Jeremy Jacobs was in Boston yesterday to have a cortisone injection for his ailing back. But the Bruins owner is feeling a far more acute pain in another area -- over the way his team is crashing and burning in the new-look National Hockey League.
The Bruins were supposed to benefit from a playing field leveled by a salary cap as well as from their flexibility after paring the roster in anticipation of a lockout that would produce a smorgasbord of free agents. To this point, however, that hasn't worked out, and Jacobs made no secret of his unhappiness.
''It's very disappointing -- with the team, with the whole situation," he said. ''There doesn't seem to be the intensity or the desire or the hard work it takes to play this game. We think we've got great talent on the ice and I believe we do by the record [of the players' previous achievements] but they sure aren't producing at that level and it's very, very disappointing.
''A Bruin stands for something on the ice, it always has. It's the win-loss column that's going to make a difference. We should be leading this division, we're not. That's a terrible letdown."
Jacobs declined to answer when asked about the job security of general manager Mike O'Connell and coach Mike Sullivan but he did say everyone has to be accountable for the finished product, from him on down.
''As ownership, you're to blame, aren't you?" he said. ''The ultimate guy is the buck stops with me. Now how I got there, I don't know.
''I've got to tell you, I had high, high hopes. I thought we did a great job assessing and accumulating these players and it hasn't come to pass that way. We all bear a certain amount of the blame but I think I did everything they wanted me to do in so far as giving them the players that they wanted. To some extent, I feel I fulfilled my obligation. But to an other extent, maybe I didn't. Maybe I should've played a little different role."
He acknowledged the team as constituted doesn't equal the sum of its parts, perhaps because too many of those parts changed from the 2003-04 season.
''I'm seeing teams like Buffalo, Carolina, and others, a number of these teams that did nothing -- I think New York did close to nothing -- and they're doing better," he said. ''Maybe the teams that were together, that had less change, are doing better. Maybe change has been dysfunctional to us.
''In my opinion, they haven't achieved anywhere near what they're capable of doing. It's something to do with the transition [since] the last time they played and now that needs to be examined. I definitely am supportive of the coach and management here this time but they have way undersatisfied what I think I need, you need, and our fans need."
It was an uphill battle to rebuild the fan base, given the lost year and the Bruins' lack of playoff success for more than a decade, and Jacobs felt a winning product would bolster that effort. Without it, the club is in danger of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the paying customers, and that would give any owner a migraine. In Jacobs's case, it's even worse because he owns the building and the concessions.
''It's scary, isn't it?" he said of the prospect of fans losing interest. ''That's what concerns me more than anything else."
Jacobs acknowledged that the front office took a calculated risk in blowing up the 2003-04 roster and letting players such as Mike Knuble walk in unrestricted free agency.
''What we didn't anticipate was the framework it took," he said. ''We never thought the players would walk in and offer a 24 percent reduction. I think if we knew that, we probably would've signed Joe Thornton earlier because he would've been a lot less than we wound up paying him. We would've kept some of the [other] people. If you had a $4 million guy, he became a $3 million guy, and that's what happened.
''Yeah, it was calculated on one hand. On the other hand, I was led to believe that what we got as replacements [were] every bit as good as what we didn't keep. The jury's out on that.
''There's no rhyme or reason for where we are except that these guys aren't working as hard as the guys they're playing against. No matter what nice things we might have to say about each game -- we did well here or there -- the other guys at the end of the day have produced better than we have."
He rejected the notion that injuries are to blame, saying every team has to deal with injuries.
''Everybody is shorthanded," he said. ''Nobody will ever play with a complete roster with no injuries. That's the nature of the game."
The Bruins already have made one trade -- center Dave Scatchard for defenseman David Tanabe -- and Jacobs said the club certainly would consider more if it was in its best interests.
When asked how patient he could afford to be, Jacobs said, ''I don't think that as an organization we can sit even now without considering all the alternatives. We're not happy with what we have right now, with where we stand, and if we have to change to get it done, then we have to change to get it done."
When asked about individual players and their performances, Jacobs didn't give any rave reviews -- quite the contrary. He believes the Bruins, ironically, are one of the least effective teams under the new rules.
''I think we have to weigh in on the way the game is being played," he said. ''I think we've done a very bad transition job in trying to play the way the game is being played today. I haven't seen anybody that I'm real impressed with.
''I've liked [goalie Hannu] Toivonen. I like [goalie Andrew Raycroft] from time to time, but I haven't liked either one a whole lot throughout the season. I do like our goaltending rotation. I said that early on, I thought that was the real strength this team had, two young goaltenders who looked like they were real players. There are a lot of incompletes."
When asked whom he'd guess would be the person most likely to blow a gasket over this situation, he said it would be president Harry Sinden. Jacobs referred to himself as more of a pragmatist.
''I look for competent management and I expect it to react," he said. ''Harry has been here and he's not going to sit on something indefinitely. He's much more reactionary than I am. That's the guy who I think in the final analysis is going to be more reactionary than any of us."