One FleetCenter, Suite 250
The Boston Professional Hockey Association Inc. is the corporation that operates the Boston Bruins, the first American franchise in the National Hockey League. Playing in a state-of-the-art arena, the FleetCenter, and enjoying the stable ownership of Jeremy M. Jacobs, chairman and chief executive officer of the highly successful Delaware North Companies, the Bruins are one of hockey's most successful franchises. On the ice, the team has known periods of greatness, and over the last three decades of the 20th century, it was one of the most consistent winners in all of team sports, making the Stanley Cup playoffs 29 consecutive seasons.
Boston Joins the National Hockey League in 1924
The predecessor to the National Hockey League (NHL) was the National Hockey Association (NHA) formed by two rival Canadian 'amateur' leagues to prevent themselves from stealing each other's players. Another league, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), was then created, and it promptly began luring away NHA players. Within two years, the champions of the NHA and PCHA were playing for the Stanley Cup, an award originally given to the top amateur hockey team in North America. Disrupted by World War I, the NHA reorganized, and on November 22, 1917 in Montreal's Windsor Hotel, the National Hockey League (NHL) was born. Within a few years the PCHA would merge with the Western Hockey League (WHL), although the enterprise would eventually fail. The Stanley Cup and the business of major league hockey would be the exclusive domain of the NHL--and of Canada.
If the NHL was to thrive, its leaders knew that it had to incorporate larger American cities. The league wanted to add New York and Boston for the 1924-25 season, but the owner of New York's Madison Square Garden, Tex Rickard, was reluctant to invest in ice-making equipment and declined the invitation. The target for Boston ownership was Charles Adams, a grocery-chain magnate who had soured on hockey after sponsoring an amateur team and learning that rival clubs had been making illicit payments to players. The NHL convinced Adams to attend the 1924 Stanley Cup finals between Calgary and the Montreal Canadiens. Excited by the kind of play he witnessed, Adams agreed to pay $15,000 to purchase a NHL franchise and, in the process, brought Boston the distinction of being the first American city in the league.
Adams quickly hired the now-legendary Art Ross as general manager, coach, and scout. Ross was one of the most innovative men to ever be involved in the game. He designed the goal net, introduced the first helmet, standardized the puck, and was the first coach to employ the tactic of removing the goalie in favor of an extra skater when trailing late in the game. He also had an excellent eye for talent, bringing to Boston its first superstar player, Eddie Shore, although he had passed the first time he had the chance to sign the great defenseman.
Aside from hiring a coach, Adams needed a name for his new team, and it had to fit within specific guidelines. Most importantly, the team uniform had to be brown with yellow trim, to match the color scheme of his chain of Brookside Stores. Second, the team name 'should preferably relate to an untamed animal whose name was synonymous with size, strength, agility, ferocity and cunning, and in the color brown category.' Numerous suggestions came from local newspapers and sports fans. Dissatisfied with all of the choices, Adams finally selected the name Bruins, which had been submitted by his secretary, who ran a Montreal sporting goods store part-time.
Bruins Begin Play in the Boston Garden in 1928
The Bruins began play in the Boston Arena, finishing last in the six-team NHL in their first season. Fan support was strong enough, however, to prompt Adams to spend money to bring in better talent. By its third year in the league, with Eddie Shore now in the lineup, the Bruins made the Stanley Cup finals, losing to Ottawa but firmly establishing themselves with the city of Boston. Following the cup loss, the team would receive 29,000 applications for tickets. Unhappy after four years of paying rent to the Boston Arena, Adams began to explore other accommodations. Rickard, who was looking to establish a string of Madison Square Gardens across the country, signed Adams to a five-year lease for $500,000, and within a year he built an arena on property of the Maine Railroad over Boston's North Station. Always the showman, Rickard opened Boston Madison Square Garden ('Madison Square' would soon be dropped) by having President Calvin Coolidge turn on the lights from the White House by means of a key fashioned out of Yukon gold. The Bruins played their first game at the Garden on November 20, 1928. Although the team lost to the Montreal Canadiens 1-0, it would draw 17,500 patrons, 3,000 more than the new arena was supposed to hold. At the end of the season, the Bruins would also be crowned Stanley Cup champions for the first time in franchise history.
Over the next dozen years, the Bruins would enjoy success on and off the ice, as Weston Adams took control of the team for the family. With Eddie Shore serving as the Garden's primary draw, the team won Stanley Cups in 1939 and 1941 before World War II broke the club's momentum. The Depression years of the 1930s, however, were difficult for other members of the NHL, which went from being a ten-team league split into two divisions in 1930-31 to being a six-team league by the 1942-43 season.
The so-called era of the 'Original Six' teams in the NHL was, for the most part, one of stability but little growth, lasting through the 1966-67 season. For the Bruins it was a generation of limited success. WHDH, a Boston radio station, began to broadcast the games, and the team generally made the playoffs, although it lacked the talent to compete for the cup with Montreal, Toronto, and Detroit. Perhaps the lowest point in its history for the Bruins' franchise came in 1950 when the team missed the playoffs, its minor league system was in shambles, and attendance dropped below 6,000 per game. Boston Garden Arena Corporation purchased a 60 percent interest, and Weston Adams resigned as president to work as a stockbroker. He turned over day-to-day management of the team to Walter Brown. At one point Brown had to borrow money from B & M Railroad to keep the team running. It was in 1952, under Brown, that the Bruins were incorporated as the Boston Professional Hockey Association.
The measure of Bruins' success in the 1950s was simply making the playoffs, a goal that four out of the six teams in the NHL would meet. By 1960, however, even that accomplishment would be beyond the reach of the talent-poor club. During the first seven seasons of the 1960s Boston finished in last place six times. Adams relieved Brown in 1964 and resumed control of the club. The fortunes of the Bruins would begin to change when 33-three-year-old Harry Sinden took over as coach for the 1966-67 season, although the seeds of what was to become another Stanley Cup championship team may have been planted as early as 1960. That was when Bruins' scouts first spotted a 5′2″, 110-pound, 12-year old playing in an Ontario bantam tournament. His name was Bobby Orr, and he was destined to become one of the greatest players ever. The Bruins signed him to a contract to play for a Bruins junior team when he was 14, then signed him to a record-breaking NHL contract when he was 18.
Although the Bruins would again finish in last place for the 1966-67 season, Bobby Orr was named rookie of the year, and interest in the team was clearly on the rise. Average attendance was up almost 2,000 per game, and the games were sold out 18 times. The following season, when the NHL expanded from six to twelve teams, the Bruins would finish third in their division and make the playoffs for the first time in eight years, although they would be quickly eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens. Average attendance increased by another 800. The 1967-68 season also introduced what would become something of a New England tradition: WSBK TV 38 telecasts of Bruin games with Don Earle doing play-by-play commentary.
The Bruins finished second in their division in 1968-69 and won their opening-round series before again losing to Montreal. Every home game was sold out, and with good reason. Not only did Orr win his second consecutive Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenseman, he set the record for points and goals in a season by a defenseman. Teammate Phil Esposito won the Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer, becoming the first in NHL history to record 100 points. He also took the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. The following season the Bruins would tie for the best record in the league and go on to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1941. Although he had brought the cup to Boston after only four years of coaching the team, Sinden was denied a raise by Adams and resigned to accept a business opportunity outside of hockey.
With Tom Johnson as coach, the Bruins would enjoy a splendid regular 1970-71 season, outpacing the league in win and goals scored by a wide margin, only to be upset by the Canadiens in the playoffs. Determined to avenge themselves, the Bruins regained the cup the following season. The 1972-73 season would see the Bruins lose key players to a new rival league, The World Hockey Association (WHA), as well as to NHL expansion teams. As a result, the team would finish second in its division and lose in the opening round of the playoffs. In the meantime, Sinden, after his business venture went bankrupt, coached Canada to victory in the historic 1972 series against the Soviet Union. He was then brought back to the Bruins as general manager, a position he would hold for the next 28 seasons.
The Adams Family Relinquishes Control in 1975
In August 1973 the Boston Garden Arena Corporation merged with the Storer Broadcasting Corporation (owner of WSBK-TV), leaving Storer as the official owner of the team, although Weston Adams remained in charge. The team returned to the Stanley Cup finals in the spring of 1974, but was upset by the Philadelphia Flyers, the first of the expansion teams to win a championship. The 1974-75 season would see the Bruins again fall in the opening round of the playoffs. It would also be the last season the team would be under the control of the Adams family. In 1975 Sportsystems Corporation of Buffalo, New York, would purchase the Boston Garden and the Bruins from Storer Broadcasting for $10 million.
Sportsystems was the business created by three brothers: Charles, Marvin, and Louis Jacobs. As children they shined shoes, peddled newspapers, and sold popcorn in a Buffalo theater and sundries at a minor league baseball park. In 1926 they established Sportservice when they landed the concessions' contracts at minor league ballparks in Buffalo and Syracuse. By 1930 the brothers had gotten their first contract with a major league baseball park, Tiger Stadium in Detroit. In 1939 the brothers formed Sportsystems to run the horse and greyhound tracks that they had acquired. Over the years, Louis Jacobs also owned minor league baseball and minor league hockey teams. His son, Jeremy M. Jacobs, would own the Cincinnati Royals of the National Basketball Association in the 1960s. In 1968 he would become chairman and chief executive officer of Sportsystems, which would eventually be renamed Delaware North Companies Inc. Ten years after purchased the Bruins, direct ownership would pass to Jeremy Jacobs, who would continue to live in Buffalo while Sinden ran the franchise in Boston.
Although the Bruins would not win another Stanley Cup, and the Orr years ended abruptly (due to the defenseman's many crippling knee injuries), the team consistently made the playoffs for 29 years straight. The Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup finals in 1977, 1978, 1988, and 1990. Attendance, however, never matched the Orr years. The Garden, as beloved as it may have been by hardcore Bruins' fans, was far from the ideal venue for a hockey franchise. During the 1988 Stanley Cup finals a game had to be postponed because of a power failure in the building. Furthermore, as player salaries escalated in all professional sports, it was becoming imperative that franchises generate as many revenue streams as possible, especially hockey clubs, which did not command the same level of television money as the other major team sports. Premium seating, both luxury boxes and club seats, were becoming essential to a team's bottom line.
At a cost of $160 million, Jacobs and Delaware North Companies privately financed and built a new arena near the Garden for the Bruins, as well as the basketball team, the Celtics. The FleetCenter opened on September 30, 1995. Maximum capacity was 19,850 people, and the center had 4,000 premium seats and 104 luxury suites (ranging in price from $200,000 to $300,000 per season) and 2,500 club seats (ranging in price from $11,000 to $15,000 per season). Delaware North also provided food service, the sales of which contributed 25 percent of the FleetCenter's annual revenues.
Ironically, the team's success in building a new arena would coincide with the Bruins failure to make the playoffs for the first time in a generation. As management struggled to find new stars to lead the team and the right man to serve as coach, it continued to serve as a model of consistency for the league. Both Jacobs and Sinden remained highly respected and influential leaders of the NHL. In November 2000 Sinden turned over his general manager's position to long-time assistant Mike O'Connell, but remained the team's president. With Jacob's Delaware North as one of the top private companies in the world, there's every reason to expect that his Bruins in their new FleetCenter will eventually recapture the glory they knew in the Boston Garden.
Principal Competitors: Buffalo Sabres: Montreal Canadiens; Toronto Maple Leafs; Ottawa Senators.