Sinden likes what he sees
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — He is 78 years old now, a great-grandfather, and still a presence in the Bruins front office.
“They call me an adviser,’’ Harry Sinden said yesterday, when reached at his home north of Boston. “What I am is an observer. If they want, I give them my observations. Sometimes I give ’em to them even if they don’t want ’em.’’
In more than 40 years of service with the team, as head coach, general manager, and “adviser,’’ Sinden has always been the straightest of shooters. That has gotten him into trouble at times, and we thought maybe his bosses had locked him in the Garden basement this spring, but no . . .
Sinden is still a force in the Hub of Hockey, and he’s coming to Vancouver to watch Game 2 tomorrow night.
What did he see Wednesday night in Game 1?
“I saw a good game by the Bruins,’’ he said. “A pretty typical game. [Tim] Thomas held it together when we faltered, which has been the case all year.
“We did slip a little in the third. We could have won the game. It’s like Thomas said, we didn’t come here to tell you we played a good game, we came here to win. Who cares how you play in the Stanley Cup Finals if you don’t win?
“We’re up against a good team, the best team we’ve played. But I don’t think we’re up against [Wayne] Gretzky and [Mark] Messier.’’
Sinden’s favorite guys to watch are probably the same guys you like.
“I think Thomas is the best goalie we’ve had since [Gerry] Cheevers. They’re very similar in style. Tim is a little more athletic than Gerry. I love watching him play goal.
“People ask me about him being unorthodox. How come I didn’t hear those remarks about Dominic Hasek? This guy is a hell of a goalie.
“[Zdeno] Chara is just a terrific defenseman. We’ve had Bobby Orr and Brad Park and Raymond Bourque and now Chara. He’s always one of the top two or three defensemen in the league. He never gives the puck away in our end.
“[Patrice] Bergeron is the type of player I like. He’s like a Bobby Clarke or a Ronnie Francis, an all-around contributor. I like [David] Krejci, I like [Milan] Lucic. I like lots of them. They’re good.’’
What does he think of his coach, the oft-maligned, stay-the-course Claude Julien?
“He’s done a tremendous job,’’ said Sinden. “There’s a couple of aspects to coaching. You have to be able to communicate and you have to be able to get the players to play for you. He’s done both of those things. These guys really want to play for him.
“Despite the criticism of too much of a defensive style, his style has kept us near the top of the league. You have to give him his marks for doing what he’s done with what he has. Rather than go for the fences, they play hit-and-run. But what everybody wants is results, and he’s excelled.’’
What about Peter Chiarelli, another guy who does a job Sinden used to do?
“We were weak at the back end of our lineup when he got here, and I think he’s corrected that really well with guys like [Gregory] Campbell and [Chris] Kelly,’’ said Sinden. “He’s done a terrific job with guys like [Andrew] Ference on defense.
“He’s supplemented this team and made it a Stanley Cup contender. He’s been able to work under a salary cap. We’ve made tremendous management moves, as far as I can see.’’
Sinden made the trade that brought Cam Neely to Boston 25 years ago. He takes pride in seeing Neely evolve as the team’s president.
“Cam is a very intelligent guy,’’ said Sinden. “He doesn’t have a formal education, but he knows business. He’s raised millions for charity, and that takes some doing. I’ve just enjoyed watching him go about his work. I always loved it when a player can get in that position and succeed.’’
Sinden sounds like Bobby Orr and every other Bruins fan when he speaks of last Friday’s epic seventh game against Tampa Bay.
“It’s an absolute rarity to see a game played like that by any team,’’ he said. “It was almost flawless. The only thing that wasn’t flawless was that we had two or three scoring opportunities.
“One factor is how well the other team lets you play. We didn’t let them play. We were on top of the Tampa puck carrier in every zone immediately. I was so pleased to see the team play like that. Right away, I said, ‘We’re going to win the Cup.’ ’’
“I saw a half-dozen things that in January would have been penalties,’’ said Sinden. “The standard of rule enforcement changes in that situation. They are influenced. It’s human nature.’’
Any suggestions for the Bruins’ lagging power play?
“Everybody’s got some ideas,’’ he said. “I throw mine in there. Poor Claude must have 60 different ideas coming at him.
“Our power play is not really that bad. The only thing I’d like to see, the shots we’re taking are not from the angles I’d like to see on the power play. The angles are too shallow for me, but another hockey guy might give you a totally different read.
“The power play is like putting in golf. It comes and goes. One day you’re knocking everything in and the next day nothing goes in.’’
Sinden hoisted the Cup at City Hall Plaza when the Bruins were kings in 1970, but he has regrets about the near-misses through the decades.
“There were disappointing times for everybody,’’ he said. “We had a shot at winning it so many times. There was always a feeling, very much like with the Red Sox before ’04. We ran up against a couple of dynasties with Edmonton, the Islanders, Montreal a couple of times.’’
Those near-misses, coupled with Sinden’s tight fiscal style, brought a big bowl of criticism to his doorstep. Looking back, he says he might do some things differently.
“It’s very disappointing not to have won some championships with the teams we had, and I do have some regrets,’’ he said. “Along with a couple of other teams in the NHL, we took on the players. We did what the league wanted us to do to prevent the lockout.
“Some teams didn’t pay attention. We bore the brunt of that. We didn’t sign free agents and we went to arbitration and walked away from players in arbitration. We did all the things the league wanted us to do in order to get the thing in financial order. In the end, I think we were the victims of that.
“But there are many things I would do the same. I had tremendous players. Everything starts with the players. You can talk about coaching and management and scouting, and they’re all important, but it all starts with the players.
“That’s why you have to give Claude Julien a lot of credit. This team has got what it takes. Do they have the same talent as the old Edmonton teams or the Islanders? Probably not.
“But they have that intangible. I’ve seen it in baseball and with the Celtics. Bobby Orr brought that kind of atmosphere here and I used to live in fear that we could lose that. Eventually, we did lose it, but this group has brought it back.
“There was always a latent euphoria waiting to burst. And it has. It just took a little rest for a few years. It was sitting in the barrel, waiting to burst out. Much like baseball, hockey is part of this region. There’s no denying it.’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.