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Tuesday, February 11
Updated: May 8, 2:49 PM ET
Jacobs keeps Bruins cash conscious and Cup-less

By Adam Proteau
The Hockey News

A letter recently passed by our desk at The Hockey News. It came from Brett Auricchio, a young Boston Bruins fan from Ridgeway, Ontario, handwritten in a manner that revealed his youth and love for the game.

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Here's how the letter began:

I'm a Boston Bruins fan and the owner is way too cheap.

Young Brett may or may not believe in Santa Claus, but give the kid credit: he's astute enough to know precisely where the biggest grinch in the NHL resides.

Beantown. A city with an unquenchable thirst for sports. Home to some of the greatest athletes in modern history.

Unfortunately for Boston Bruins fans, it is also Jeremy Jacobs' personal profit playground.

The Bruins are the NHL's version of the Montreal Expos: a remarkable breeding ground for talent, but a clearinghouse for hope.

Here's a short list of ex-Bruins Jacobs sent packing because of their contract demands: Anson Carter, Adam Oates, Bill Guerin, Byron Dafoe, Jason Allison, and most recently, Kyle McLaren. You'd be astonished if you weren't too busy grinding your teeth into powder over it.

Now, let's give credit where due: Year upon year, Bruins president Harry Sinden and GM Mike O'Connell put out a competitive product. But not too competitive, mind you. Not the kind of competitive that requires a payroll comparable to the league's elite teams.

Despite a recent survey from Team Marketing Report placing an average Bruins ticket fourth-highest in the NHL, Jacobs has a payroll The Hockey News ranked 18th in the league this season. This from a franchise Forbes Magazine ranked as the NHL's fifth-most profitable.

The Bruins' policy is clear: Be good, but be good with less money than Willie Nelson after tax season. Tread water. Kiss, but only on the cheek. It is the hallmark of the Jacobs era. It is bottom-line economics from a top-shelf profiteer. And if you're a Bruins fan, it stinks to high heaven.

It is also translating, finally, into attendance numbers plummeting faster than Michael Jackson's chances of being named father of the year.

Consider: The Bruins have averaged 14,716 fans through 30 games this season, placing them 22nd in the league. Their average attendance has fallen for three straight years. They're averaging fewer fans than Florida, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. They have 2,000 fewer season-ticket holders than they did last season. In an Oct. 31 game against Anaheim, they put 9,491 butts in the stands, their smallest crowd in two decades.

As Scooby Doo might say, "R'uh-R'oh!"

But don't panic. The state of Massachusetts is not giving up on hockey. American League teams have outdrawn the Bruins this season. Capacity crowds filled the FleetCenter for the 2003 Beanpot. People still love the sport.

No, the problem, plain and simple, is Jacobs and his preference of profit before NHL prowess.

Sure, the Bruins owner and longtime ally Sinden will tell you they should be admired for taking a stand against skyrocketing salaries. They'll tell you they deserve a parade for trying to ensure ticket prices stay affordable. The line has to be drawn somewhere, they'll say.

Of course, this is Grade A hogwash. If the Bruins are so concerned about the long-term future of the industry, somebody needs to explain the signing of Martin Lapointe to us.

For the unfamiliar, Jacobs signed Lapointe -- who scored more than 20 goals exactly once in his career -- to a four-year, $20-million contract simply to spite Red Wings owner Mike Illitch after a heated argument between the two.

According to published reports, Jacobs told Illitch he should curb his free-spending ways. After Illitch put away his three Stanley Cup rings, he told his advisor what he could do with his advice, and Jacobs high-balled Lapointe all the way to an untradeable right winger on course for a 4-goal, 13-point finish this season.

That's what us hockey experts call a colossal boo-boo. But remember, Jacobs had fans' best interests in mind when he did it. In other words, it's your fault. Shame on you.

Wait, it gets better: Jacobs decided paying $35 million for concession rights to the Buffalo Sabres -- arguably Boston's chief rival in recent years -- was more important than re-investing in his own players. But he balks at paying even one of his stars market value.

That's right, Jacobs doesn't mind shelling out for soda syrup and animal afterthoughts, but when the tenderized meat talks back and has an agent to protect his interests, the cupboard becomes bare. Whatta guy.

For all his business savvy -- and, with estimates that Delaware North, Jacobs' umbrella company of food service and hospitality businesses, had profits of 1.5 billion in 2001, you know he's got a lot -- Jacobs still doesn't understand pro sports. He believes he's operating in the entertainment industry, but he's wrong. He's in the hope industry.

Ultimately, that's why fans attend games: the hope that, as seasons pile up, their team will be that much closer to a championship. At their core, sports fans are puzzle fans, people who look at players as pieces of a bigger picture. When they see pieces they like, they want to keep them, keep building the puzzle, until the picture is complete.

However, when the pieces are discarded with such regularity the puzzle doesn't come close to being finished, fans lose hope it will ever happen. So they stop caring about the puzzle.

That's what's happening in Boston. Jacobs has disillusioned his customers so often, they no longer care how good the Bruins are. Fewer and fewer of them want to invest emotion into players who move further out the door the better they play.

Good for them. Good for each and every Bruins fan who refuses to continue subsidizing the profit margin of Delaware North. If enough of them stay away, perhaps Jacobs will get the idea, and make every effort to ensure Joe Thornton retires a Bruin. Perhaps he'll keep Sergei Samsonov, Glen Murray, and Brian Rolston, rather than reloading each time one of them blows out 31 candles.

Right now, that's what will happen. Good players will continue to be traded away. Management will bemoan their greed, and bring in talented young prospects in their place. And the Bruins will continue to tread water.

In the long run, every empty Bruins seat does more to ensure the return of the Stanley Cup than Jeremy Jacobs has ever been willing to do.

And that's something even a kid can see.

E-mail Adam Proteau at aproteau@thehockeynews.com.

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