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BOB RYAN

Bottom line? He kept team afloat

Let's go right to the good stuff: The official All-Harry Era Team:

Goaltender -- Gerry Cheevers

Defense -- Bobby Orr

Defense -- Ray Bourque

Center -- Phil Esposito

Left wing -- Johnny Bucyk

Right wing -- Cam Neely

If that doesn't get you fired up about hockey in August, nothing will.

That's right. We take time out from worrying about the Red Sox pitching rotation and how soon it will be before we see Tedy Bruschi whack somebody again to report that the most enduring figure in the history of the Boston Bruins is stepping down as team president. That would be Harry Sinden, who has been a part of the Bruins' organization as player, coach, general manager, president, fiscal guardian, and ongoing conscience since 1961, when he first suited up as player-coach in Kingston, Ontario. Throw out that brief, bizarre foray into home-building following the 1970 Stanley Cup season and he's been here ever since.

Not that he wants to talk about a legacy.

``That's not something I've thought about much at any point in my career," Sinden says with a shrug. ``But I guess my legacy here would be length of tenure; I know that."

The legacy in many minds is one of failure, or, at least, only partial success. Milt Schmidt was the general manager and Harry was the coach when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970. Schmidt was still the GM and Tom Johnson was the coach when the team again won the Stanley Cup two years later. Thirty-four years, and now, with Dave Lewis, 17 coaches later (not counting Harry as the interim man in 1980 and 1985), the faithful (not so patiently) await the return of North American sport's most famous trophy.

OK, you're bummed out. How do you think Harry feels, especially when he sees infidels from such preposterous hockey outposts as St. Petersburg, Fla., Raleigh, N.C., Dallas, and A Parking Lot In North Jersey parading around with The Cup? No one ever talks about that.

``Unfortunately, championships are the only mark of success, particularly for fans," he says. ``And we were not able to get one of those despite the fact that we were competitive for so many years."

No one, no one, no one wanted to win a Cup more than Harry Sinden. Don't ever doubt that. But there is a difference between wanting to win and wanting to win at any cost and Harry was able to draw the line without hesitation. Let no one ever doubt that, either. For that he will never apologize.

Harry Sinden had something in common with Red Auerbach. Each was the face of the franchise and each treated the owner's money as if it was his own. 'Twas often said that George Halas ``threw nickels around like manhole covers." In the eyes of players and agents, Harry handled them as if they were Hoover Dams. Harry Sinden knew the worth of a hockey player, and he hated to overpay.

``How can you avoid the responsibility of managing the owner's money?" he asks.

It was an easy call for Harry, even if it meant that certain teams with less fiscal sanity sometimes threw their own nickels around like Frisbees in pursuit of hockey talent and were occasionally rewarded with Stanley Cups. Enough people did so to bring the game to its knees. That's the Jeremy Jacobs/Harry Sinden view, anyway.

Thus we arrive at the low point of Harry Sinden's 4 1/2-decade involvement with professional hockey. ``The lockout was easily the worst thing ever to happen to this league," he says, ``and I feel so bad about it because we brought it about ourselves. No one else was responsible."

The fact the NHL now has a salary cap seems to have vindicated Harry's unyielding position, hasn't it?

``Yes, it has," says Jeremy Jacobs. ``But you guys don't write enough about that."

(It's always refreshing to get a journalism tip from a concessionaire.)

But Mr. Jacobs does have a point. The Prophet is often quite without honor in his own backyard, and so it is that too many people have taken Harry Sinden for granted around here. (The young'uns weren't around in '72 when Harry coached Canada over the evil Rooskies in the most exciting hockey series ever played.) The fact is the hockey world has always had a high regard for Harry, and it was nice to be reminded yesterday that Harry has been a member of the Hall of Fame since 1983.

Jeremy Jacobs knows what he owes Harry. The owner has been more visible of late, but for most of his stewardship, Jeremy Jacobs has been ensconced in Buffalo. His few local appearances were like visits from a head of state. For the hockey fan in New England, Harry Sinden, for better or worse, was the Bruins.

``The stability of it has been the underrated aspect of it [i.e. Sinden's tenure]," Jacobs acknowledges. ``There were many years when the league was in turmoil and the Bruins were the steadiest of ships."

I'm not sure how steady the ship is on the ice at present, with the Bruins having missed the playoffs last season. But Harry notes the Bruins were perennial contenders when they had Bobby Orr, Brad Park, and Ray Bourque, each, he says, the best defenseman in the league in their respective times. Now he welcomes the addition of Brobdingnagian defenseman Zdeno Chara, whom he refers to as ``the best available free agent out there." Harry knows defensemen. Lest you forget, he was a pretty good one himself, good enough to play for the silver medal-winning Canadian Olympic hockey team. You must assume that a player that good in the era of a six-team NHL might have found his way onto a roster in today's bloated league.

But he would never put it that way. He has too much love and respect for the game, which, he claims, is better than ever. ``I'd say the Europeans, and, particularly, the Russians have had a positive effect on our game," he maintains. ``I wouldn't want to see it go back to the way it was in the 1930s. The game is so great. We had a little problem with the traps and the way it had become too much of a defensive game, but we've addressed that."

He stopped being the GM in 2000 and now he's no longer the team president. He can relax. But he's not going anywhere. He's now an ``adviser," a word he likes better than ``consultant," and he'll still be around for schmoozing if Peter Chiarelli is interested. ``If he wants to talk to me, I'll be available," Sinden says. ``If he doesn't, he doesn't have to worry about it."

Peter Chiarelli is a smart guy from Hah-vud. I think he'll be dropping by Harry's office every now and then.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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