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ON HOCKEY

Gang of bumble B's here

Search for a GM stinging reminder

Answer: Twists, turns, hair-raising lane changes, and in the end, a debilitating breakdown.

Question: A bad day on the Southeast Expressway?

No, sir. Only one thing describes yesterday's torturously bumpy road here in the Hub of Hockey, and . . . it's . . . called . . . Bruins.

A number of sources in Boston and around the NHL painted a picture of grandiose Black-and-Gold ineptitude, one that left Ray Shero, who on Monday was offered the position to become the club's new general manager, no longer interested in coming to Causeway Street.

As of last night, according to sources in Ottawa, the Bruins once again were heavily courting Peter Chiarelli, the assistant GM of the Senators, to take over the position that has remained vacant since the firing of Mike O'Connell March 25. One Internet report out of Canada early last evening stated the deal was finalized, and another source in the media said the Senators in the afternoon were soliciting names around the league for prospective candidates to replace Chiarelli.

Around the same time the Internet report was posted, on rds.ca., the Bruins issued a press release, stating that there was still no decision, and that they hoped to name a new GM next week.

``We are making a deliberative, thorough search on our own terms for the best candidate to lead our organization," read the release, which later continued, ``We will have no further comment until we announce the new general manager of the Boston Bruins."

Oddly, the release did not attribute the remarks to anyone in particular, making it a statement with an anonymous voice, a public relations version of a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. Like Oz, the franchise had spoken.

Meanwhile, as events unfolded during the afternoon, existing club management predictably got bashed on WEEI, especially by frustrated callers. In light of recently missing the playoffs for the third time in six seasons, the bumblings of Messrs. Jacobs and Sinden made for easy prey.

Other than home station WBZ, the Bruins are barely mentioned on radio these days, and their ongoing misfortune and mismanagement make for easy harpooning. Quite curiously, club president Harry Sinden and owner Jeremy Jacobs appear with some regularity on the 'EEI, a good number of its hosts quick to brutalize them as soon as Sinden or Jacobs are off the air. But again . . . it's called Bruins.

The Bruins last week had Chiarelli high on their wish list, and perhaps preferred to offer him the job ahead of Shero, but backed off making him an offer when the Senators asked for compensation from the Bruins -- believed to be a second- or third-round draft pick. The Los Angeles Kings last month surrendered a second-round pick to the Flyers when they named their new GM, Dean Lombardi, who spent this season as a Philadelphia scout.

Chiarelli, according to a source in Ottawa, would be eager to take the position, but sources were saying much the same about Shero earlier this week. However, if the Bruins and Senators can reach compensation terms, it's probable that the 41-year-old Chiarelli, who played for the Harvard Crimson in the mid-1980s, will become the seventh GM in Bruins history.

What went awry with the Shero negotiations? A number of sources -- perhaps all guessing -- painted contradictory pictures, encompassing two main theories.

Theory No. 1 -- The Bruins low-balled Shero on money. One source claimed that John Ferguson Jr., who recently wrapped up his first full season as Maple Leafs GM, received a four-year deal from Toronto, paying $450,000 per year. Like Ferguson, Shero has never been a GM, and it's possible that Boston's offer mirrored what Toronto paid Ferguson and Shero simply deemed it too low. He is also considered a top candidate for the GM opening in Pittsburgh, where Chiarelli has also interviewed.

Theory No. 2 -- Shero was unwilling to accept the job while Sinden remained president, Jeff Gorton remained assistant GM, and Charlie Jacobs, son of the owner, would retain his title as executive vice president. The junior Jacobs is widely expected to take over Sinden's presidency soon after, if not before, the conclusion of the 2006-07 season. Sinden will turn 74 in September.

The truth? It's likely a little of each theory, and probably more No. 2 than No. 1. Contrary to public opinion, and that of many in the media, the Bruins haven't been skinflints, really, since opening their new building a decade ago. They've spent money, and often have overspent (see: Marty Lapointe and Alexei Zhamnov). They just haven't spent it prudently, which is part of the reason they have been all but rendered an expansion franchise. If fan support hadn't remained strong in recent years, it's likely the Jacobs family would have called for the badly needed management housecleaning some 3-5 years ago.

If it were the Sinden-Gorton-Jacobs troika that worried Shero, some of that could be well founded. But Sinden these days is all but out of the picture, tossed under the bus by Jeremy Jacobs March 25 in the wake of O'Connell's firing. He pointed to Sinden and O'Connell as the architects of a poor business plan that left the Bruins' roster barren headed into the September '04 lockout. He also made it clear Sinden's final days were approaching, saying, ``A man in his 70s isn't going to live as long as a man in his 40s."

Gorton, the interim GM, wanted the job on a permanent basis -- and was identified early on as a junior Jacobs favorite to assume the position. Club consultants, though, made it clear that Gorton would be hard for the public to accept, after so many years of dreadful results by the club. Gorton is loyal and bright, but most new GMs would want to name their own top lieutenant. It might not be fair that fans paint him with the same brush, but . . . the indelible stain of failure is often impossible to avoid.

As for the junior Jacobs, he intends to run the show, and according to a variety of sources on Causeway Street, he has taken the lead position over Sinden in this GM hire. That's not hard to believe, because Sinden, good or bad, no doubt would have put a new man on the job by now. If he still had his old clout, the hire probably would have been made on or near the end of the regular season in mid-April.

For now -- and this is all subject to change, by the hour -- Shero is gone. Chiarelli could be at hand. And a new day in franchise history could be about to dawn. Still waiting.

Above all, the events of the past few days have underscored that the club's new way of doing business, and the franchise transparency that the junior Jacobs promised, remains stalled in its backward past.

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