Right up until 1 p.m. yesterday, when National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman stepped to the microphone in a function room at a Manhattan hotel, Bruins president Harry Sinden was in the dark about whether the 2004-05 season was going to be salvaged or canceled.
Right up until the grim words that there would be no abbreviated season came out of Bettman's mouth, Sinden held out hope that some solution could be found to put an end to the labor strife between owners and players. However, his optimism was snuffed out, along with that of his staff and NHL fans everywhere.
"One emotion I have that is probably the greatest is the disappointment that we didn't seem to be believed during this whole process by our players or at least by the players' representatives," said Sinden, who addressed the media at the FleetCenter immediately after Bettman's announcement. "As the commissioner said, if they didn't want access to our economics, it was going to be very, very difficult for somebody who didn't understand the economics of it, and I think the disappointment comes from the fact that nobody on the union side of the situation either didn't believe us or made it appear as if they didn't believe us. When you do have access to the economics as we do, you know the reality of the situation. So I'm terribly disappointed from September to this point that we could never seem to get that point across to our players."
Charlie Jacobs, the executive vice president of the Bruins and vice president of business development for the FleetCenter, said his father -- FleetCenter and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs -- finds the situation excruciating.
"He said, `This is a lose-lose situation for everybody involved,' " said Charlie Jacobs. "It's a lose for the owners, the businesses around the venues like the FleetCenter, the people who work in our buildings, and in truth, I think it's a lose for the players as well. If there is one person in the NHL who has more to lose from this lockout than Jerry Jacobs, I don't know of him. We operate seven different venues without the NHL, including the FleetCenter, in terms of food service or building operations. I don't know of anybody who has more at stake and has more on the line in this lockout than we do. Frankly, I don't know of any other owner who is more supportive of Gary Bettman and getting this straightened out."
One of the issues to be resolved with all 30 clubs is what happens to the money season ticket-holders have invested. Rich Krezwick, president and chief executive officer of the FleetCenter, said the Bruins have been very aggressive in addressing that topic.
"We had a very successful renewal campaign last summer with 7.7 percent interest paid on your deposits," said Krezwick. "We renewed over 90 percent of the season-ticket base, which in a situation like this, we found to be very significant. So we went with our strength and what we've decided to do is double that interest rate going forward beginning May 1. We'll double the interest rate to 15 percent.
"We'll encourage our fans to stick with us and we'll continue to provide all the opportunities that we can for entertainment. We've been talking to them regularly via e-mail about other entertainment opportunities and getting them access to other games. But we've also made a commitment internally that we will freeze prices when we do start playing. And thirdly, we've also made a commitment that we will give each one of those season ticket-holders 10 free tickets when we do begin playing."
If there had been an abbreviated season, there would have been a mad scramble by the Bruins to put a team together under a new collective bargaining agreement because of how few players Boston has under contract. Sinden said he couldn't speculate on what will happen to those contracts now, saying that would have to be hammered out during negotiations on a CBA, whenever they resume. As devastating as yesterday's news was for the hockey world, Sinden promises the sport won't be damaged irreparably.
"This game won't be killed," he said. "Now that this event has come to a conclusion, I think you'll see the league and its member clubs really go to work to get ready to play next season. As the commissioner said, we are going to play next season. We will come back with a product that works and relaunch and revitalize this game, and I am not concerned. Obviously, it's going to take us some time and maybe it will be slower to begin with, maybe not, but we will bring it back."