved in that part of the business is wrong. I’m not responsible for that part. I don’t make decisions in that part—final decisions. I didn’t make them for the previous General Manager, and I didn’t intend to make them for this one. To remove any kind of perception like that, and make sure the autonomy necessary for Peter Chiarelli is there, I think this move is the way to do it, especially with me backing off on the business side of the team as well. I can’t control perception. I don’t think I ever have over the years been able to control the fact with Mike O’Connell and Mike Millbury that somehow I was pulling all of the strings in some people’s minds was totally false. Whether or not I can convince people that that’s not the case, and wasn’t the case, and won’t be the case now, I don’t know.

Question
Are you in good health and is that an issue at all in your making of this decision?

Harry Sinden
I’m in reasonably good health—if overweight doesn’t count. No, I’m in reasonably good health and I don’t have any health issues at the moment.

Question
What do you think your legacy is going to be with this team and what are you most proud of in your tenure as President?

Harry Sinden
A legacy is something I’ve never thought about in any part of my career. I wasn’t about trying to establish a legacy, so I never really spent anytime thinking about it. Certainly there’s a legacy here of length of tenure, I know that. Unfortunately sometimes, championships are the only mark of success for particularly the fans of sports and we weren’t able to get any of those Stanley Cups or final championships, despite the fact that we were able to be so competitive for so many years and not win them. I do think we were a team, and have been a team, and will be a team that is tremendously entertaining, tremendously competitive and has a will to win spirit that was established not by me so much over my time here, but by the players that I was surrounded by who were able to keep that Bruins type of attitude going from one team to the next. Although it had some rocky roads in the last 10 years, particularly under the tremendously inflated costs of putting teams on the ice, it will get back into the position it’s been very quickly.

Question
In terms of your view and your opinion of the changes that have been made in the team and where the team is going, what are you most pleased with in terms of the direction the Boston Bruins are taking in 2006?

Harry Sinden
I don’t want to comment too much on that because it kind of falls under a question that should be answered by the General Manager. I was particularly pleased to see us be able to sign probably the number one free agent available this year in Zdeno Chara. That was, to me, a tremendous coup on that Saturday afternoon in which Jeff Gorton was able to accomplish that. During my time as GM, we had Bobby Orr, we had Brad Park, and we had Ray Bourque on defense. During each of their times, they were the very best defensemen in the league, in my opinion. All three of them are in the Hall of Fame and it’s not coincidental throughout the combined careers of those three players that the Bruins could contend any given year for the Stanley Cup. By adding Chara, I think perhaps that we’ll have an extension of that into the future.

Question
In a perfect world, would you prefer to have dealings in the day-to-day operations of the hockey club?

Harry Sinden
Yeah, but I would prefer to be 25 years younger too than I am, and I’m not 25 years younger so that preference I can’t expect to have. First of all, I do not know the players to any great extent across the league. I do not know the available drafts. I don’t travel with the team. I haven’t been in the locker room in a couple of years. I’m out of touch with the day-to-day operation of the team. What I can offer to people who are running the day-to-day operation of the team is my own past experiences in usually the very same situation they are dealing with, because there is not an awful lot new that comes up; it’s just how did it go the last time we were facing this situation and I might be able to at least pass that along. I’m not capable right now to deal with the day-to-day operation. Players are everything to the team. You have to know who the players are. We all fall secondary, totally secondary, to what players we put on the ice, and I’m not in the position to be able to do that right now.

Question
Should we expect anymore restructuring within the organization before training camp starts?

Charlie Jacobs
I think the word I used was evolving. There are works in progress. I would expect that internally we’d have some restructuring in terms of day-to-day management. In the next few days, I think we’ll have other announcements. But for today, in terms of announcements and restructuring processes, today is Harry’s announcement. I will not be the next President of the Bruins—I can answer that. We are not having an open search, nor are we actively interviewing anybody for that position right now. I don’t foresee us actively interviewing any candidate next year, so I don’t think that’s a position that we’re looking to fill immediately. When I say immediately, I mean in the next 12 months or so.

Question
If you’re not looking to replace the job right away and you’re leaving the presidency open, is there really any change from the tier or the hierarchy of the Boston Bruins?

Jeremy Jacobs
A number of the teams, in fact probably 50/50 of the teams in the National Hockey League, operate with a President or without. If Harry is not in line, it means basically that Peter would report up to my office eventually, but that would be in coordination with Charlie and the people within the organization there.

Question
Harry how long do you see yourself filling this new role that you’re in?

Harry Sinden
I don’t think that’s my decision.

Question
Are you looking at this long term? I know at one point about six months ago you said you didn’t see yourself working much past your 75th birthday. Has that changed?

Harry Sinden
No, at the end of this coming season, I’ll sit down with Mr. Jacobs and see if I can be of any use in the future. A President, one thing he does a lot is get his picture taken, and once your face isn’t too good to take pictures anymore, you should probably step down as President. Advisors never get pictures taken. No matter how ugly I get, I can last a little bit longer.

Question
You never thought much about a legacy, but you go back to the six-team league and you even started in this organization in 1961. What are the best and worst things that have happened to hockey during your tenure, during your time?

Harry Sinden
The lockout the season before last, was absolutely and easily the worst thing that ever happened to hockey. And why I feel it was so bad for hockey is that we caused it ourselves. We were responsible for it, and no one else was responsible for it, but the people that ran the hockey and the individual teams. That was the worst thing that ever happened. The best thing, there’s so may of them. The improvement in the game and the way it’s been played, I think, since about 1972. I would say the Europeans and, particularly, the Russians have been responsible for the way we play the game at this moment as much as any other factor. I wouldn’t want to see the game being played today like it was in the 1930s. For that I feel really good that we have a game today that’s so great and it’s always been great, but it hasn’t deteriorated at all, although we did have a little bit of a problem with the trap there when defense dominated the game too much. I think we’ve overcome that. That to me is the best thing that’s happened in all the years I’ve been here, that it’s been able to maintain its status as a great sport. People have been in the game all these many years and I like to think that they helped that happen.

Question
It seems to me in common with Red Auerbach, you always seemed to treat every dollar of the organization as if it was your money. Is that the philosophy that you really did always take, that it’s my money that I’m trying to allocate as I see fit as opposed to some mythical thing about the organization’s money?

Harry Sinden
I think so. I’ve done a hell of a lot better job with the organization’s money than I have done with my own. Yeah, I think as a manager in particular how can you avoid the responsibility of managing the owner’s money. That’s part of not just managing the team, but you have a fiscal responsibility in that job that you must pay attention to. The last 10 years prior to this new CBA was a very difficult time, because we were trying to balance a fiscal responsibility and put a team on the ice that could compete. An analogy came to mind the other day when I saw that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ entire payroll was $18 million while one Red Sox player made $3 million more than that alone. That was the type of thing that we were facing in the 10 years that preceded this collective bargaining agreement. That was really a difficult time for a manager who was trying to be fiscally responsible and put a competitive team on the ice.

Question
I know this goes a little bit to your legacy, but could you talk a little bit about what was your high point with the Bruins? Was it one of the Stanley Cup years? Was it something else?

Harry Sinden
Obviously the Stanley Cup as a coach in 1970 was a big high. We had so many teams after that that didn’t get that far that gave me an awful lot of thrills and an awful lot of highs too. The year in which we beat the Canadiens in the playoffs after so many losses over the years to the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff series with Terry O’Reilly as coach, that was a big high for me. To watch Ray Bourque turn his jersey over to Phil Esposito, signifying the greatness of two eras of teams in which I was involved was another great high to see that happen. And recently, to overcome the kind of sadness I had when Cam Neely’s career was finished because of injury, to see him go into the Hall of Fame was another great high.

Question
Harry, congratulations on a great career. If I can take you back to the beginning a little bit, I’m looking at the Whitby Dunlop’s team. You were a young man, you joined a group of mostly older players and redeemed Canada, which had lost the ’56 Olympics, didn’t go in ’57, you guys won the World’s Championship. How did an experience like that early in your career galvanize you towards a hockey management career and the desire to keep winning championships?

Harry Sinden
It had probably as much to do with that as anything. That particular championship sticks with me and stuck with me forever because I saw the importance of team play. In all possibility, in the game of hockey anyway, your chances of winning anything without the feeling that is created amongst teammates that is so necessary to win, that team established that as a certainty in my mind. As we went along through the Bruins years and from time to time maybe I thought it was slipping from the Bruins team that bothered me more than anything. Although it never did slip until I lived in fear of it, of losing that feeling that a team must have to win between each other, and we did kind of lose it in a few years. Hopefully we’re back on the track now.

Question
If your health is pretty good and you’re not being eased out, could you explain why now is the time to step down from your duties as President?

Harry Sinden
As I said, when I turned over the GM role to Mike O’Connell and was going to concentrate somewhat on the business side, now I find myself not even concentrating too much on the business side and kind of advising on the business side, like I was advising the General Manager on the hockey side. My role as President, as most people would perceive it, would be that he would be in charge and running those operations. Well, I’m just not doing that anymore.

Question
How did it get to that point?

Harry Sinden
Well, (laughs) it got to that point because I got everything in such good shape that anybody could run it.

Question
What is different about the Bruins going forward with Harry Sinden in a new role? Is it the end of an era and how does this restructuring change the team?

Charlie Jacobs
The on-ice team without question is Peter, our new General Manger’s decision. For the front office, as Harry mentioned, we have a good relationship working back and forth. While I’m involved in the day-to-day operations, the final decisions are made between a collaborative group. Our hope is that we’ll get a new person to come in, I’ll call it VP of Business Operations for lack of a better term today, who will handle some of those duties. All of them will report into the Office of the Chairman. When I say all of them, I’m referring to hockey operations and business operations. The team as I had mentioned has changed; perspectives have changed, expectations have changed. It happens over time with every business and hockey is not isolated from this. Fans expectations of the product on the ice, their expectations of the game experience, player’s expectations of what the team should offer and how they should travel. Things evolve and change and the Bruins have to change with it. Today is not an event as much as it is part of the moment.

Question
What is the evolution toward do you think? What is the change toward?

Charlie Jacobs
In a perfect world, a championship, a Stanley Cup. We don’t operate in a perfect world though. We’re just going to try to do the best we can and, hopefully, it is the best, and when I say the best, it is the championship. We have to work towards it. Not to say that Harry’s not a part of the equation, because he is. We’re going to work with his guidance.

Question
This question is for Jeremy Jacobs. Harry’s been a little reluctant to talk about his legacy himself. What do you feel Harry’s legacy is and what your emotions are today with Harry stepping down and moving into this new role?

Jeremy Jacobs
The legacy, from my standpoint, was essentially somebody that took this operation totally onto himself as his own, and operated it very, very successfully for many years for me. I was delighted with that. It’s been a delightful, wonderful relationship and as that evolved, in a natural sense, which has developed his successorship and that’s what led him to Milbury and O’Connell and now Chiarelli, which have taken over the GMship. My emotions today are the recognition that we’ve both gotten older. The best business that we can take care of is the creation of a successorship, which I think he has done very well with. It continues to be that way. The point is the role he has played probably for the last year is the one that he is assuming, or is being characterized correctly and that is of an advisor. He has advised earlier and very well, and he continues to. He does that on all bases. He’s a good sounding board for all of us, for me personally and the organization. It takes him out of the every day line of command. I’m doing the same even though I’m younger than he. I’m doing that myself in my own business. It’s the smart thing to do. It allows the next generation to develop. You’re not overshadowing them. In the Presidency there is the implied reporting line, which really doesn’t necessarily exist that way any longer.

Question
This question is for Jeremy Jacobs. I was just curious to follow up on the legacy issue once again. Is there any one thing that has happened that sums up Harry’s contribution to this franchise over so many years?

Jeremy Jacobs
Well, I think the stability has been a very underrated aspect of it. We went through a number of years where the hockey industry was in tremendous turmoil and the Bruins were really the very steadiest of ships. He’s done that because he acted prudently and responsibly. I’ve used the term that nobody particularly likes in the league, but we’ve churned owners more than we have players. That simply is because they haven’t been able to recognize the risks they take financially when they get into the sport. The delight for me today is to say that we can compete one-on-one with any team now because of the cap that was righted at a great cost to this league, but it was necessary. When Harry says we are the victims of our own creations, so to speak, he’s talking about the owners that didn’t have the restraint that was necessary in order to run these teams. They did not run them within the financial parameters that allow people to be successful at no cost to them. There was tremendous cost to some ownership. If you look at the winners of the Stanley Cup this year, they persevered so many years of losses, probably the greatest amount to get to where they were. There aren’t a lot of people that have that capacity to sustain those losses. So getting it out allows teams to compete, I can’t say not without loss, but at a reasonable level.

Question
Do you feel like he’s been vindicated? For so many years he’s been the lone voice in the wilderness saying, “we’re heading toward ruin, we’re heading toward ruin,” and now it certainly looks like from the salary cap issue that he was right.

Jeremy Jacobs
Yes he has, but you guys don’t write enough about that.

Question
Harry, you made reference to Ray Bourque turning his jersey over to Espo[sito] and I remember watching on television that night and the crowd beginning to boo because you were the one at the mike and you straining your voice to cut off their booing because it was about Phil. Now it’s about you and I’m wondering what your attitude is about letting the Jacobs’ family give you a night. If you feel like there’s enough people left who understand who you are to Bruins hockey. It’s 10 years now in the new building and how many of them are left that know who you are and still like you?

Jeremy Jacobs
I think that latter part is tough (laugh).

Harry Sinden
I’m not high on nights. I remember we used to have a night for Johnny Bucyk every time he reached a milestone—and I think he reached 100 milestones in his career. It seemed like we had that many nights. One time we had a night for him and they gave him a boat. Then the playoffs began and he was struggling in the first round of the playoffs. One of you guys asked me what was the matter with Bucyk and I said, “He can’t get that boat of his back.” That’s one of the problems with nights. It leaves you thinking you might be something that you’re really not. That should be reserved for players.

Question
You’ve done a lot of trades over the years. I’d like you to pick an All-Harry Sinden team for us, if you will, and maybe extol some of the virtues of some of those players you are proudest of.

Harry Sinden
I hate to do this. I can pick the team I like, but I'm proud of every player that ever put a Bruins' uniform on. This is a tough sport to lace those skates up. Terry O’Reilly told the commissioner when I was with him, he was there on a hearing, going to get suspended or something. He said to the commissioner, well he was the President at the time, John Ziegler, he said, “Every night I go out on the ice, I go out with fear.” That's how tough a sport it is to play. You might be surprised to hear that about Terry O’Reilly, but that’s what he said. I know most players go through that, and I know how much they put into the game so I really hesitate to separate one form the other over the years. In terms of talent and skill, I can do that quickly for you with Cheevers in goal, Bourque and Orr on defense, Esposito at center ice, Bucyk on left and Neely on right.

Question
Harry, just to make it clear, when did you decide that you were going to be stepping down? Exactly when did you call Jeremy and inform him of this or how did that whole process work?

Harry Sinden
Well, when we were interviewing, either Mr. Jacobs or Charlie or myself, when we were interviewing for the job of GM, they sometimes were interviewing Charlie and I, the candidates. One of the things that I kept telling them was that I would not be in the picture in terms of the players, the coaches, the scouting staff and everything like that. In fact, I was thinking of stepping down totally, a year from now. I think candidates who were being interviewed for that job, there was a concern that Harry Sinden with all his time in the league, as President of the team, is this team going to be mine or do I have to listen to what he’s got to say all the time before I can do anything. In the interviews, as Charlie will attest, I tried to make it clear to them that wouldn’t be the case, that they’d be their own person. And I think once we got Peter Chiarelli hired—and we’re so confident that he can do the job—that I have to follow through on those kind of things that I told him. So that played a part in it. It seems to me that the timing is right. The new manager should come in here knowing full well that if he needs to talk to me about anything, I’m available. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t have to worry about it. From that standpoint, the timing is perfect. I wouldn’t want the new manager to come in here and feel that I was looking over his shoulder or something like that.

Question
Harry is there any sense of sadness or feelings of nostalgia as you take another step back here?

Harry Sinden
Yeah. I don’t know if it’s a step back, but I guess it is. Sure there is. I have such great memories, but I’m still involved and I’m going to be involved. I read everyday what’s going on in hockey and I still have a great network across the league. I haven’t reached the point yet, that I can say, “Well, that was a great trip, thanks.” I don’t think I’m quite there yet.
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