October 2010


Big Z will be in Black & Gold for years to come.

In about an hour, the Boston Bruins will kick off their 2010-11 campaign against the Phoenix Coyotes in David Krecji’s backyard, Prague, Czech Republic. I have my jersey out, snacks ready, likely forward lines consumed, salary cap fretted. I am ready to go.

But in the event you aren’t, here are five things to at least think about for the upcoming season. Some are warnings, some are fun things to look forward to, and some are mild predictions. Enjoy.

1. The Bruins are perilously close to the salary cap

As Blackhawk fans know, the $59.4 million cap is nothing to laugh about. The Bruins are currently under, but only to the benefit of Marco Sturm’s recovery from the knee injury he suffered in last year’s playoffs. When he’s healthy, his $3.5M cap number will have to be accounted for, which means someone (Michael Ryder?) will have to go.

2. The progression of Tyler Seguin

With Marc Savard out indefinitely due to post-concussion syndrome, the Bruins’ top pick will center a third line between Ryder and Blake Wheeler. Should Savard come back, or if the Bruins acquire another centerman, Seguin will likely ride the right wing with March Recchi and Patrice Bergeron, the much-heralded “Past, Present and Future” line.

The Bruins haven’t had a high-profile rookie since Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov debuted in 1997-98. Thornton came along slowly, but Samsonov was a blast to watch. It should be fun to watch Seguin grow up.

3. Zdeno Chara’s contract extension

Chara, as of Friday morning, was still hopeful that he could have a new deal before the start of the season, which seems happily optimistic. It’s Saturday morning now, and there’s still no extension, but that doesn’t mean negotiations will go the way of the pumpkin when the puck is dropped at noon, Eastern time. The two sides will likely keep negotiating, as the Bruins are no stranger to signing deals mid-season. Just last year, Tuukka Rask, Milan Lucic and Savard were all made richer after the season started.

Bergeron was given a three-year, $15M extension on Friday. Is Chara’s around the corner?

UPDATE: Chara has just signed a 7-year, $45M extension. Like, just now. Awesome.

4. The return of Milan Lucic

There is no one more fun to watch that Lucic, when healthy. Last year was nearly a lost season, with Lucic not returning to form until late in the playoffs, when he became a wrecking ball in front of the net. With the benefit of the off-season, Lucic should be back to full strength and making all those 17-clad fans in the balcony deliriously happy.

To that end, here are five crazy clips of Lucic from YouTube: 1 2 3 4 5

5. Rask via Thomas

Tim Thomas’ woes last season were likely due to his hip injury, which has since been corrected via surgery. It’s obvious that Tuukka Rask is the present and the future, but it was also pretty clear that Rask became fatigued as the playoffs wore on. The Bruins have, essentially, two number one goalies, and the common thought is that Thomas should be traded. Why?

Their combined cap number is $6.25M. That’s less than the Panthers are paying Tomas Vokoun, the Devils for Martin Brodeur, the Canucks for Roberto Luongo, and so on. This is not a problem, this is a blessing. Have them each play 41 games or so, ride the hot hand in the playoffs, and don’t be afraid to spell one or the other should the team go deep.

All that said, I have rosters to print out, hockey cards to pour over, pizza bagels to make and an apartment to tidy up. Here’s to the 2010-11 season, whatever it may bring.

Advertisements

 

Is this the end for Rocco?

 

Here, a collection of random thoughts on the Major League Baseball playoffs for your enjoyment:

• Roy Halladay is a cold, cold dude

In the first playoff start of his career, he threw a no-hitter, needing only 104 pitches over two hours and 34 minutes to destroy the Cincinnati Reds. And the next night, the battled back from a 4-0 deficit for a 7-4 win over flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman and the Reds bullpen, via hit batsmen, walks and errors. Ugly, but effective.

Earlier this season, I waxed poetic on just how good Halladay was. And in this game, it was pretty obvious early that the Reds were done. He had his fastball, his changeup and his curve working to ridiculous extremes. Old friend Orlando Cabrera complained that the umps were giving him the corners; I didn’t see that. I saw Halladay clicking on all cylinders, and when that’s the case, there’s basically no hope. One walk where he nibbled a bit was all that kept him from sending all 27 batters back to the bench unsatisfied. Eight strikeouts, all dominance.

So much for playoff jitters.

I love Dennis Eckersley

I do believe Eck needs his own show. Red Sox fans are spoiled by his presence in studio all season, so it’s nice to see his talents on display for a national audience.

I caught this gem after Halladay’s no-hitter. I hope you did, too:

Matt Winer: “Can you imagine having his control, with his stuff?”

Eckersley: “Yeah, ’cause I did.”

I love Dennis Eckersley.

The Freak, the Giants, and the betrayal of the Atlanta Braves

I feel legitimately guilty here. I promised the mighty Matt Berry that, in lieu of a postseason appearance by the Red Sox, I would root for the Atlanta Braves.

I’m sorry I’ve deserted you, Bobby Cox and Derek Lowe so quickly.

It happened about halfway through Tim Lincecum’s gem in Game 1: 14 strikeouts, one walk, no runs.

And to follow that up, the Giants came out in Game 2 (currently underway) in their orange uniforms, which just makes me think of Jack Clark. And for some reason, I’ve always loved Jack Clark.

I may truly have left my heart in San Francisco. I love that city, I love the Bay, I love their record stores and I think I’ve fallen in love with the Giants this October.

Sorry, Matt.

• Is this the end for Rocco Baldelli?

Rocco Baldelli has always been a favorite of mine. Rhode Island’s native son, I’ve rooted for him since he came up with Tampa Bay in 2003. My former editor referred to him as look like a big dog galloping out in center field, racking up hits and wheeling around the bases.

Of course, injuries and a rare mitochondrial disorder have derailed his career. Just look at the baseball card I posted, his 2008 Topps issue: he looks labored. Every at-bat since that diagnosis has been precious. After signing with the Red Sox last season, he was valuable when he was in the lineup, but injuries kept him from making a meaningful contribution, even in a reserve role.

He signed on as a special assistant with Tampa this season, played his way back onto the team by Sept. 1, and made the postseason roster, serving as Tampa’s designated hitter in Game 1. It made for a nice little comeback story.

But the comeback is over. Baldelli was dropped from the roster with another injury related to his disorder. Willy Aybar took his place, and the Rays are down two games to the Texas Rangers. Whether or not they move on, this might be it for Rocco.

• The Twins, the Twins…

Alex Rodriguez likened a Yankee defeat of the Twins to David beating Goliath. Alex Rodriguez needs to learn to keep his mouth shut, because whenever he opens it, he removes all doubt that he’s a complete and hopeless idiot.

But the bigger point here is that the Twins, a longtime second love of mine as the jersey in my closet will attest, are on the verge of being knocked out by the Yankees again. Even if they were the victim of horrible officiating, this is pretty depressing.

Speaking of the umpires…

What the hell is wrong with the umpires?

Honestly, I never remember them being as bad as they are in the regular season as they’ve been in the playoffs. This is the second year of this. It’s as if their brains power down in October.

Greg Golson’s catch being called a non-catch. Buster Posey called safe in a steal of second when he was clearly out. Hunter Wendelstedt’s seizure-inducing strike zone. Chase Utley likely not actually being hit by Aroldis Chapman. On and on and on…

After his game, Buster Posey mused that it’s a good thing, for him, that baseball doesn’t have instant replay. I love that. I love that Posey, baseball’s newest darling, is already, albeit indirectly, needling Bud Selig, who must be the last man on Earth to believe that baseball doesn’t need more instant replay.

Baseball absolutely needs this. They need to protect themselves, and these umps clearly need someone to save them.

In the meantime, at least these games have been pretty incredible. And we’re only three days deep…

“You know, I’m kind of at a loss for words to kind of explain the emotions I’ve felt over the last five years, with respect to the support and positive response I’ve gotten from Red Sox fans. But I think it’s your passion and your knowledge for baseball, I’ll truly miss but I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

“So I just want to thank God for allowing me the privilege and opportunity to wear this jersey, to play in this ballpark, to represent the city of Boston and to share so many memories with all of you.

“Thank you very much.”

— Mike Lowell

* * *

I was living in Arizona for the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies. I watched Game 4 at a party with a bunch of folks who weren’t terribly big baseball fans, and who thought it’d be funny to root for the Rockies. After a while, I stopped noticing them and they stopped speaking to me, mostly because I looked and was being completely ridiculous, hunched over a chair, chin resting on my hand, Red Sox cap on my head, Kevin Millar jersey on my back, staring unblinking into the screen.

Mike Lowell hit fifth in that game, and in the top of the seventh inning, he led off with a home run off of Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook. It made the score 2-0, and knocked Cook out of the game.

The Sox won that game, 4-3. Jon Lester, 10 months removed from cancer treatment and starting in place of an injured Tim Wakefield, picked up the win. Jonathan Papelbon closed it out for the save, leaping into a sprinting Jason Varitek after the final out. And Mike Lowell was the MVP. Lowell hit an even .400 in that series, with the aforementioned home run and four runs batted in.

But what I think of first is how much Lowell loved, and loves, the game of baseball, and perhaps that was best personified in the 2008 playoffs. Lowell was bothered by a hip injury that, essentially, has sped up the end of his career. It hurt through August and September, and by October, it was becoming unbearable.

Tracking down a soft ball down the line, he rushed down, barehanded the ball, threw across his body to first, and then doubled over in pain, just a few steps from the plate. It took him a while to get up. He didn’t play the rest of the playoffs, Kevin Youkilis sliding back over to third base to cover for him. He watched from the bench in a hoodie. It killed him to be forced out of the game.

He hit .289 with an 815 OPS in his five years in Boston, had 223 home runs in his career, was an All-Star four times, and pulled off the hidden ball trick successfully twice (and tried it a third time in his first year in Boston). And like me, his hair is going gray before his time. He was just old school, I suppose. He came to work every day, he loved what he did, and he never forgot that he was playing a kids game to entertain millions of fans. And he was damn good at his job.

There haven’t been many like him. I’m glad I was fortunate enough to see him play for the Red Sox.

Thanks, Mike.