By John McGourty | NHL.com
Not many sports executives get to walk away in triumph after more than 40 years with their one and only major-league organization. But Harry Sinden did, during a conference call Wednesday in Boston's TD Banknorth Garden.
There's no slamming door bumping him in the butt, no lynch mob with hot tar and feathers waiting and, unlike T.S. Eliot's "not with a bang but a whimper," no being pushed aside.
Rather, there's an evolving corporate plan of succession and a grateful employer who has asked the former Boston Bruins' coach, general manager and president to stay another year as an advisor.
Sinden first joked about why he was stepping down as president but staying on as Senior Advisor to team owner Jeremy Jacobs.
"As president, you pose for a lot of pictures," Sinden cracked. "When your face doesn't look so good anymore, it's time to step down."
After a playing career as a hard-nosed defenseman, Sinden wasn't pretty when he got the job, so that couldn't be the answer.
"The timing is right to make this transition at this time, as I have been moving away from the day-to-day operations of the team and the building in recent years into more of an advisory capacity," Sinden said. "We have strong and capable leadership in place throughout the organization, beginning with (GM) Peter Chiarelli, who is in charge of all aspects of the hockey operations. With Peter now settled in Boston, I initiated discussions with Mr. Jacobs on changing my focus and he agreed with me that this is the right time to formalize the direction in which we have been moving for some time."
Sinden was joined on the conference call by Jeremy Jacobs, the owner of the Boston Bruins and chairman and CEO of Delaware North Companies, and by Jacobs' son Charlie, the Bruins executive vice-president.
"Harry is not only a close friend but is an inspirational leader and certainly a legend in the world of hockey," Jeremy Jacobs said. "I am honored that he has agreed to continue as an important advisor to this team."
The Bruins' presidency will remain open, probably until next year, Charlie Jacobs said. He expects it will be filled after an extensive search, but he said he will not be taking the job.
"Internally, I would expect we would have some restructuring in terms of day-to-day management," Charlie Jacobs said. "I will not be the next president of the Bruins. We're not having an open search or actively interviewing anyone for that position right now and I don't foresee doing that for the next year."
Chiarelli was hired as the new Bruins' general manager last month, in charge of all hockey operations, decisions and strategy, and he will report to the Jacobs.
Wednesday, the Jacobs family repeatedly tried to steer the conversation away from the future of the organization's structure and back to Sinden's unforgettable career.
This is a man who won the IIHF World Championship as a player and the Stanley Cup and 1972 Summit Series as a coach. As general manager, his 1988 and 1990 Bruins teams advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
Sinden started with the Bruins as a minor-league player-coach with Kingston in 1961. He advanced in the same roles with the Minneapolis Bruins in 1963.
He became coach of the hapless Bruins in 1966. The team had missed the Playoffs for seven-straight seasons and would again in Sinden's first year, the last year of the Original Six teams.
In his second season, the Bruins lost in the Quarterfinals. In his third, they lost in the Semifinals and, in his fourth, 1969-70, they won the Stanley Cup with a team that featured Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Pie McKenzie, Fred Stanfield, Derek Sanderson, Ken Hodge, Ed Westfall, Wayne Cashman, Dallas Smith, the late Ace Bailey, Don Awrey and goalies Ed Johnston and Gerry Cheevers.
Sinden then stepped down as coach and entered the home-construction business in Rochester, N.Y. He accepted an offer to coach the Canadian team in the famed 1972 Summit Series, then succeeded Milt Schmidt as Boston's GM in 1972. He was succeeded briefly as Bruins GM by Mike Milbury and, later, by Mike O'Connell. Sinden, meanwhile, ascended to the team's presidency.
Sinden has many fond memories from his time running the Bruins, including the way the sport has grown in the last four decades.
"The best thing has been the improvement in the game and the way it has been played since 1972," Sinden continued. "There has been constant improvement. I would say the Europeans and, particularly, the Russians, have influenced the way we play the game at this moment as much as any other factor.
"I wouldn't want to see it played the way it was played in the 1930s. The game didn't deteriorate at all, although we had trouble with the trap a little while back and defense dominated the games too much. ... Hockey has been able to maintain its status as a great sport and those of us who spent their time in the game feel as though they had something to do with it."
Sinden was also asked for his "All-Sinden" team.
"I hate to do this," Sinden said. "I can pick the team I like but I'm proud of every player who ever put on a Bruins' uniform. You know, one time I accompanied Terry O'Reilly to a suspension hearing with then-league president John Ziegler and O'Reilly told him, 'Every night I go on the ice, I go out with there with fear.' That's how hard a sport it is to play. I know players go through that and I know how much they put into the game and I hate to separate them.
"But if I have to, I'd say it's Cheevers in goal, Orr and Raymond Bourque on defense, Esposito at center, Bucyk on left wing and Cam Neely on the right side."
Sinden was a puck-moving defenseman with the World Champion Whitby Dunlops in 1958 and his Bruins' teams were always anchored by a top defenseman -- Orr, Brad Park, Bourque and now Zdeno Chara
. He said this summer's signing of Chara was his last "coup" and will continue his tradition of having the NHL's best defenseman.
"In their times, they were the very best defensemen in the NHL," Sinden said of Orr, Park and Bourque. "All three are, or will be, in the Hockey Hall of Fame and it's not coincidental. The Bruins could contend in any given year for the Stanley Cup and with Chara, I think we will have an extension into that."
Sinden was asked about his legacy. Another invitation for the man to show his blunt side.
"My legacy is something I've never thought about, in any part of my career," Sinden said.
So, Jeremy Jacobs stepped in and did it for Sinden.
"The legacy, from my standpoint, is of somebody who took this operation onto himself, totally on his own, for me," Jeremy Jacobs said. "I was delighted with that. As that evolved, the natural thing was to develop 'successorship' -- through Mike Milbury and Mike O'Connell -- and now, Peter Chiarelli. The recognition is, we both got older. I think he has done 'successorship' very well. The role he has played for the last year is the one he is assuming now, that of an advisor. He's a good sounding board for all of us, particularly me. This takes him out of the every day line of command. I'm doing that in my own business and I'm younger. It allows the next generation to develop."
"I would prefer to be 25 years younger than I am but I'm not," Sinden said.
Twenty-five years ago, the Bruins won the Adams Division for the second-straight season, back when Harry was at the top of his game.