Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, making his first expansive comments since the end of NHL lockout last weekend, sounded optimistic Saturday that the new labor agreement can build fiscal stability among the league’s 30 owners and that it eventually can lead to another agreement in a process he termed “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.’’
Jacobs, who turns 73 later this month, also talked as if he is soon preparing for the day he will step down as chairman of the league’s Board of Governors.
“I can see them wanting to get a fresher mind than mine,’’ he said, while his son, Charlie, sat by his side during a 27-minute news conference on the Garden’s second floor.
Asked for names of likely successors should he leave, or be removed, from his role as chairman, Jacobs said there were a number of worthy candidates but chose not to identify them.
Jacobs, owner of the Bruins for 37 years, was vilified around North America, by fans and media alike, as the face of the lockout, the third in league history. Though widely considered a hawk among owners, Jacobs underscored a number of reasons why he would have preferred not to have a lockout, but he said a new, redesigned collective bargaining agreement was necessary to put the game on stronger fiscal ground.
“Think of this,’’ said Jacobs, asked how he felt about being characterized as the lockout’s leader. “First of all, you’re not in a position to try to defend yourself because it’s not constructive to the process.
“I am coming off winning a Stanley Cup [in June 2011]. I’ve got a sold-out building. I have a financially sound business — no debt. I’ve owned [the team] for 37 years. I’m the last guy that wants to shut this down. I don’t want this to shut down.
“Unfortunately, I play in a league with 30 teams and when I step back and look what’s going on with the broadest sense of the league, I’ve got to play a role that is constructive. My selfish interest was definitely to keep this going within the parameters of the deal that was out there. But it [didn’t] make sense for the league, long-term.
“We have a lot of people [among the 30 ownership groups] that were tired of this. A lot of people were promised that we would try to right-size this. And I had to play a role in it.
“To be vilified, I don’t think is right, but . . . what’s my opinion on something like that?’’
Jacobs, reading earlier from a prepared statement, said the season, “could have and should have’’ started on time, and that the lockout should not have been necessary.
Why did it not start on time?
“You’d really have to ask, uh, the other side that,’’ he said.
Jacobs clearly believes the responsibility of the lockout and the nearly four months it took to craft a new deal fell to the players.
“They had no expression or desire to make a deal,’’ he said, later adding, “if someone doesn’t engage, you don’t offer.’’
“Nobody won,’’ said Jacobs. “But more importantly, no one lost.’’ He did, however, note that the players lost, by his calculation, $750 million in salary during the lockout and that the game overall had been harmed.
Jacobs said teams still will be divided into “the haves’’ and “the have-nots.’’
“We’ve seen some franchises in certain areas do terrifically and then fall apart,’’ he said. “Hopefully we won’t see a lot of that.
“If you step back and look at where we were eight years ago, we put together something that hadn’t happened — we had an agreement [the CBA crafted in 2005] that was based on a percentage. And as you’ve seen since then, other leagues have followed with some success. That was definitely the right direction and the right composition. The numbers were wrong. We just got the numbers wrong.
“We believe we’ve got the numbers right now. And it took a while and it was very expensive for all of us to get them there.’’
The previous CBA, which expired Sept. 15, guaranteed the players 57 percent of all the hockey-related revenues, which grew to some $3.3 billion last year. With the NBA and NFL in recent years moving to a model that allowed players only 50 percent, it was inevitable that NHL owners would want the same. The new deal, which could run for the next 10 years, set the split at exactly 50/50.
“I think the players thought that they had lost before,’’ said Jacobs, referring to when the players’ take was set at 57 percent in ’05. “I didn’t recognize it.’’
Now, said Jacobs, he gets a sense of true player unity and a sense of satisfaction over the new deal.
Asked if Donald Fehr, executive director of the Players Association is due credit for that unity, Jacobs said, “I wouldn’t credit him for anything.’’