June 2010


Mark Recchi: Back for another season in Boston.

The Boston Bruins’ 2009-10 campaign was an up-and-down affair, and in case you’ve forgotten, it ended in horrifying fashion.

Change was expected, but every season sees change. Coming off a 2008-09 where they led the East in points, the Bruins still let P.J. Axelsson, Stephane Yelle and Manny Fernandez leave, traded Aaron Ward, and brought in Derek Morris, all moves designed to strengthen weaknesses and give more space to their youngsters.

Injuries, regressions and underachieving followed, and Peter Chiarelli and company are back trying to make it all better. Honestly, they’re not that far away, but moves need to be made, and let’s see what they’ve done so far in what has been a very busy week.

We’ll look quickly at who’s expected to make the team at the outset of the 2010-11 season, meaning while all their draft picks are exciting, there’s really only one who’s likely to be in Prague for the opener.

IN:

C – Tyler Seguin: The second pick in the 2010 draft, delivered to them when the Edmonton Oilers selected RW Taylor Hall with the first pick. Hall plays a bruising, fast style on the wing and is a natural goal scorer, while Seguin is a more natural playmaker who might have to play out of position in Boston. For my money, I’ll always take a natural center over a wing. On a team loaded at center (Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci down the middle), Seguin has a chance to play on any line right away and contribute. And the Bruins won’t always be stocked; the 18-year-old might only play one season out of position (and less if they make a trade).

C – Gregory Campbell: According to the mighty Mick Colageo, Campbell is set up to replace Steve Begin, who showed flashes and was a good teammate, but never quite put it together (playing hurt for much of the season couldn’t have helped). But I’ll take my chances with a hard-working grinder on the fourth line.

RW – Nathan Horton: He was among the many who have been distraught over the thought of spending any more time with the Panthers, and he brings his goal scoring talents to Boston. His totals the past five seasons, playing without a real center? 28, 31, 27, 22, 20.

OUT:

D – Dennis Wideman: Hahahahahahahahaha.

C – Vladimir Sobotka: A tough little playmaker capable of sending someone into the 9th row at any moment, but he was streaky, and with the additions of Seguin and Campbell, was never going to get a real chance here. Good luck to him in St. Louis; I hope he enjoys terrorizing the Western Conference.

LIKELY OUT:

C – Steve Begin; RW – Miroslav Satan: Good guys all, and Satan was huge in the playoffs until his linemate Krejci went down.

RE-SIGNED FREE ANGENTS:

D – Johnny Boychuck: Tough, bruising, smart and getting better. It’s nearly thrilling to know he’ll be in the fold for two more years.

D – Dennis Seidenberg: Coming over at the trade deadline for Derek Morris, Seidenberg proved a perfect foil for Zdeno Chara on the top pair. He’s a smart, puck-moving defenseman who can be physical when he needs to be, can anchor a power play and can shut down a top forward. He’s on board for another four years.

D – Andrew Ference: Wideman is gone because he couldn’t play an even game; he was either inspiring or horrifying. Ference has had more than his share of injuries, and his three-year extension seemed strange when he signed at the end of the season. But when Ference plays, he’s solid and rarely makes mistakes. He’s either very good, or he’s not playing. Maybe that’s what Chiarelli is paying for.

RW – Mark Recchi: He and Bergeron were my favorite Bruins last year. His point production at age 42 was incredible, and now he gets one more year to teach the finer points to Seguin and the rest.

RW – Shawn Thornton: Thornton is a fantastic teammate, offers up 8-10 high-energy minutes a night, knocks people out, and says funny things. Welcome back!

OFFERED CONTRACT TENDERS (meaning they’ll be back):

D – Mark Stuart; D – Adam McQuaid; LW – Blake Wheeler; LW – Daniel Paille (or will be soon, reportedly): Stuart is solid and potentially captain material when healthy, McQuaid was decent in the pinch, Wheeler is talented but maddening, and Paille was fantastic on the penalty kill, but had trouble finishing off his scoring chances, which he seemed to pull out of the air. I’m fine with all of them getting another look.

So, what could the Bruins look like in five months?

Forward lines:

17 Milan Lucic  –  91 Marc Savard  –  18 Nathan Horton

19 Tyler Seguin  –  37 Patrice Bergeron  –  28 Mark Recchi

26 Blake Wheeler  –  46 David Krejci  –  73 Michael Ryder

20 Daniel Paille   –  11 Gregory Campbell  –  22 Shawn Thornton

Defense:

33 Zdeno Chara  –  44 Dennis Seidenberg

21 Andrew Ference  –  55 Johnny Boychuck

48 Matt Hunwick  –  45 Mark Stuart

Goaltenders:

40 Tuukka Rask

30 Tim Thomas

In the system:

16 Marco Sturm (knee injury)  –  63 Brad Marchand, 52 Zach Hamill, 54 Adam McQuaid, XX Joe Colbourne, 62 Jeffrey Penner, XX Jordan Caron (Providence)

*This list edited with new jersey numbers on 6/30

Thoughts? Not a bad looking group. I’m not crazy about Hunwick, and with $5 million, give or take, in cap room, I have to think another move is coming up front, whether that means Savard leaves (which makes no sense in a hockey sense; a pure money move), Thomas goes for more goal-scoring punch, or Ryder is finally sent packing.

We’ll see. It’s a long time between now and October, and just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean I don’t have ice on the brain.

Jason Giambi, shown here in his younger days, before the bloated contracts, steroid scandals and bizarre diseases came to define him.

I like to think that I have a sense of humor. For example, after last night’s Red Sox game, I had to just quietly chuckle. How else could I react to Jason Giambi slamming the Sox one more time, seemingly from beyond the grave?

All the elements were there. The Rockies were winless in games this season where they trailed past the seventh inning. Jonathan Papelbon, after 1.3 blank innings from Daniel Bard, had just surrendered the tying home run to Ian Stewart. Ryan Spilborghs moved Clint Barmes to second on a sacrifice, and there it was.

When I saw Giambi on deck, I immediately assumed the worst.

I had sort of forgotten about him, to be honest, and certainly forgotten that he’d re-signed with the Rockies in the offseason. He strode to the plate with a sub-.200 batting average and two home runs, and it was as though none of it mattered.

Here’s a guy who, after winning the 2000 MVP with the Oakland A’s, signed with the New York Yankees for 2002 and came into the Red Sox’ consciousness. And, even through steroid accusations (and half-apologies) and a series of strange ailments (staph infections in both eyes in 2003, a benign tumor and an intestinal parasite in 2004, walking into a door in 2008 and splitting his eyelid, etc.), he had a knack for knocking the Red Sox around. Examples:

  • In the infamous Grady Little-Pedro game of the 2003 ALCS, Giambi hit two home runs.
  • He homered off of former Sox prospect Craig Hanson in the 10th inning of a 2006 game to put the Yankees ahead in Fenway Park. Jorge Posada added another three batters later.
  • He kick-started an 8th inning rally off of Hideki Okajima in 2007 with another home run, just his 14th of the year by that Sept. 14.
  • In 2008, he dribbled a single past Josh Beckett in the third inning for the only run of the Yankees’ 1-0 win.
  • And later that year, he drove in the winning runs in the bottom of the ninth off of Papelbon.

This is just a smattering of his work against the Red Sox. I didn’t even try to look for what he might’ve done with Oakland that could be escaping memory. I just know that there’s definitely a history of Giambi beating the Sox, albeit one that I thought was long buried.

So, when Giambi beat the Sox again, I threw up my hands and giggled. Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

So here's Alexi Lalas circa 1993, now a clean-cut talking head on ESPN. He had nothing to do with the win, but I've been looking for an excuse to feature one of my few soccer cards.

I think everyone can be thankful that Landon Donovan prevented another week (or three) of griping about officials.

Donovan, as you surely know by now, put home the game winner in the 92nd minute today against Algeria, propelling the US into the Round of 16 as the Group C winner, 1-0. And if he hadn’t, Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 21st, disallowed on a bogus offside call, would’ve been the second game-winner revoked from the US.

Alas, we don’t have to worry about that. Algeria barely put on an offensive show, and the US kept creating chance after chance, leading to dinged posts and missed marks. The most egregious error on the American side was Jozy Altidore trying to blast the ball to Australia in front of an open net in the first half, when a simple redirection would’ve produced a goal (and a lead).

But in extra time, Dempsey brought the ball in, crashed into Algerian keeper Rais M Bolhi, and Donovan put in the rebound. Also, of course, the US avoided a complete disaster in the final two minutes by just being smart.

Credit to head coach Bob Bradley for being aggressive, subbing in striker Edson Buddle for midfielder Maurice Edu, thus playing three strikers up top with Dempsey and Donovan playing forward and son Michael Bradley consistently joining the attack. A tie would’ve been as good as a loss, so Bradley went for it, and the result was a wide-open game, with the ball crossing the pitch end-to-end, over and over. It was fantastic to watch.

Also of note was the behavior of referee Frank De Bleeckere, who seemed hell-bent on making sure that the US had every opportunity to put another one home, lest another officiating mistake prevent them from moving on. Fouls went against Algeria again and again. Four yellow cards were given to the Africans (including two to defender Anter Yahia, ending his day), versus two for the US (Altidore and Damarcus Beasley). At one point, when Algeria was set to try a late corner kick, another foul was called, and the corner revoked. If the US hadn’t scored again, it wouldn’t have been his fault.

But they did, and the US has a signature moment for the nation’s soccer history, a fantastic goal that propelled them into the next phase of a wide open World Cup. Let’s see where they go next.

If you're driving, the best way to Sunrise, Fla., is to get on the Southeast Expressway to I-95 south, and ride that most of the way down.

And, with just a quick glance at ESPN’s Bruins blog, Tuesday became my own Super Tuesday, all thanks to this note:

The Boston Bruins acquired Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell from the Florida Panthers  on Tuesday, a team source confirmed to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun. TSN first reported the trade.

In return, the Bruins sent Dennis Wideman, Boston’s first-round pick (15th overall) in this year’s draft and the Bruins own third-round pick in 2011.

I mean…  God, it’s just so beautiful, I’ll post the last sentence again, only how I read it initially:

In return, the Bruins sent Dennis Wideman, also known as The Worst Bruin I’ve Ever Seen , Boston’s first-round pick (15th overall) in this year’s draft and the Bruins own third-round pick in 2011.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Alright, now to explain my juvenile giddiness on the exile of no. 6.

In 2008-09, the Bruins had a stellar year, finishing first in the Eastern Conference, and Wideman, who came back in a deal that sent winger Brad Boyes to St. Louis in 2007,  was a key part of that. He established himself as a legitimate no. 2 defenseman playing alongside Zdeno Chara, and probably should have been an All-Star with his 50 points and +32 mark. He was solid and focused in the first year of a four-year deal, and made General Manager Peter Chiarelli’s investment look like a wise one.

Then came 2009-10. He dipped to a -14, 24 points, and night after night was the worst player on the ice. He had to be the worst regular the Bruins have had since I started paying attention (the late 80s/early 90s, give or take). And it wasn’t just that he was bad, he looked like a buffoon. He was at least partially responsible for Tim Thomas’ goals against average jumping up this season. He was routinely scoring for the other team (his two goals for Buffalo late in the season stand out). His passes were all destined for the other team’s sticks. Worst of all, he didn’t seem to care — at all — about the fact that he was playing like someone who was only more than happy to pick up his $4 million check at the end of the year. And when Claude Julien called him out to the media for his terrible play, did his play improve? No. He pouted. And he continued to play like garbage.

I went to four Bruins games this past season, and during those games, Wideman became the first, and likely last, sitting Bruin I’ve ever booed. He was the opposite of everything the Bruins were supposed to be about. He wasn’t tough, he wasn’t gritty, and if he was trying, he was doing his damnedest to make it look like he wasn’t. He was absolutely infuriating. He looked like a guy who didn’t care, because … well, maybe he didn’t care.

In the playoffs, his play, almost inexplicably, picked up, and he wasn’t the severe liability that he had been all season long. But thankfully, Chiarelli could see the damage that Wideman was capable of inflicting on a team when he tries to coast on his now-undeserved salary.

Tuesday night, after work, I went out for a celebratory drink with friends. A dick move? Absolutely. And the trouble with a post like this is that I’m trying to channel two seasons worth of frustrations into a single piece, attempting to illustrate why I’m so happy with his exit. I pride myself on being a rational, empathetic sports fan, always trying to seek out the joy and beauty of the game, and I can’t even be rational about this guy. So, here it is: The Worst Bruin I’ve Ever Seen is gone, and glasses were raised for the other two guys. Whatever their names are.

Horton? Campbell? Yeah. As long as it’s not Wideman.

2008 Topps Mark Reynolds

Mark Reynolds. So many home runs, so many strikeouts.

It’s been a rough year for my adopted National League team.

Lost for me amid the April home run escapades of Mark Reynolds and Kelly Johnson was the fact that the Arizona Diamondbacks can’t seem to win a game. Which, of course, is what baseball teams would prefer to do, typically.

Backtracking a bit, I moved to Arizona at the end of 2006, and started going to see the Diamondbacks at Chase Field (just a few minutes from my house) pretty regularly at the start of the 2007 season. Tickets were cheap (you can sit in the third level for $5) parking was cheap or outright free if you arrived early enough, and most importantly, they were a fun team to watch.

Eric Byrnes was the face of the team and having his best season, and he was a blast. Galloping in left field with his blond hair flopping out the edges of his cap, he would chat with fans sitting in left field, steal bases with reckless abandon (he stole 50 that year) and even hosted “The Eric Byrnes Show” on cable, where you could see him doing things like working out with the NFL’s Cardinals, going shopping for a barbecue or setting up his teammates on dates.

There was more, of course. Brandon Webb was practically unhittable, finishing second in the Cy Young voting the year after winning it. Orlando Hudson was having another gold-glove caliber year at second base and made the All-Star team, and youngsters Chris Young, Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds came onto the scene and made an impact. They blooped their way to the top of the division and even knocked out the Cubs in the Division Series before they surrendered to the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS. A hell of a first year to watch them if there ever was one.

In 2008, they regressed back to the mean slightly, and last year was a full three steps back for the Diamondbacks, for sure. They finished with a record of 70-92, last in the National League West, and fired Bob Melvin (NL Manager of the Year in 2007) in May, replacing him with newcomer A.J. Hinch, who immediately got into disputes with many of the veterans on the team. Eric Byrnes was released at the end of the season, Hudson was allowed to walk before it, and Webb never threw a pitch after opening day.

And it doesn’t take more than a casual glance to see that this year isn’t any better. At 28-43, only the Pittsburgh Pirates are worse in the Senior Circuit. Dan Haren has looked rather mortal, with his 4.71 ERA and 1.332 WHIP. Webb still hasn’t thrown a pitch. Baseball Reference notes today that at -0.9, they’re almost a full run worse than the average team day-in and day-out. And despite the home run exploits of Reynolds and Upton, they’ve already struck out 100 and 92 times, respectfully. Even for Reynolds, who has set major league records in strikeouts the past two seasons, that’s a bit much.

There is some hope. Yesterday, they managed to beat up the Yankees to the tune of 10-3, and that was nice. Rodrigo Lopez struck out two over eight innings, Upton homered twice, and Reynolds and Adam LaRoche each added another.

But, it close to over for me. I’m back on the other side of the country, and the attachment I felt to the team came from seeing them every weekend they were home, and they’re hardly ever on TV now. I’m pulling for them to snap out of this, either this year or the next, but win or lose, it’s going to be a passive kind of support from here on out.

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