Haggerty: Jacobs should be held responsible


Want to know why the NHL lockout is creeping into its fourth month of existence, why were approaching 80 days of hockey pestilence, hostility and greed?

Heres a story illustrating the self-interested, tyrannical leadership at play on the NHLs side:

Winnipeg Jets representation at a recent NHL Board of Governors meeting piped up to say it was opposed to engaging in a long, bloody lockout sure to stymie their franchises momentum and hurt the game of hockey.

It wasnt Winnipeg owner Mark Chipman, but rather one of the alternate governors representing the Jets.

Bruins Principal Owner and Chairman of the Board of Governors Jeremy Jacobs answered by reprimanding the Winnipeg representative as one of the new kids on the block and informed him that he would know when he was allowed to speak in the NHL board room.

Thats the kind of hawkish, dismissive, bully mentality that's driving the bus for the NHL lockout that's now cancelled games through the middle of December.

Its also the reason why Bruins fans should hold Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs personally responsible.

Jacobs was always a lightning rod for local criticism and cynicism during his close to 40 years owning the Bruins, but the Delaware North baron has deservedly won some goodwill in recent years. He has consistently spent up to the NHL salary cap over the last seven years, and the high point of his ownership came two seasons ago when he oversaw a talented Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup.

But even in the midst of his greatest moment as an NHL owner, Jacobs proved tone deaf. He couldnt help but needle Bruins President Cam Neely during the team's championship parade for never winning his own Cup as a player. It was a cringe-worthy moment on a day that should have featured wall-to-wall grins, and it gave Bruins fans a chance to remember why they held Jacobs in contempt for so long.

Those strange few seconds on that June day put on display the out-of-touch attitude that has helped the NHL become mired in another lengthy work stoppage for the second time in less than a decade.

The NHLPA members and hockey fans alike are waylaying NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for instituting the work stoppage. But at the end of the day Bettman is simply the messenger for the 30 NHL owners. Jacobs and his fellow owners are the reason the NHL cant function without a war between every new Collective Bargaining Agreement. They are the reason hockey is a mismanaged mess.

When Patriots owner Robert Kraft helped broker an NFL labor deal before regular season games were affected, it appeared as though his love for the game of football and his concern for NFL fans played a role. There is no love of hockey coming from the end chair at NHL Board of Governors meetings. Instead there are quarterly reports, profit margins and calculated formulas telling NHL owners when it makes the most fiscal sense to open the doors to the regular season.

Nothing else matters. Not the fans, the players, the arena employees and those local businesses depending on the 800,000 to 1 million that each Bruins game pumps into the Boston economy.

If the NHL lockout is going to end as soon as Dec. 5 at the NHL Board of Governors meeting, then its going to take other hockey-loving hockey owners to overthrow the stone, cold businessmen in the room.

The biggest question of the lockout is, why would a frugal, shrewd businessman like Jacobs seemingly do his own team a disservice by prolonging the lockout? The Bruins have the most money committed in player salaries over the next two seasons, and would be severely affected by a sudden drop in the salary cap. Even if NHL teams are given a one-year transition period to adjust to a plummeting salary cap, the Bruins will be bumping the cap ceiling in 2013-14 without a single proven NHL goaltender signed on for duty.

Thats a horrendous position for Jacobs to leave his franchise when the Bruins have relied so prominently on defense and goaltending for success. But it doesnt seem to matter a whit to the Bruins owner as he bangs the drum for a lowered salary cap, draconian contract restrictions, and a stodgy desire to turn the NHL clock back at least 30 years.

Because Jacobs is a multi-billionaire used to winning and hearing exactly what he wants to hear at all times. During the 2004-005 lockout Jacobs and the Bruins were in a position of influence within the Board of Governors, but approached it with a horrendously flawed game plan.

The Bruins expected a wide open sellers market for free agents coming out of that lockout, and famously allowed Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander among others to walk away from Boston. Jacobs never saw the 24 percent salary rollback coming from the NHLPA, and suddenly teams received tremendous discounts for all contracts signed prior to the work stoppage.

Instead of NHL free agent superstars lining up to play in Boston, the Bruins botched things further by inking glue factory FAs like Brian Leetch and Alex Zhamnov.

The Bruins franchise bottomed out in the two years coming out of the 2004-05 lockout with a glorified expansion team roster, traded away Joe Thornton for a pittance and then cleaned house within the Bs front office before a slow rise to the top under GM Peter Chiarelli and President Cam Neely.

Jacobs turned out to be a giant loser coming out of the last lockout, and now his Buffalo-sized ego is looking for a dramatic, one-sided win against the players coming out of this seasons work stoppage. That one-way, ends-justify-the-means mentality is exactly whats driving the NHL owners this time around.

But the players have already waived the white flag. They've offered the owners the 5050 revenue split for which they were hoping, and the NHLPA moderates are ready to further discuss terms of a truce if Bettman and the NHL owners are willing to throw an olive branch or two the players way.

"We want to play," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said recently. "But there hasnt been one bone thrown our way by the owners to where guys would say if it went to a vote right now we could live with it. There are things that have to be addressed.

If there were a couple of bones thrown in there then thered be enough moderates to voice their opinions to Don Fehr. But it hasnt been that way at all. We keep giving and the owners keep saying Thanks . . . what else have you guys got? Until that changes, nothing about the lockout is going to change."

The players arent responding kindly to being bullied by board room brutes like Jacobs, but theres little they can do about it if they want to get back on the ice. The only people that speak the kind of voice that Jacobs and Co. will understand is the ticket-purchasing public.

Bruins fans can show their disapproval of the Jacobs-led NHL lockout by canceling season tickets, switching to the AHL or college hockey instead of the local NHL product, or simply changing the channel when the games come back. For business mavens like Jacobs, that is the only language they understand.

But thats not an easy task so what else could fans do?

Jacobs owns the TD Garden so they could skip the circus, swear off concerts at the Garden, and even victimize the Celtics as innocent bystanders in the House that Jacobs Built.

Its probably not realistic, but its something to think about as those that love the NHL try to come up with a way to clearly illustrate to Jacobs, Bettman and Co. that two lengthy work stoppages in eight years is simply unacceptable. The NHL has taken its customers for granted far too often in recent years, and there should be a lesson learned for those league fathers that allowed this to happen on their watch.

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