On hockey

For Sinden, writing on the wall

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 18, 2008

MONTREAL - They talked. That's about all Peter Chiarelli would say. Some 48 hours after Harry Sinden kicked Chiarelli's team down the block and around the corner, Chiarelli and Sinden talked for about a half-hour yesterday by phone, Chiarelli here with his Bruins and Sinden from his home in Florida, where he has spent most of this season.

"I had a long talk with Harry today, and I think it's best, for many reasons, that I don't get into specifics," said Chiarelli, standing outside his club's dressing room at Bell Centre, less than an hour before the Bruins beat the Canadiens, 5-1. "He was contrite . . . and I'll leave it at that."

For those who missed it, the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy sat down with Sinden early Tuesday afternoon, hours before Montreal pinned a 1-0 loss on the Bruins in Game 4 of their best-of-seven playoff series, and Sinden made a series of pointed remarks that were demeaning to, in no particular order:

Marc Savard - Sinden said that although Savard is a good player, he is "not a fan" of the club's No. 1 scorer. "He's one of these guys who has a good batting average, but no RBIs," said the 75-year-old Sinden, who comes to the office rarely these days, his job as an adviser to owner Jeremy Jacobs. "He gets a lot of points. He's a good player, I'm just not a fan."

Coach Claude Julien - "We've got a coach who gets everything out of his group of guys," said Sinden. "There are two sides of coaching: tactics/knowledge and making everybody play for you. He's got that latter part down." What of the former part? Sinden, in his comments to Shaughnessy, didn't go there. Damning by silence, or omission.

Chiarelli - Sinden didn't demean the second-year general manager by name, but by review of the Boston hockey product, which is still struggling to recover, retrieve its once-proud heritage. There is a strong basis for the franchise being able to recover, noted Sinden. "But as long as you're middling ground - mediocrity or whatever we do - it's not going to happen," he said. Middling ground. Mediocrity. Now there's something for the marketing department to sell, and for Chiarelli to use to court free agents.

Other than that, hey, Messrs. Savard, Julien, and Chiarelli, great having you aboard. Hope you enjoy the show.


Timing is everything, and clearly, Sinden has lost his sense of the moment. Or at least it looks that way.

Having not been privy to the conversation between Chiarelli and Sinden, all we can do is take at face value that Sinden was contrite, must have regretted what he said, or at least when he said it, and returned to Florida to ponder not just what was ahead for his team, but for himself, too.

Jacobs can't let this one just sit in the air like the stink bomb in the back of the chemistry lab. He'll have to do something, and the place to start would be to tell Sinden his days are finished.

Sinden - and this might have been what he wanted - has put Jacobs in a predicament. To have Sinden subtly or overtly sniping at the team he professes to love (and I don't doubt that, by the way), he puts a number of people, especially those named above, in very uncomfortable and embarrassing positions.

Could any of what Sinden said be interpreted as the thoughts of someone who cared about the franchise, and was only trying to help? Frankly, yes, all of it, because Savard could be a better, grittier player, and Julien could improve his tactical approach (assistant coaches, we're talking to you, too), and Chiarelli could do a better job at improving the roster.

However, it's one thing for a columnist to drop this stuff on a team's doorstep at a critical hour, and something else altogether for the senior adviser to the club owner, a Hall of Famer, once the most respected voice in the Hub of Hockey, to do it.

Regular readers of this space may remember a column at this time four years ago suggesting it was time for Joe Thornton, then the club's captain, to surrender his "C" for failing to speak for the team the day before Game 7 of the Bruins-Habs playoff series. There was outrage from the fan base. What a thing to do before such an important game! Traitor! More than a few readers felt the author might be right, but why . . . why . . . why . . . write it then? Let's remind everyone here that the club's front office didn't say a peep about the column.

But here we have Sinden, who should know better, who does know better, who still is a team employee, needlessly poking a finger in the ribs of the club's No. 1 setup guy, the diligent coach (who has done a pretty fine job, especially given injuries and overall circumstances), and the GM who is trying to put back on track a franchise Sinden helped derail over a dozen years or more, beginning in the mid-1990s.

For his part, Julien said he was not offended by Sinden's comments, which means there must be an invisible high road behind that Boston bench.

"I know Harry Sinden," said Julien after last night's win. "We've had some great talks. I respect him immensely. He's a great guy."

Could it have been that Sinden's stern words motivated the troops?

"Our guys played great tonight," Julien said. "If Harry Sinden motivated them, then it's a great moment."

Behind closed doors, with the likes of Savard and Julien and Chiarelli sitting across his desk on Causeway Street, Sinden's words not only would have had clout, but maybe even grudging respect. Maybe.

None of us likes criticism, and perhaps one of them would have walked out on Sinden, dubbed the Papa Bear of Winter by Shaughnessy, or been irate enough to get up swinging. Had it been the latter, Sinden might have liked that, admired it, and even 75, he might have returned their volleys with something other than opinions and stinging words.

It is too late for a take-back. Damage done. Feelings hurt. Questions raised, employees wondering about their jobs, and about the old man who sometimes reports to his corner office on the second floor of the Vault.

Sinden said what he said, delivered the damage - be it by design or by genetic predisposition - and now, apparently, he has apologized to Chiarelli. The GM did not use the word "apologize," but "contrite" implies that.

Now it's Jacobs's time to say sorry, as in, "Sorry, Harry, it's time for you to go."

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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