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Business as usual

NHL honchos snipe as fans yawn, boo, stay away

Posted: Thursday December 13, 2007 2:49PM; Updated: Thursday December 13, 2007 2:49PM
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Owner Jeremy Jacobs' Boston Bruins may be dragging the New NHL back to the dark ages, but they're winning to their critics' dismay.
Owner Jeremy Jacobs' Boston Bruins may be dragging the New NHL back to the dark ages, but they're winning to their critics' dismay.

Traditionally, hockey players don't go out and "win one for the owner" -- at least not when he's alive. But one can't help thinking that Boston boss Jeremy Jacobs took great delight in his Bruins rolling over the Buffalo Sabres, 4-1, earlier this week.

Jacobs has owned the Bruins for decades, but he lives in a suburb of Buffalo and keeps his prosperous and far-reaching company, Delaware North, located downtown less than a mile from the HSBC Arena, where he has a suite.

In addition, Jacobs had a hand in keeping Buffalo's hockey fortunes afloat several times, once when his company leant the franchise some much-needed construction money in return for the concession rights at the HSBC. Later, as chairman of the NHL's Audit and Finance Committee, Jacobs had a role in keeping the Sabres solvent after the Rigas family's criminal wrongdoings plunged the franchise into bankruptcy and put hockey in Buffalo at risk. New ownership and management eventually got the Sabres back on firmer financial ground.

Jacobs' close ties have sometimes obscured a strong divisional rivalry between Buffalo and Boston, and while that's largely played out on the ice, smack- downs apparently are not foreign to the board room.

Sources tell SI.com that Jacobs took some offense during the recent Board of Governors meetings in Pebble Beach, CA, when Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn was making an impassioned plea about opening up the game. Quinn was said to be making a point regarding how the Sabres have recaptured their fan appeal in the Buffalo market and elsewhere in the NHL with a more fast-paced attack style. In essence, Quinn told Jacobs and New Jersey Devils GM and (governor) Lou Lamoriello that, with all due respect, their teams -- which generally play a trapping, defense-first style of game -- are boring and fans just don't enjoy watching them.

Sources say Lamoriello may have taken more offense that Jacobs, pointing out that no matter what people say about the style of play employed by the Devils, they won their three Stanley Cups because they played as a team and had high quality players like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and others. Jacobs, considered by many to be the most powerful and influential executive in hockey, was more low key and simply "thanked" Quinn for his assessment of his franchise.

Fast forward to the next meeting of the two squads, little more than a week after the meetings and in Buffalo. The Bruins choked off the Sabres' attack and won going away. One can understand if Jacobs cracked a smile. In four meetings with the Sabres this season, his team has won two in regulation and a third in overtime. Buffalo did win one, 2-1.

This space will side with anyone who argues for the removal of trapping defenses and reversing the overall stranglehold that defensive-minded coaches have put on the NHL game. Quinn has put forth a lot of good ideas in that area and fought for them in private and the media. But as in so many things NHL, that kind of brashness is not always accepted. The league chugs on while scoring drops and fans, in some markets at least, appear disinterested again. The huge surge of post-lockout progress immediately after the rule changes and ice restructuring seems to be going downhill as defense squelch the speed and flow of the game, blunting individual ability and scoring chances.

Quinn may not win many friends in the board room wotj his approach and he may not be building a consensus for that reason, but that's not to say he's wrong. It's just that the message doesn't seem to be getting through.

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