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ON HOCKEY

Search may lead to Gorton

Jeff Gorton carries the tag of interim general manager of the Bruins, but it has become clear in the hours since the dismissal of Mike O'Connell Saturday that Gorton, who was in Toronto yesterday to attend league GM meetings, is a very strong candidate to keep the job.

Charlie Jacobs, son of club owner Jeremy Jacobs, again extolled the virtues of the 37-year-old Gorton yesterday. In fact, the junior Jacobs, whose power and influence on the Causeway Street operation expands almost daily, said he is poised to endorse Gorton for the job, provided that another candidate doesn't come forward in the days ahead and thoroughly convince him otherwise.

''And if in the end he didn't get the job," mused Jacobs, ''I would hope that he'd stay with the club in some role. I really like what Jeff's done with our amateur scouting, and I believe in today's game that is absolutely vital. It's all about accumulating assets -- more importantly, valuable assets -- and Jeff's work there has been outstanding."

As impressed as he is by Gorton, however, the younger Jacobs also underscored that his is only one voice. The opinions of his father, and the club's longtime president, Harry Sinden, also will factor heavily in the decision, he said, and he suspects together they quickly will cobble together a list of a half-dozen or so candidates to be interviewed over the next few weeks.

When asked to provide the names of possible candidates, the younger Jacobs politely declined, in part, he said, because some are employed by other NHL clubs. Some could be unapproachable for weeks, depending on whether their clubs have a lengthy playoff run.

A factor that possibly would not work in Gorton's favor, acknowledged the younger Jacobs, is the club's dire need for a savvy, public, and embraceable presence in the front office, someone who could court the city's largely uninterested (read: anti-Bruins?) media corps, as well as try to whip up interest in a declining, alienated fan base.

While the Bruins aren't about to run a classified ad in Sports Business Daily that says, ''WANTED: Carnival barker!", the younger Jacobs firmly believes there is a need for a dynamic and engaging presence in the city. The need has been painfully obvious for years, especially amid the recent success of the Red Sox and Patriots. The Bruins and Celtics these days find themselves listing toward Revolution irrelevance.

Mike Milbury, on the job as assistant GM in the early '90s before abruptly resigning for a short-lived stint at Boston College, no doubt would have been just the talk-it-up, stir-it-up kind of guy the Bruins need. O'Connell was virtually the anti-Milbury, cordial but not the least bit interested in courting or commanding the spotlight. Brian Burke would have been the perfect fit for the Hub of Hockey -- his disagreements with this space would have been fodder for Jerry Springer, maybe Judge Judy -- but he was astutely snapped up by the new owners of the Ducks.

Truth is, there is no one in search of a job right now who fits the description of dynamic leader/marketeer. That's not to say there is a dearth of capable candidates, including Dean Lombardi, the former GM of the San Jose Sharks who is believed to be on the short list to take over as GM on Long Island. Another strong contender would be John Weisbrod, former Crimson hockey player and onetime GM of the Orlando Magic. But there is no Burke, no gotta-get-him, and that could end up playing heavily in Gorton's favor.

''To be candid, I don't know if we know entirely what Jeff's strengths are yet," said Jacobs. ''But he's a young guy, and most important, I think he has a keen sense of who can play and who can't."

One alternative could be sort of a GM job share, one in which Jacobs would assume some of the traditional marketing responsibilites of the position, allowing Gorton to focus on his player-personnel strengths. In addition, the club could hire a cap manager/number-cruncher, a job possibly suited to a player agent-turned-front office employee (about 300 of those résumés now will hit Sinden's office by noon today).

''I wouldn't want to rule anything out," said Jacobs. ''But that would be an untraditional approach, not something we've done, certainly. Right now, I'd say that's unlikely."

The younger Jacobs considers marketing one of his strengths; he was the driving force behind this season's oft-harpooned marketing campaign, ''It's called Bruins." He acknowledged that the campaign, believed to have cost in the millions, backfired badly in an extremely disappointing season. However, he remains convinced that similar campaigns, and other methods of stirring and courting the fan base, will be necessary.

Jacobs, make no mistake, fully understands that the franchise's Original Six roots, while historically important and rich in nostalgia, alone do next to nothing to get people to the rink today. He's not so blunt as to term his club a challenged sell, but his words and actions acknowledge it, along with far too many empty seats and increasingly aggressive ticket-selling campaigns. In the end, perhaps by default, he'll be the guy who talks up the game, attempts to make it more palatable and enticing to media and fans.

''We need someone to sell the team, and ice the team," Jacobs acknowledged. ''I had mixed results with the branding campaign over the summer, but I think we've at least shown that we know we can't take things for granted. We know we have to market ourselves."

Nothing, of course, is a stronger marketing tool than a team capable of going a couple of rounds deep into the playoffs. But that kind of on-ice punch has been missing since the spring of '92, and the last Cup on Causeway Street was in 1972. Bellbottoms have gone in and out of style two or three times since then, while the Bruins too often have been caught with their pants down come springtime.

''Some of our work of last summer, I think, would have taken root," said Jacobs, ''had we done a better job on the ice."

To that last point, O'Connell ultimately took the hit, knocked off the job after a run of nearly 12 years, half of those as GM. The shockwaves of that reverberated through the weekend and into yesterday, in large part because of stinging criticism of both O'Connell and Sinden by the elder Jacobs in the hours after Saturday's news conference.

Jacobs, owner of the club for more than 30 years, all of them with Sinden in place as friend and top adviser, emphatically disputed Sinden's contention that O'Connell, in large part, was done in by the failed business plan the club designed prior to the league's 2004-05 lockout.

The elder Jacobs also matter-of-factly noted that Sinden's days in charge were drawing to a close.

According to two sources who know him very well, the 73-year-old Sinden was shocked, hurt, and angered by his boss's blunt comments. The elder Jacobs was in town for last night's game against Florida. He and Sinden dined together inside the Vault prior to faceoff and watched the game together from a private box.

Reportedly worth close to $1 billion, the elder Jacobs, who has often said he considers Sinden a member of his family, has the money, standing, and temperament to withstand Sinden's trademark ire. Sinden, contracted to work until age 75, according to a number of sources, has been under the Jacobs's thumb for more than three decades. He knows how the rulebook reads: Like it or lump it. If he ever thought differently, he found out for certain over the weekend.

Later in the evening, Jacobs and his son were scheduled to board a flight out of Logan for meetings today in New York City.

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