Harry Sinden didn't want to say, "I told you so," because he didn't see there was anything to be gained from it.
However, the Bruins' president wasn't remotely surprised that the National Hockey League finds itself in the position it's in -- shut down until a new collective bargaining agreement can be forged between owners and players. Yesterday was Day 1 of the lockout and Sinden expects there will be many more.
"I don't think vindication is a word I'd use, but the result is unfortunately something we at the Bruins anticipated a number of years ago," said Sinden, who was joined by general manager Mike O'Connell at a FleetCenter news conference yesterday afternoon. "I don't believe the league had a choice of any kind but to change the system we've been working under. It was self-destructing as a viable economic sports industry."
The Bruins have long had a reputation of being conservative in how they conducted business with regard to player contracts. Sinden, who at times saw himself as a lone voice in the wilderness, said the NHL can no longer support the inflationary rise in contracts, which average $1.8 million. He attributes the economic problems to several factors -- the owners, the system, and arbitration.
"In arbitration alone, the players got 70 percent raises on average," he said. "The system certainly had something to do with it. Did we make mistakes? Absolutely. Let me put it to you this way: If a doctor says to you that you need to stop abusing yourself or you'll die, you've got to stop. But on the other hand, you're the one abusing yourself, you've got to stop. We've got to stop. We have every right to stop. We've lived up to the CBA in every sense of the word. We don't begrudge or hold it against the players. We gave them every dime coming to them. The end has come and we need to make changes to make this a much better league, a much more viable league, one in which everyone will benefit, including the fans."
Sinden said as tough as it would be, the owners and teams are prepared to lose the entire 2004-05 season if that's what it takes to force the players to realize they're serious about blowing up the current economic system.
"There's going to be some pain, a lot of pain," said Sinden. "And we've prepared ourselves for that. We have a very, very unified group of owners and we're amongst them. We're going to stay the course until we fix what is broken. This is real from the owners' side. This is not a ploy."
The NHL office has already trimmed its staff substantially. A number of teams have also cut personnel in anticipation of a lockout. The Bruins, however, haven't followed suit and don't intend to, at least for the time being.
"We had some natural attrition and we've been fortunate here in that we've been able to move some Bruins staff over to the FleetCenter [staff]. We've had to move some people around, but our staff will stay pretty much how it is."
O'Connell said that on the hockey operations side, the staff will stay intact. In terms of players, the Bruins have made some moves. Six players have been assigned to the Providence Bruins, whose training camp opens Sept. 29 -- goalie Hannu Toivonen, defensemen Kevin Dallman and Milan Jurcina, center Brad Boyes, and right wings Colton Orr and Martin Samuelsson. The front office also elected not to send five others to the minors, thereby making them part of the lockout -- goalie Peter Hamerlik, defenseman Jonathan Girard, and forwards Kris Vernarsky, Andy Hilbert, and Robert Liscak.
The Bruins have been one of the most financially successful clubs in the NHL over the years, but Sinden said because of the vast increases in the cost of players, whom the owners say receive 75 percent of all revenues, being in the black isn't remotely what it used to be.
"The system has caught up to us, too," he said. "It caught up to us last year. Had we continued, it would have overwhelmed us this year. So, we, who have been a profitable team for many, many years, are also at the end of the line. We've joined the rest of the teams in a bleak future. That's where we would have stood this year. Last year was not good. This year would've been worse. We had two arbitration awards [to Joe Thornton and Sergei Gonchar] that gave huge, huge increases to two players, two of our very best players, that would have a huge impact on us. And by some people's standards, we won those arbitration cases. So, we find ourselves in the same place as almost every team."