Jeremy Jacobs, who revealed this past week that he has transferred ownership of the Bruins to his six children, was sole proprietor of the NHL franchise for 44 years, stepping back in recent months as his 80th birthday approaches in January.
Jacobs’s tenure, which began in August 1975, ran virtually in lockstep length with that of Tom Yawkey, who purchased the Red Sox and Fenway Park in February 1933 (cost: $1.25 million) and was seen regularly in his rooftop owner’s box up until the weeks leading to his death in July 1976.
It remains to be seen how Jacobs’s legacy will be viewed over time, both in Boston and around the NHL. Well into the first quarter-century of his ownership, he was villainized as an absentee skinflint, interested far more in shaping the franchise into a cash cow than investing in the player talent that could vie for Stanley Cup championships.
That image softened considerably in the new millennium, Jacobs often bankrolling a top-of-the-market payroll in Boston even before the institution of the salary-cap system he helped engineer. Finally winning the Cup in 2011, the only one during his ownership, also reduced some of the heat fans and media directed his way.
Legacies can be tricky things, of course, as we’ve witnessed around Yawkey’s name in the decades since his death.
For the most part during his lifetime, Yawkey was a beloved figure in Boston, still remembered for playing pepper behind home plate before games — a sort of “favorite uncle” image that perpetuated despite the fact that his Sox were woefully slow in recruiting and signing black players.
Over the last 20 years, there has been a gross overcorrection in regard to Yawkey’s life story. By some accounts, one would be led to believe he was among the South’s original slave owners. Current Sox ownership, which purchased the club out of his estate, recently led efforts to have his name expunged from the street that runs along the front of the ballpark’s landmark facade. History’s rearview glance can be more puzzling, more distorting, than a funhouse mirror.
Jacobs today is a far softer, more congenial owner than the one who for years acted as if he loathed the Boston media, and left all that work to his then-quotable and oft-irascible general manager, Harry Sinden. Some 30 years ago, Jacobs made his customary visit to Wilmington for the annual Media Day luncheon to kick off a new season. He sat silently, ate quickly, and then made a dash for the door as media members moved in with the hope of asking the elusive owner a question or two.
“Mr. Jacobs, do you have a minute?” asked Dick Trust, then the devoted beat man for the Patriot Ledger, leading the charge of a gaggle of print reporters.
Jacobs offered only, “Not a second” as he walked briskly to the Ristuccia Center doors, all but straight-arming his way by the media.
The transfer of the club to his children in recent months, said Jacobs, “wasn’t easy” from an emotional perspective. As a 35-year-old, with no hockey knowledge or interest, he bought the team and dilapidated Boston Garden, already nearly a half-century old, for a pittance of some $10 million, and helped evolve the real estate, including the new Garden, into a crown jewel of redevelopment in Boston’s old West End.
The current Garden, now more than 20 years old, cost Jacobs $160 million — 40 times the price of the original Garden built in the late 1920s — and helped groom it into the centerpiece of an elaborate Delaware North buildout that includes residential and commercial buildings along and behind Causeway Street.
“I think the way it looks now versus the way it did, it’s been a real evolution, I think — maybe a bit of a revolution — but an evolution in the sense that the facility looks so darn good now,” Jacobs said. “I never perceived it would happen that way. Some of it just happenstance, really . . . the Big Dig did me all sorts of favors.”
His decision to step back from his position of sole ownership, noted Jacobs, came most from his desire to keep the team under family control and allow his children to chart the course of its future. It’s a far smoother and calculated decision than when he and a brother took charge of Delaware North upon the death of their father, Lou Jacobs, who founded the company at the start of the 20th century.
“That wasn’t easy,” said Jacobs, chuckling when asked the emotional toll that comes with handing over an asset he governed across five decades. “But my kids are in their late 50s now. They have to have a chance to move this themselves. As long as I am alive, it will continue the way it is now.”
Might the day come when his heirs opt to sell the franchise?
“Not while I’m alive, no,” said Jacobs, who noted he retains a 1 percent ownership interest, and remains the club’s governor for NHL business. “If they do it sometime in the future, that will be theirs [to decide]. And I imagine [potential buyers] will be picking all over it. But they love it.”
WHAT’S THE DEAL?
Clock is ticking on McAvoy, Carlo
The magic number, Bruins fans, is 83 — the number of days, as of Sunday, remaining for GM Don Sweeney to get prime young defensemen Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy under contract or suffer the consequences of going without one or both for the 2019-20 season.
Per the collective bargaining agreement, Dec. 1 is the cutoff for restricted free agents to sign extensions, a deadline that last year saw the breathless Maple Leafs tie up William Nylander for roughly six years and $42 million. Wee Willie then delivered an anemic line of 7-20—27 in 54 games, his profile and impact diminished by the two-month holdout. Yet another reminder that holdouts often turn into performance hiccups.
As the weekend approached in the Hub of Hockey, it was status quo for McAvoy and Carlo, who remain penciled in as the right-side defenseman on the Nos. 1 and 2 pairings, respectively. Sweeney has contended throughout the summer that both deals will get done, that both players will be in Black and Gold for years to come. But that song has slipped down the charts faster than Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” with each passing day of June, July, August, and now a chunk of September.
Meanwhile, across the league, there are 20-plus RFAs yet to sign with camps about to open this coming week. Upward of a dozen, like Carlo and McAvoy, are considered prime young talent, including Zach Werenski, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, and Brayden Point.
RFAs typically are “second contract” players, those who have phased out of the CBA-defined entry-level deals (i.e. three-year rookie contracts). The sticking point, particularly among the aforementioned group, is that they delivered veteran-level performances, usually as 18-20-year-olds, and now want “sophomore” contracts commensurate with their mojo, often at a pay scale equal to that of players with far more years of service.
Headed into 2019-20, Torey Krug ($5.25 million) stands as Bruins’ highest-paid blue liner, ranking seventh overall on the Boston payroll (David Krejci is No. 1 at $7.25 million). On deals with substantial term, Carlo and McAvoy can make cases to earn more than Krug, all the while with Sweeney operating with only some $7.3 million in cap space. The numbers aren’t working in anyone’s favor.
It’s far worse in Toronto, where GM Kyle Dubas is already some $4 million over the $81.5 million cap limit and Marner — the club’s leading scorer the last two seasons — reportedly is seeking Auston Matthews kind of cash ($11.6 million per season). No. 1 scorers usually want No. 1 pay.
Dubas landed the Leafs GM job in large part because he is considered a numbers wiz, an analytics savant. He no doubt knows the ins and outs of Corsi, but at the moment he looks like he could use some remedial work on the abacus in the dusty corner of the Blue and White payroll cage.
Longtime Toronto pundit Damien Cox this past week suggested that the remedy might have to be a Marner trade, with the Leafs getting back young, promising (ergo: cheap) talent in the form of, say, a top-six forward and top-four defenseman. Enough teams likely could cough up worthy players, prospects, and picks — but how many could fit in Marner’s $11 million a year? As of Friday, only Colorado, Columbus, and Winnipeg had that kind of cap space available — and all had prime RFAs of their own to get under contract.
Deals for, say, Werenski (Columbus) and Rantanen (Colorado) look like much easier “writes” because their clubs remain awash in cap space. At the moment, that is not true for the Bruins, and less true for the Leafs.
For Sweeney to get both deals done at escalating market rates, it appears he will have to move out other contracts, not unlike his early days on the job when he unloaded the salary albatrosses of Milan Lucic and Marc Savard left behind by Peter Chiarelli. To keep a pair of prime young defensemen, it may mean a hard rain’s gonna fall for someone else (David Backes?) over the next 83 days.
Opting out of CBA not worth it
The NHL one week ago chose not to execute its opt-out clause from the existing CBA (good through the spring of 2022), and now it’s up to the Players’ Association to decide by Sept. 15 if it wants to remain in for three more seasons or essentially trigger the likelihood of a lockout next September.
Raise your hand high if you’ve heard all of this before, folks.
If the players decide it’s time again to open the can of CBA paint, it likely will be over the convoluted issue of escrow — the percentage held out of each of their paychecks while waiting to find out if year-end hockey-related revenues (HRR) across the league have met preseason projections.
The view from 35,000 feet (standard press-box level in most NHL arenas in 2019) on this one: Since the inception of the cap system following the “lost” season of 2004-05, the cap number has risen from $39 million to the current $81.5 million. The NHL today is roughly a $5 billion enterprise, about double what it was in the autumn of 2005, and the CBA dictates that the players are entitled to about half the gross take.
Is it worth the players shoveling another bucket of sand into the paint can over what appears mainly the escrow issue? Well, in rough numbers, they are entitled to upward of $2.5 billion in salary in 2019-20. If HRR were to come up short, and each player were to end up taking, say, a 3 percent haircut, the NHLPA rank and file would be “shorted” by some $75 million.
Looks and feels like real money, doesn’t it? Heck, it is nearly the equivalent of one team’s entire payroll — even more, if said team doesn’t reach the cap. It is real money.
But keep in mind, as substantial as those dollars look, no one is being bamboozled here. The players opted 15 years ago to accept a cap system, and further to acquiesce to the escrow system as the sidecar companion.
Today’s players, precious few on the job when the cap system was ratified, are entitled to object, to opt out, and ultimately to trigger yet another nuclear winter if they so choose. It doesn’t look worth it from here, but that’s the view from a guy who started covering the league when Ray Bourque’s first deal paid him $100,000 a year, for three years.
If the players want to forecheck toward another lockout, it’s not worth it for 2, 3, or 5 percent of pay in a tussle over how escrow is computed. It could be worth it if, some 15 years gone by, they now want to dump the entire hard-cap system, and the escrow along with it, and strive to work in a world unfettered by the construct of the cap and the CBA.
Are they prepared to go there? Not based on anything your faithful puck chronicler has heard, seen, or intuited these last 15 years. The rank and file have accepted that the current system works, albeit with some warts. It’s up to them to decide now, yet again, whether to mask over the blemishes or prep for major surgery.
Tracking the latest news on data system
The NHL’s ambitious data venture belched out a substantial burp this past week, as first reported Thursday by ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan. Jogmo World Corp., designated in January as the vendor to mine all the numbers for the evolving Puck and Player Tracking system, was dropped by the NHL because of what ESPN termed the company’s “organizational and financial challenges.”
SportsMEDIA Technology Corp., where ex-Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward has been a business development manager the last three years, now will harvest the numbers — on top of its previous designation as the aggregator/disseminator of the data.
The league, eager to have Puck and Player Tracking central to its gambling and broadcast initiatives, continues to say that the new system will be up and running in time for the 2020 playoffs. If Durham, N.C.-based SMT can get off the data dime fast enough, some numbers could be seen during the January All-Star Game broadcast in St. Louis or other featured games during the regular season.
Upon announcing the new system in January, as part of All-Star Weekend hype in San Jose, the league framed Puck and Player Tracking primarily as a broadcast enhancer — a way for fans to wade deeper into the numbers on the NHL’s myriad broadcast platforms. However, its greater role, and impact, will be on the gambling side, as more states ratify sports wagering.
The league already has sponsorship/provider deals cut with MGM Grand, William Hill, and FanDuel. Individual teams, based in states that have approved gambling, will be free to cut their own deals with providers. To wit: the official gambling house of the Boston Bruins. The day will be here, and likely sooner than later, when you can use your handheld device to place action on the next Bruins goal (I have Sean Kuraly) while sitting in your loge seat (by the way, it’s Brett Ritchie and Joakim Nordstrom with the helpers).