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Friday, February 28, 2014

Happy Trails to Steve Gregory, a Truly Terrible NFL Safety

I'm not exactly sure how he flew under the radar so much for the two seasons that he was a Patriot but can we all agree that safety Steve Gregory is absolutely terrible? He's undersized, slow, injury prone and gets burned time after time every week by anyone that he's supposed to cover. With nine years in the league, I have to wonder how a bum like him has lasted this long. Oh well, I bring good news this afternoon since New England has released him.

By dumping him, the Pats save $2.85 million which leaves them with $12.35 million under the salary cap. I could sit here and pretend that this means that the Patriots will use every cent of it to give Tom Brady more weapons and get more playmakers on defense like they desperately need to win another Super Bowl. Sadly, we know how this will likely play out: New England searches for the next Gregory and sign a couple stiffs just like him.

Not having Gregory won't automatically translate to more wins or success for New England but all we can hope is that this signals that they realize they need to change their scouting approach. The two important dates to remember for the NFL: free agency begins March 11 and the NFL Draft starts on May 8. By then, the 2014 Patriots' roster will take shape.

Tankapalooza 2013-14 Rolls On: Gerald Wallace (Knee) Done for the Season

I find it harder and harder to write about the Celtics (20-39), not that I'm complaining, since how many different ways can you talk about hopeless losses that happen a couple times per week? That's why my tanking updates have been so sporadic. Today, I had to chime in since reports surfaced that veteran forward Gerald Wallace is done for the season with a torn meniscus in his knee.

Losing Wallace isn't a big deal since he's pretty much washed up, averaging a measly 5.1 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game. At 31, he was the elder statesman of the Celtics and he seemed to take losing harder than most since he probably realizes his NBA career is rapidly coming to a close.

If you are a sarcastic bastard like me, you understand that Wallace being out for the final 23 games is probably a good thing since it means that this team that lacks almost any leadership or direction now has even less.

D-League fans will be thrilled to see another product on the Celts: guard Chris Babb was signed to a 10-day contract. Hopefully head coach Brad Stevens starts him from day one and plays him 40 minutes a night. Why not, right?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Any Type of Loss to the Sabres is Pathetic, No Excuses

1-12-5. That was Jhonas Enroth's (29 saves) absurdly poor record coming into tonight's matchup with the Bruins at First Niagara Center. To make it a little more fair, Boston (37-16-5) started Chad Johnson instead of Tuukka Rask who is still recovering from Sochi. Of course, that backfired as Buffalo (17-34-8) won 5-4 in overtime thanks to Loui Eriksson's turnover and Matt D'Agostini's speed to get by a very slow Zdeno Chara (both those guys had also returned from the Olympics).

You can't say that the B's really deserved this though, even against the worst team in the NHL. The Sabres scored first on a power play goal by my man Zemgus Girgensons (best name in the NHL nominee) and built a 3-1 lead before Boston began to play like the far superior team that they are. Milan Lucic's power play goal at 9:43 of the third period, his 18th of the season from Torey Krug and Jarome Iginla, handed them their only lead at 4-3.

Buffalo tied it with 52 seconds left in regulation as Matt Moulson, coming soon to another team near you, beat Johnson with an extra attacker on for the Sabres. At least D'Agostini got it over with quickly-22 seconds into the extra session-no need to spend more time than you have to in Buffalo.

Chris Kelly scored Boston's first goal post-Sochi just like we all predicted, at 10:47 of the first period from Carl Soderberg (sweet no-look backhand sauce) and Matt Bartkowski. It was Kelly's fifth goal of the season.

The refs obviously felt bad for the Sabres as they let Tyler Myers slash and punch Brad Marchand but only Boston's pesky winger received a penalty. Wouldn't you know that Myers scored on the ensuing Buffalo power play, it was that kind of shitty night. Lynnfield native Brian Flynn made it 3-1 Buffalo on a fluttering puck midway through the second and I half expected Niklas Svedberg to make his second appearance of the season.

Chara cut it to 3-2 at 11:01 of the second with his 14th goal of the season (9th on the power play) from Lucic and Krug. Marchand got some revenge on Buffalo when he tied it at three thanks to a sloppy turnover by John Scott (who they have playing defense, seriously) and pass by Reilly Smith. He leads the Bruins with 20 goals on the season, not too shabby.

Boston will have a couple days to stew over this uneven performance before they host Washington (27-23-9) on Saturday (1, NESN) at TD Garden. It promises to be a busy weekend for the B's since they travel to New York to face the Rangers on Sunday night as well, don't they know that The Oscars are on at the same time?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Most of All, I Applaud Chris Capuano For Getting the Hell Out of Springfield, MA

If you grew up in New England, you understand how hard it is for a local guy to make it as a pro in baseball since many factors (terrible weather, short season, bad competition) are against us from day one. For that simple reason, it's always extra special to see someone from here join the Red Sox. Today, Boston signed veteran lefty Chris Capuano (of Springfield, MA fame) to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million with incentives that could make it up to $5 million.

This will be Capuano's 10th year in MLB and he turns 36 in August so who knows how many years he has left in the majors. He won't be traveling to Cooperstown, NY anytime soon except as a paying customer but that doesn't mean he hasn't cobbled together a respectable career: 73-83 with 4.27 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. His best year record-wise was 2005 in Milwaukee when he went 18-12 with 3.99 ERA and career-best 176 strikeouts.

The Red Sox are the fifth team that the Springfield Cathedral and Duke product has played for: Diamondbacks, Brewers, Mets and Dodgers. I'm just going to assume that he's been a Red Sox fan his entire life. Even if he hasn't, lie to us Chris!

Last season wasn't his best, hence why he was still available with spring training already underway. In 20 starts, he was 4-7 with 4.26 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 81 strikeouts and 24 walks. He only has 29 career relief appearances (4 last season) but with Boston's rotation set, it appears like he is insurance should any of them get hurt or need a break in March before the real bullets start flying in April. Do you really think Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront can last a whole season without a single trip to the DL? Basically, Capuano is a lefty, American version of Ryan Dempster.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ryan Dempster is Probably Retiring, So Am I Supposed to Be Sad or Something?

He seems like a nice enough guy (especially for a baseball player) but am I honestly supposed to be upset that Ryan Dempster is apparently retiring? His one year in Boston was completely forgettable (8-9, 4.57 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 157 strikeouts) save for the time he hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch (his greatest contribution as a Red Sox) and oh by the way, the team won the World Series no thanks to his mediocrity.

Boston returns its entire rotation from last season: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy. Plus, they have Brandon Workman and Henry Owens among other young arms on the cusp of joining said rotation should any of the previously listed guys get hurt or really struggle.

Spring Training-the most boring time of the year-officially began yesterday with pitchers and catchers reporting to Fort Myers, Florida for five months (or so it seems). The lazy Red Sox writers were surely thrilled to have their first real news item fall into their laps like this. I look forward to all the hot takes telling me how important Dempster really was on Yawkey Way. Haha yeah right.

Dempster (who will turn 37 in May) pitched parts of 16 MLB seasons with five different teams which is amazing when you consider his lack of stuff save for a decent fastball. Fittingly for a guy that I would describe as slightly above average, his career record is 132-133 with 87 saves. The highlights of his career had to be 2008 with the Cubs when he was an All-Star (after he converted back to starting from closing) and last season with Boston where he captured his first World Series crown.

The only part of this sappy story that interests me (hence why I bothered to blog about it) is that Dempster forfeited $13.25 million that he would have earned this season. The Red Sox are now free to use that in other ways. I'm guessing that Dempster (a proud Canadian) retired this week so that he could fully concentrate on what he really cares about: Team Canada hockey in the Sochi Olympics.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jared Sullinger Named Eastern Conference Player of the Week

Very quietly this season (since nobody is watching), second-year power forward/center Jared Sullinger has turned into the second best player on the Celtics. Today, he was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. It is the second time that a Celtic has won it this year, joining Jordan Crawford (long gone and now on Golden State).

With the NBA trade deadline a week from Thursday, there have been plenty of trade rumors involving numerous players currently on Boston: Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass among others. I try not to pay too much attention to those until the top reporters (Woj!) are talking about it but I have to say that other than maybe Rondo, Sullinger is the one guy I want the Celtics to keep. Green is way too up and down, Avery Bradley is always hurt and still can't really shoot consistently while Bass is one-dimensional.

Sullinger has his own injury history with his bad back but if he's on the court, odds are that he's playing well. Unlike most young players in the NBA, he knows how to play the game. That's why he's made it this far since he's not athletic or particularly tall. His dad was a high school coach and you can tell he's been around the game forever.

In all three games last week (where the C's went 2-1, ugh), he posted double doubles: 19 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks at Philadelphia; 31 points and 16 rebounds vs. Sacramento; 11 points and 12 rebounds vs. Dallas. For the season, he's averaging 13.4 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game as he's been starting at center with the other lack of big guy options on this lottery team.

I'm not going to lie to you and say that it's worth it to watch Celtics games this season just to see Sullinger but if you have no other options and you get stuck watching them, Sullinger is a nice piece and hopefully a part of the future when they'll be relevant again in another few years.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Perfect Way to Head Into the Olympic Break: Bruins Embarass the Senators, 7-2

Only one team showed up to TD Garden this afternoon, or at least that's what you'd think if you saw the game or caught the final score. The Bruins (37-16-4) rolled over the Senators (26-22-11) 7-2 and it didn't even feel that close. Today was the final day of action for the NHL which now takes a break until February 26 because of the Sochi Olympics.

Chad Johnson (26 saves) won his fifth straight start to improve to 11-3-0. His emergence has been one of the more underrated subplots this season. For the first few months, he looked like a major liability (remember Niklas Svedberg got a start) but lately he's been excellent. Boston use to pick and choose his spots vs. the worst teams but these days, he's beaten good teams as well.

Obviously when you hang seven on an NHL team, the offense was the main story. The B's were relentless: scoring two goals in the first and second periods with three in the third. Zdeno Chara is already in Sochi (did you hear?) and Tuukka Rask got some rest but the other three Bruins headed to Russia had multiple points: Patrice Bergeron (2 goals, 1 assist), David Krejci (2 assists) and Loui Eriksson (2 assists). Jarome Iginla and Carl Soderberg also had a goal and assist while Reilly Smith added two assists. All that was missing for Boston was a goal by Matt Bartkowski (he doesn't have one yet this season).

It's hard to imagine the Senators playing much worse. They spotted the Bruins a 3-0 lead by the second period; Bobby Ryan cut it to 3-1 but Patrick Wiercioch's power play goal didn't come until it was 6-1 Boston in the third. The season series ended 2-2 with the Senators scoring eight goals in their two games at home but only two at TD Garden. The B's won both of their games at home by five goals (tied for the largest margin of victory by them this season).

There is only one more Bruins game in February: February 26 in Buffalo. Boston's next home game isn't until March 1 vs. Washington. Now excuse me while I go cry for weeks.

On a serious note: with all the issues surrounding Sochi, it feels like this will be the last time that the NHL allows its stars to compete in the Olympics. Therefore, you should pay extra close attention since this wonderful tournament could be the final one for all the big names. Go USA!

Friday, February 7, 2014

An Overtime Loss to the Blues Isn't the End of the World

Not every point feels the same in the NHL, some are much more difficult to come by and therefore you have to enjoy those differently. Tonight at Scottrade Center was that kind of story as the Bruins lost 3-2 to the Blues in overtime on a goal by T.J. Oshie (go Team USA!). However, Boston (36-16-4) rallied from down 2-0 in the third period against St. Louis (38-12-6)-one of the top teams in the league-to earn a point.

It must be noted that the B's lost both games vs. the Blues this season (3-2 in a shootout at TD Garden) but still gained two points. The way it played out, the valiant comeback was the story line. Of course, I have to mention that Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had skipped this contest to hold Slovakia's flag at the Olympic opening ceremonies-I guess that is a valid excuse.

St. Louis scored first as Alexander Steen's career year continued. Boston's defense gave him too much space and he made them pay with a slap shot by Tuukka Rask (24 saves) at 15:48 of the second period. It was his 28th goal of the season-4th best in the NHL and tied with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Sharp. Ever hear of them?

Rookie Kevan Miller got in Rask's way and it cost them as Jaden Schwartz beat him at 3:32 of the second period for a 2-0 Blues lead. The Bruins poured 24 shots on Jaroslav Halak (Chara's countryman) in the first two periods. They finally cracked him about midway through the third. David Krejci scored at 9:16 from Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic. It was Krejci's 13th goal of the season.

2:08 after Krejci's goal, Brad Marchand tied it on his 18th goal of the season, assists to Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug. Krejci's goal was prettier since it the end of a sweet passing sequence. Marchand's was simply a rebound that he put in from a tough angle. Regardless, they're all worth the same. I felt like the B's would pull it out since they possessed all the momentum but the Blues handed them their first OT loss of the season (they had been 4-0).

This is it, Boston wraps up play before the Olympic break on Saturday afternoon (3, NESN) vs. Ottawa (26-21-11, 6th in Atlantic Division). No doubt the Bruins want a good taste in their mouth when many of them will be off for 2.5 weeks. It's all about beating the Senators before some much deserved rest then warp speed through the final 25 games in the regular season.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Just Like Old Times: Bruins Beat the Canucks

The stakes were just a tad lower but it was still very enjoyable to see the Bruins come out on top vs. the Canucks, 3-1 this evening at TD Garden. Due to some poor play against Vancouver (27-22-9) and the lockout last season, Boston (36-16-3) last beat the Canucks in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. The B's got a little payback after the Canucks embarrassed them 6-2 on December 14 in the city that riots like no other.

It is a shame that these teams won't see each other again this season, unless it is in the Final, because they sure do hate each other. Not only did the Bruins send the Canucks to their fifth straight loss but they physically beat them up all over the ice led by Johnny Boychuk.

Boston was always in control as they scored first and opened up a 2-0 lead before Vancouver's tired legs (games on back-to-back nights) found temporary traction. Milan Lucic made it 1-0 at 5:12 of the first period, linemates David Krejci and Jarome Iginla assisted on his 16th goal of the season.

Tuukka Rask (27 saves) didn't have to stand on his head or anything but he did make the best/most important save of the game: Lucic and Torey Krug knocked each other over in Boston's zone, hilarious except not really, giving a shorthanded breakaway to Daniel Sedin. Luckily, Rask stopped his shot and later in that same sequence, Iginla scored at 7:59. Iginla's tip in was his 16th goal of the season, assisted by Zdeno Chara and Lucic.

Something named Raphael Diaz, a former Canadiens scrub (traded yesterday) gave the Canucks some hope when his fluttering shot from the point got by Rask at 11:28 of the second period.

Roberto Luongo (29 saves) is still Vancouver's No. 1 goaltender and he continues to be shaky as ever. Not you can blame the final goal-by Daniel Paille-on him. The Bruins forward snuck behind the Canucks' defense and finished a great feed from Johnny Boychuk up the seam. That was Paille's eighth goal of the season,

Chara is off to Sochi to carry Slovakia's flag at the Opening Ceremonies on Friday but his Black and Gold teammates have two games left before the Olympic break: at St. Louis (37-12-6, 2nd in Central Division) on Thursday (8, NESN) then hosting Ottawa on Saturday afternoon (3, NESN). The B's are playing good hockey, mostly their style but who knows how they'll react without Chara-still one of the NHL's most dominant defenseman-in the lineup?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Unless We're Talking About Disney World, Orlando is Pretty Useless

If the Celtics don't get a top pick in June's NBA Draft, one of the first things we'll blame (other than the basketball Gods of course) is the Orlando Magic. Why? Well with Boston's (16-33 overall, 10-15 home) 96-89 win this afternoon at TD Garden, the Celts finished their season series with the Magic (13-36 overall, 3-22 away) 3-1, ugh.

The rare victory for the Celtics snapped a four-game losing streak. It might have been the product of playing another team doing everything they can not to win but Rajon Rondo (19 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals in only 27 minutes) looked way better than any of his other eight performances since returning Jan. 17 vs. Lakers. It was his first double-double of the season and most surprising, he was 9 of 11 from the field including a 3-pointer.

Nobody has ever debated whether Jared Sullinger (21 points, 12 rebounds) was better than Glen Davis (15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals) but this contest served as a further example of how much higher Sullinger's ceiling can be if only he stays healthy for a full season.

Brandon Bass, who was traded for Davis, also played better than the clown they call Big Baby with 19 points and nine rebounds. Avery Bradley (17 points) returned after missing the last five games with a sprained ankle.

Arron Afflalo led Orlando with 18 points, underrated Nikola Vucevic had a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), Tobias Harris added 13 points and five rebounds while promising rookie Victor Oladipo notched 12 points and five assists even though he was bricktastic (3 for 16 from the field, woof!).

Boston has rarely won this season but even more strange to see is them leading from start to finish. The C's were up 27-19 after the first quarter, 54-45 at halftime and 71-64 heading into the fourth quarter. Thanks for playing, Magic.

The Celts shot 8.7% better from the field (50-41.3%), grabbed five more rebounds (44-39) and handed out six more assists (24-18) thanks to Rondo's re-emergence.

It seems like Boston has played a round-robin tournament lately with the other teams in the Eastern Conference trying to tank. After losing on a fantastic Evan Turner buzzer-beater for the Sixers on Wednesday, they go to Philadelphia (15-33 overall, 5th in Atlantic Division) this Wednesday (7, CSN & 98.5 FM).

Oilers Remind Us to Enjoy the Bruins' Success While They are Near the Top

Neither Wayne Gretzky nor his skanky daughter Paulina is not walking through that door. I know I thought the same thing when the Bruins faced the Islanders last week but the Oilers reiterated this cold hard fact to me: dynasties or great teams in the NHL (or any sport) don't last forever. I use the Islanders and Oilers as an example since no team was more dominant than them in the 80s and early 90s but what have they done since then? Today, Edmonton (18-33-6) came to TD Garden and left with a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Bruins (35-16-3) in their back pocket.

Boston swept the two-game season series with Edmonton, outscoring them 8-2. Besides Andrew Ference's return to the Garden and the ultra rare Chad Johnson (22 saves) shutout-the second of his NHL career-there really wasn't much to this one. Frankly the Oilers are a disgrace and I don't know how any of their fans have stuck with them the last decade as they've continually bungled top draft picks or simply not developed them properly. But hey, I hear the weather is great in Edmonton this time of year.

They served as the perfect cupcake for the B's who were licking their wounds a bit after Thursday's lifeless 4-1 loss to the Canadiens. Boston outshot Edmonton 9-2 in the first period but couldn't beat Ben Scrivens (37 saves). That changed in the second period as David Krejci fired a power play shot from the point that deflected off an Oiler and in the net at 2:06. Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic assisted on Krejci's 12th goal of the season.

Edmonton had to be thrilled to only trail 1-0 heading into the third period but that didn't last for long as Dougie Hamilton made it 2-0 at 6:43. He followed his own rebound and wrapped around the goal-somewhere Johnson flinched-and shot it by Scrivens from a tough angle. It was his sixth goal of the season (2nd in as many games), assisted by Zdeno Chara and Carl Soderberg.

Speaking of the one-eyed Swede, he has really become a solid player for the Bruins. He's played some center the last two games with Chris Kelly returning to the lineup and getting his feet under him. Soderberg put this out of reach at 13:05 when he roofed a snipe of a shot for his eighth goal of the season, 3-0 Boston. Kelly and Matt Bartkowski had the assists.

The Bruins added one more power play goal, their prettiest score of the afternoon, when Torey Krug (12th goal of the season) finished tic-tac-toe passing from Chara and Iginla at 15:42.

Boston wraps up this four-game homestand on Tuesday (7, NESN) vs. Vancouver (27-20-9, 4th in Pacific Division). There are plenty of subplots in that game already: 1) John Tortorella returns from his suspension. 2) It is Chara's last game before he leaves for Sochi (he's the flag-bearer for Slovakia at the Opening Ceremonies). 3) The Canucks smoked the B's 6-2 on Dec. 14 in Vancouver, something which Boston's coaches will be sure to remind the players a few times between now and Tuesday night.

UPDATE 2/3: The Bruins recalled defenseman David Warsofsky from Providence.