BOSTON (AP) _ The hand on the purse strings has changed now that Mike O'Connell has succeeded Harry Sinden as general manager of the Boston Bruins. The grip is just as strong.

Free agents looking to break the bank can look elsewhere.

``We want to pay fairly,'' O'Connell said Thursday. ``If there's a $10 million player (available), I think, personally, I prefer to go with five $2 million players.''

Like Sinden, often maligned for holding the line on salaries, O'Connell takes his cue from Jeremy Jacobs, the team's owner for 26 seasons and chairman of Delaware North Companies in Buffalo.

O'Connell has handled many negotiations in seven seasons as assistant general manager. With his promotion Wednesday, he has the final say on player acquisitions.

But Sinden will remain active, continuing as club president for the 12th year and team governor at NHL meetings. His last hiring in 28-plus seasons as general manager was Mike Keenan, who succeeded the fired Pat Burns as coach last week.

``He was able to be fiscally responsible and I know he's taken a lot of criticism for that,'' Keenan said, ``but if any of us owned the hockey club, we'd want Harry as the manager because he found a way to be competitive every year.

``I hope that we can find a balance between the needs of the hockey club and the economics of the industry,'' said Keenan, who was told of Sinden's plans to step down before being hired.

Sinden's 68 but he has a youthful enthusiasm for the game.

So it hurt when, with Burns as coach, he no longer mingled with players and coaches in the locker room.

``I really miss the back and forth with the players in the last three years. That's what I enjoyed the most,'' Sinden said. ``I just didn't feel comfortable. I sensed it and it may not have been true at all. Pat may tell you differently.

``I was welcome, but I just sensed that it was not the place it had been in the past.''

Sinden said he thought about relinquishing his general manager title for several seasons. He nearly fired Burns after last season, so he wanted to stick around until he decided whether to keep him or replace him.

After he fired Burns, the time seemed right.

``I did not want to leave Mike O'Connell with that decision,'' Sinden said. ``I felt that once I changed coaches, it was also time to change managers.''

The Bruins were 3-4-1 under Burns, who left after four straight losses. Under Keenan, they're 1-2-0-1.

Sinden said Jacobs ``encouraged'' him to stay on only as president so that by the time he went into full retirement, O'Connell already would be in place as general manager.

O'Connell, who spent 15 seasons as an NFL defenseman with Chicago, Boston and Detroit, has a contract through next season.

He said he talked with seven or eight teams the past few days about a trade for holdout forward Anson Carter. With his top two goalies injured, he's looking for help there, too.

And when a decision is made to acquire players, it will be his, not Sinden's.

``Now that my role has been more defined as general manager,'' O'Connell said, ``when I go down and speak to the players and coaches, they know it's coming from the guy whose pulling the strings.''

But Sinden will be around to advise him on player acquisitions and other issues.

``I'm a little melancholy but not sad,'' Sinden said. ``If I was walking away from hockey I might be pretty down, but I'm not. I'm going to be very much involved.''

Jason Allison, Boston's high-scoring center who has had contract disputes with Sinden, doesn't see much changing.

``I'm not sure this is going to affect any of us (players) very much,'' he said.

Sinden coached the Bruins to their 1970 Stanley Cup triumph. The last time they won it was in 1972 under Tom Johnson. Sinden became general manager after that season.

His proudest moment with the Bruins?

``I'd like to say it was winning the Stanley Cup as general manager, but I can't,'' he said. ``I'm looking forward to the two Mikes installing their thoughts.''

One thing that isn't changing is Sinden's focus on the bottom line.

Asked if he had a message for fans as he stepped down, he answered with a smile:

``Buy some tickets.''