The tie is at half-mast, the hair is mussed and the shirt looks as if it has been mucking it up in the office corners. Say this for the Van Heusen, though. At least it's dry, which is a sign that it has been a relatively calm afternoon for Harry Sinden, president, general manager and, for the past 19 years, soul and architect of the Boston Bruins. When things are not so calm—during contract negotiations, for example—Sinden, in the words of one agent, "can come out of there with two goats under his arms."
Some sports executives are dapper, some are casual and some seem to blend in unassumingly with the office scenery. Then there's Sinden, a grinder of a general manager, a man who has been trapped in his street clothes during the sudden-death overtime of life. "He works his clothes hard," says Bruin coach Mike Milbury. "Harry sweats more during a game than [Boston defenseman] Ray Bourque. He's the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine that I know."
It is Milbury who has drawn Sinden to the phone now, pleading on the eve of the March 5 NHL trading deadline for Sinden to make one of his something-for-nothing deals. Nothing so dramatic as Sinden's 1986 fleecing of the Vancouver Canucks, to whom he sent Barry Pederson in exchange for Cam Neely—a player who it seems was born to be a Bruin—and a first-round draft choice, which turned out to be defenseman Glen Wesley. Perhaps something along the lines of two of Sinden's swaps last season. The first, with the Washington Capitals, brought veteran winger Dave Christian, who had 32 goals this season as of Sunday, for Bob Joyce, who has spent most of the year in the minors. Or the midseason trade in which he sent Ken Linseman to the Philadelphia Flyers for Dave Poulin, a smart and inspiriting center who helped propel the Bruins into the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three years and for the fifth time during Sinden's tenure as G.M. Or even something as modest as last June's trade, which brought tough-guy Chris Nilan back to his native Beantown for little-used winger Greg Johnston. The deal worked so well that Milbury selected Nilan for this year's All-Star team.
However, with both Nilan and Poulin injured and center Bobby Carpenter out for the season, the Bruins needed something. "My phone hasn't been ringing," Sinden tells Milbury. "Give me a name."
Milbury, who is calling from Toronto, where the Bruins are playing the next night, gives him a name. "I like him," says Sinden. "They want too much for him. What do you think, they're giving these players away?"
In a minute Sinden hangs up. "Coaches are all alike," he says with a chuckle. "I don't blame Mike. You want a lift, so you get someone who gives you a lift for three games, and then what? You've lost a draft choice."
Last season Sinden parted with a second-round draft choice in 1990 to get veteran winger Brian Propp from Philadelphia at the trading deadline. Propp helped the team briefly, but was only so-so during the playoffs. Over the summer, he signed as a free agent with the Minnesota North Stars.
"You've got to be careful of late-season trades," says Sinden. "Moving-van trades, I call them, because the moving-van companies are the only ones who make out well. Neither club benefits. When players don't feel that responsibility and accountability toward each other, it's tough to win. In 1973 I brought in [goaltender] Jacques Plante at the trading deadline. He won all eight games he played for us and took us from fourth to second. But the players hated him, and they hated me for doing it. We lost to the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. I had brought in a better goalie, but I'd taken away an integral part of the team—Eddie Johnston, who'd been our goalie and whom the guys loved. That was a mistake."
Sinden doesn't make many mistakes, which could be why the Bruins—his Bruins—have gone 24 years since their last losing season. That is the longest active winning streak in professional sports. In NHL history, it ranks second only to the 32 straight winning seasons that the Montreal Canadiens had between 1951-52 and 1982-83.
The Bruins' streak began in 1967-68, when Sinden was their second-year coach, and has survived the departure of Bobby Orr, the trade of Phil Esposito, the World Hockey Association, 10 coaching changes, five team presidents, a change in ownership and the rise and fall of dynasties put together by the Canadiens and the New York Islanders.