Bruins fire general manager O'Connell
BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins fired general manager Mike O'Connell on Saturday, telling him he wouldn't be back next season so there was no point in finishing out this one.
Assistant general manager Jeff Gorton will assume the GM's duties for the rest of the season, team president Harry Sinden said before the Bruins' game against the Buffalo Sabres.
"When you think something has to be done ... you have to do it," Sinden said. "It was not proper to let him keep doing what he was doing -- signing players, making plans for the future -- when we knew that at the end of the year we were going to relieve him of his job."
O'Connell was not surprised by the decision.
"Whenever you don't win in professional sports and you're the general manager of the team, this is to be expected," he said from his home in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
O'Connell said he hadn't decided whether to get right back into hockey, but said he wanted to get back into shape after letting his conditioning slide in six years on the job. Asked if he would watch the game that night, he said, "I haven't thought about it."
Sinden's hand-picked choice as his successor, O'Connell takes the fall for the Bruins' disastrous decision to purge their roster of long-term contracts heading into the NHL lockout. Instead of the spending spree they thought they were preparing for, the new agreement with the players left Boston with no advantage and O'Connell was forced to scramble to fill out a roster.
Still, O'Connell boldly said that the Bruins could contend for their first Stanley Cup victory since 1972.
"That was the strategy we took and I'll live with it," he said. "That's the way it goes."
But the team started poorly and in November traded Joe Thornton, a former overall No. 1 pick, to the San Jose Sharks. Earlier this month, the Bruins traded the talented but often injured Sergei Samsonov, another former first-round draft pick, to the Edmonton Oilers.
"Management traded away whatever they felt would improve the team," Sinden said, stressing the O'Connell alone should not shoulder the blame for those deals. Making a change in the front office, "was not on our minds at that point."
Boston beat Buffalo 5-4 Saturday to improve to 28-32-12. The Bruins are well out of the postseason picture in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
"We fell out of it pretty substantially," Sinden said.
Sinden said the move does not affect coach Mike Sullivan. "We'll probably address that at some later date," Sinden said.
Gorton is in his 14th season with the Bruins and his sixth as the team's assistant GM. He will be among the candidates for the job when the team hires a less temporary replacement after the season.
"Obviously, it's a difficult day," Gorton said. "I have worked with Mike for a long time. He's a good friend of mine.
"Certainly, this is a job I've always wanted and dreamed of having. But, under the circumstances, it isn't how I'd have drawn it up.
The 50-year-old O'Connell played parts of six seasons in Boston during a 13-year NHL career. He was in his sixth year as GM after six years as Sinden's hand-picked assistant. With O'Connell in charge, the Bruins twice topped 100 points but never made it out of the first round of the playoffs.
"Coming in and getting that bomb dropped on us was heartfelt, of course," said Bruins right wing Tom Fitzgerald, who signed with the Bruins in 2004. "I am so grateful for Mike O'Connell to give me an opportunity to live out a childhood dream -- to come to Boston and put on the Bruins sweater. On the flip side, I feel responsible for him losing his job."
In 2003-04, the Bruins went 41-26-15 -- the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and won their second Northeast Division title in three years. But the Montreal Canadiens eliminated Boston in the first round of the playoffs in seven games.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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