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Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight

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NHL

For a generation of Bruins fans, new stories to be told

As I walked through Springfield neighborhoods torn apart by the June 1 tornado that permanently changed the landscape of the City of Homes, I received a text message from a friend that offered a brief moment of levity to a grave situation.

“Last time there was a tornado in Springfield: 1972. Last time the Bruins won the Stanley Cup: 1972,” it read.

I don’t recall this to trivialize the suffering that any may be feeling in the wake of the terrible natural phenomenon. No one would be daft enough to believe that the latter outweighs or is even of equal importance to the former.

But it does provide perspective on just how long the Boston Bruins and their fans have waited for another Stanley Cup. An entire generation of fans – yours truly included – had gone their entire lives without ever seeing one.

I learned of legends of the Bruins’ past through stories told by family and old newspaper clippings, as well as grainy video footage that in the world of high definition television makes most wonder how anyone could ever watch hockey on TV in that era.

My grandfather, a now retired Springfield police officer, mounted an antenna on the roof of his Springfield home large enough that you would think he was trying to land large aircraft.

Its purpose? To pick up the signal of the Boston television station the Bruins were carried on. If the winds were just right and the moon’s gravitational pull wasn’t too strong, he would get it – a static filled screen on which you could see only the shadows of players and objects. But it was enough for him. He would sit in his living room and deliver a live play by play to everyone else in the room.

But kids, both big and small, who have listened to the tales of the legendary Big Bad Bruins did so with a melancholic heart, wondering if there would ever be a moment when we could tell our children that we witnessed greatness from a Bruins team.

To this point, we had nothing but tales of mediocrity, of close but no cigar, and of three-game leads blown.

Now it’s our time.

Just as our parents and grandparents told the tale of Cup legends like Orr, Espo, Sanderson, Bucyk, and Cheevers, so we shall be able to recount the triumph of Thomas, Chara, Bergeron, Marchand, Horton, Krejci and Recchi.

We can tell the tale of the fastest four goals in Stanley Cup finals history.

We can revel in having witnessed firsthand Tim Thomas’ hair-pullingly bizarre, yet incredibly effective style that earned him two shutouts, including one in Game 7.

We can reminisce about how Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg shut down twin brothers who formed one of the most powerful offensive tandems in hockey.

We can marvel at Mark Recchi, the ageless wonder.

We can relate the tenacity of players like Brad Marchand and how Patrice Bergeron knew the “right way” to play the game.

And of course, the number of male babies born in Massachusetts the name Timothy Thomas (insert surname here) no doubt will be at an all-time high.

And the question will be asked for years to come: “Where were you? Where were you when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011?”

I was at Paddy’s Irish Pub in Sixteen Acres in a room packed with strangers united as friends with the common passion. As Brad Marchand buried the empty net goal that set the minds of fans who had seen three-goal leads blown before, a deafening cheer: “We got the Cup! We got the Cup!”

The moment, surreal. The feeling, indescribable.

After faltering against Philadelphia last season, blowing a three-game series lead, Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli bolstered the team by drafting 19-year-old Tyler Seguin and trading for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell.

At the trade deadline, he acquired Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and gave away a first-round draft pick for Tomas Kaberle making a statement that anything short of winning Lord Stanley’s Cup would be a failure.

He took a stand and, in the end, so did his team. And now a new generation has their own story to tell.

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Mission not yet accomplished for Bruins

Throughout the Boston Bruins’ heart pounding, gut wrenching battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup in these finals, one thing has become the mantra of the fans: Not in our house.

Well, that will hold true, two fold. Surely fans who held posters donning the phrase were referring to the Vancouver Canucks not hoisting the Cup on the Bruins’ home ice. But at the same time, the flip side is also true. Because they have been unable to steal a single game from the Canucks in British Columbia, neither will the Bruins.

The must-win game to end all must-win games for the Bruins does not take place in the friendly confines of the TD Garden where they have outscored their Canadian counterparts 17-3, but the Rogers Arena, a place lacking in fond memories for the B’s. Twice the Bruins have been shut out there in this series and once the two goals they got were just enough to force one of the shortest overtimes in NHL playoff history.

It’s a riddle that Claude Julien has been desperate to unravel. A statistical enigma. Boston actually posted more points on the road than they did at home during the 2010-11 regular season and was one of the best road teams in the Eastern Conference. Yet in these finals, the Bruins are winless in hostile territory. They have not lost a game in this series on the road by more than one goal, but then again, haven’t done anything to win those close games, either.

However, it is possible for the Bruins to win in Vancouver. It has happened before. Boston topped the Canucks 3-1 while in the midst of a strong road trip in late February. The man with the magic? Milan Lucic, the man who everyone has been waiting for to step up in the absence of injured Nathan Horton, scored the go-ahead goal with less than five minutes remaining.

Lucic has been largely disappointing in the series, recording three points in the six games, while getting physically outmatched by Vancouver at times. However, he’s just one of the Bruins who has been performing a Jekyll and Hyde act that resembles a similar one by Roberto Luongo that fans  – present company included – are so eager to jump all over him for. Seventeen goals at home in three games, two goals in three games on the road.

It would be hard to criticize Luongo for his disappearing act, especially given the entire Bruins team has been guilty of the same. It would be hard … if he was more likeable and kept his mouth shut. Instead, he took shots through the media, which were admittedly a tad overblown, at the one man who has been a pillar of strength for this team – Tim Thomas.

As maddening as Thomas’ style in net is, it has worked. He will be the Vezina Trophy winner and should be the Conn Smythe winner for playoff MVP. We can talk about how Brad Marchand needs to be a spark plug and how Mark Recchi needs to be the leader we know he can be, but the bottom line is this team needs to follow Thomas’ example if they want to hoist the Cup. They need to be aggressive.

The Bruins’ biggest fault in this series has been their lack of physicality and intensity, which allowed the Canucks to take it to them. Marchand suggested that in this series, perhaps, the Bruins have been able to be inspired by the roar of their crowd. Well, now the Bruins have to be inspired by the hush of another. To steal a line from another Boston sports figure and alter it slightly, “There’s nothing I’d like better than to shut 18,000 Canucks fans up.”

The Bruins need to be aggressive, take the body and rattle assumed starter Roberto Luongo again. Score a goal first and decisively and revel in the quiet.

Yes, Boston Bruins, there is a Stanley Cup waiting for you. But you have to be willing to go out there and take it.

Did Patrice Bergeron suffer the luckiest injury in Bruins playoff history?

Let’s face it, if Claude Giroux hadn’t laid a devastating hit on Patrice Bergeron in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Tyler Seguin would still be sitting in the press box.

Instead, Bergeron sat beside Marc Savard as the two watched the No. 2 overall pick in the draft dazzle the crowd and befuddle Dwayne Roloson and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Where would this series be if Bergeron hadn’t gotten hurt?

More than likely, they would be up, 2-0. There. I said it.

Seguin has had an impressive start to his playoff career, but this team is still better with a healthy Bergeron in the lineup. Bergeron is the most complete player on the team, a terrific two-way player who often does all the little things that don’t show up in the box score. The Bruins not only lost a lot of talent and 12 points through 11 playoff games, but a lot of hockey know how as well.

What’s more, Claude Julien was forced to alter his lines, including breaking up the incredibly successful third line of Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder, which carried the team offensively through much of the first round against Montreal. Bergeron’s linemates Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi had a combined seven goals and 11 assists with a plus-minus rating of plus-9. Since they have been centered by Kelly and Peverley in a game apiece, neither has recorded a point. Marchand is minus-3, while Recchi is minus-4 in the conference semifinals.

No doubt Seguin has put on a show, but there is a reason why he didn’t play in the first two series and it goes beyond the fact he had one point in his last 19 regular season games. The 19-year-old has immense offensive talent, but proved not to have the stamina to withstand a season-long NHL pounding and has not shown an ability to play consistent two-way hockey.

An unfortunate incident gave him his shot and he’s running with it with some heroics, but overall, in the long run, the team would have been better served to have Bergeron healthy.

Luckiest injury in playoff history? No way. Luckiest injury for Tyler Seguin? You bet.

Series saved by Thomas!

As much praise as the Bruins offense is getting, it can be forgotten that probably the reason why the Bruins are not down 0-2 is because of the efforts of Tim Thomas, who put in maybe the most spectacular efforts by a goaltender than has given up five regulation time goals in hockey history.

Thomas rebounded from a lackluster Game 1 with a stand-on-your head performance in a Game 2 that more resembled a no rules pond hockey game than an NHL playoff contest.

Did he allow a couple softies? Yes, he did. But at the same time, he made some very big saves when they were needed most, including in the final seconds of the game as the Lightning made a last-ditch effort to send it to overtime.

Allowing nine goals in the past two games has ballooned Thomas’ postseason goals allowed average to 2.39. Yep. Just 2.39. Considering he’s posted a career 2.26 GAA against Tampa Bay and has been sparkling on the road this year (4-1 in these playoffs, 17-6, 2.15 GAA in the regular season on the road), don’t expect another five goal game.

Maza’s Wednesday Musings: The most anticlimactic non-tie ever?

The Bruins’ 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres last night featured what had to have been one of the most anticlimactic end to an overtime game that didn’t end in a tie I have ever seen.

Dennis Seidenberg’s shot – which evidently hit off Mark Recchi – got past Ryan Miller, hit the top of the inside of the net, then bounced back onto the ice. Officials waved it off and play continued, despite the fans’ pleas that it was, in fact a goal.

It wasn’t until a full minute after that play that there was an opportunity to look at the replay and determine it was a goal.

You have to wonder what exactly the officials were looking at and what they thought the puck hit in order to think that there was no goal. The crossbar? I understand that it’s a game that moves fast and you’re not going to catch everything, but you’d assume that an official at ice level would be able to see better than I whether or not a puck goes in the net.

It was clear to me – watching my non-HD television through half-opened eyes amidst thoughts that I really should go to bed because I have a big day tomorrow – that it was a goal. So how could they let such an aggregious mistake happen?

What if Buffalo had come back down the ice and scored themselves? Imagine that scenario and the backlash there would have been. Or more importantly, what if someone, playing on tired legs in extra time either got hurt or did something stupid to get someone else hurt? That responsibility would have squarely fallen on the officials and all they would have been able to say is, “Sorry. We screwed up.”

Ultimately, neither of those things happened and the right call was eventually made, but a lot could have happened in that extra minute of play.

Of course, it Marc Savard had even a little bit of a killer instinct, overtime wouldn’t have been necessary.

On two separate occasions in last night’s game, Savard passed up good shot opportunities to make ill-advised passes. On the second of the two, Ryan Miller actually showed so little regard for Savard’s ability to shoot the puck as he approached from the right circle, that he cheated towards the middle, fully prepared to make a stop on the potential shot from the slot. That left a huge area over and around his left shoulder wide open. But instead of taking a shot, Savard made a bad pass into the slot and turned a good opportunity into no shot at all.

Savard does a lot of things well and I still think he’s a playmaker with some of the softest hands in the league. But once in a while, you’ve got to shoot the puck, Marc.

Maza’s Friday Musings: Varitek a mistake, Jets face a different Pats team, Savard gives B’s a boost

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the lack of posts lately. Technical difficulties hindered my ability to get online, but now hopefully I will be able to continue blogging worry free.

With that, I’d like to introduce a new feature to the blog: Maza’s Daily Musings. Everyday I will give a quick musing on three big things the world of sports the day before. As always, feel free to chime in by commenting on the blog or sending me email to mazasmusings@gmail.com.

With that said, here we go.

The Red Sox have agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal with Jason Varitek that includes $300,000 in incentives, further compounding the mistake of not signing Victor Martinez. The Detroit Tigers’ publicly expressed plans to use Martinez as a DH this season shoots down any theories people may have had about Martinez not being amenable to moving to a different position if the Red Sox felt his catching skills were diminishing in the final years of a two or three year contract. I still think Varitek can be an effective backup catcher if he’s limited to 35 to 40 games. However, you can only do that if you have a guy that you can count on in front of him. A guy like Victor Martinez. Instead, the Red Sox are counting on a catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has never played more than 83 games in a season at the position and as recently as May, was in the minors because he couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. Theo Epstein is playing with fire and most likely will get burned.

It seems like a million years have passed since the last time the Patriots played, but all the anticipation is leading up to arguably the biggest game of the season. The Patriots and the Jets are both different teams since the last time they faced each other, but the biggest changes have been to the New England locker room. Danny Woodhead is a serious part of the Patriots’ offense out of the backfield and adds a very good compliment to the north-south power running style of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  Often overlooked is the dominating play of Logan Mankins since his return. It has not taken the Pro Bowler long to get right into the thick of things and a strong offensive line that is  tied for third in the league in sacks allowed with just 15 through 11 games, while helping the running backs to a 4.5 average. But the biggest difference is the look of the passing game. Without Randy Moss, the Patriots have been able to actually do more offensively by stretching the field horizontally instead of vertically. Tom Brady was averaging 10.71 yards per completion with Randy Moss at wide receiver. Since he’s been gone, he’s averaged 11.87 yards per completion. While I didn’t think so when the trade was made, but the offense may, in fact, be better without Moss than it was with him. Would anybody have thought in Week 12 the Moss-less Patriots would be leading the league in scoring?

With eight goals in Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bruins seem to have shaken off the bad habits they fell into in the rough stretch last week. This week, the Bruins have outscored opponents 11-1 and with the return of Marc Savard, the Bruins now have three very good centers that can set up terrific scoring opportunities. Savard didn’t look 100 percent, but he did not look nearly as bad as I thought he might coming out of the gate. He showed good vision and passed well. Once he gets his legs under him a little bit more and he’ll be a tremendous addition to the team. As for Marco Sturm, while TMZ’s report that Marco Sturm has been traded proved to be false, the odds of him being traded are still very high. Sturm needs to either be traded or be sent to Providence in order to keep his $3.5 million salary from going against the cap and the latter is not a desirable place to be for a 32-year-old veteran. He’s already waived his no-trade clause (which the Bruins seem to hand out like candy) for certain teams, so look for movement to happen sooner rather than later.

Maza’s Monday Mailbag: What happens to Auburn?

A lot has gone on the past week in the world of sports, but the controversies always create the biggest buzz.

Springfield, MA wants to know: Will Auburn lose their shot at the national championship because of Cam Newton?
I really don’t think so. I’m reserving judgment because this is simply a case of he said, he said at this point. But whether these allegations prove accurate or not, the fact of the matter is the NCAA is going to have to do its due diligence and, in all likelihood, any decision of his guilt or innocence will come long after this season is over. It’s unfortunate that this question will hover over everything, but it’s the most likely scenario. It would be a tragic thing if a team ends up being denied a chance at the championship because Auburn stands in its way, only to find out later that the Tigers’ wins are vacated because the allegations prove to be sound. Then again, it would be just as tragic if the NCAA makes a snap decision and denies Auburn their shot if Newton did no wrong.

Holyoke, MA asks: With David Krejci out, do you think Tyler Seguin gets his chance to shine?
No. I do think that Krejci is the most talented centerman on the Bruins and I still think that’s true. And I do think it hurts them even more because Marc Savard is still on IR. It is a scary notion having Blake Wheeler as your second-line center, but I think it’s the right thing to do. Seguin is still a developing player and the third line for most shifts is the best place for him to learn to play the game at the speed and level of physicality it’s played in the NHL. He was benched in the game against the Blues on Saturday night, so moving him up to a line that requires more minutes when he’s playing a position he hasn’t proven to have the most aptitude at just yet just doesn’t make sense.

Framingham, MA says: Trading Randy Moss was a huge mistake. This team couldn’t do anything against the Browns so how can we expect them to do anything against a good team?
You can expect them to do good things because a man named Tom Brady is quarterbacking the team. I’ll not defend him for his play on Sunday because that was just awful. But then again, other than Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead, you would be hard pressed to find a defensive player that had a good game. What you should be worried about more than the offense, which we all knew would be worse without Moss, is the fact that the defense got totally run over. Peyton Hillis has been a pretty good back this year (He also had 144 yards against Baltimore in Week 3) and largely overlooked because of who he plays for. He’s a hard runner who looks to blow up defenders at the line. But what is concerning is the fact that the Patriots’ defensive line was getting blown off the ball and no one was contacting Hillis until he was headed for the secondary. Bad news for an already mediocre Patriots defense.

Concord, NH asks: Is Boston College really overrated this season or is UNH that good?
Referring to the UNH victory on Friday night, I’m sure, your question is very prematurely asked. Boston College has lost three games this season, two of them by one goal and two of them on the road. You are not going to play in Hockey East and be undefeated for long. As for the UNH/BC game, I did not have the opportunity to see it and only have the benefit of a stat sheet. However, from the looks of things, it appeared to be a pretty even, clean game. BC outshot UNH, 32-30. Only one penalty (UNH) between the two sides. UNH just got one more by the keeper. It’s a long season, but I will say this for UNH, They have one loss over its first seven games and are on a six-game unbeaten streak. In those seven games, the Wildcats have played two games a Miami (then No. 3), one against Michigan (then No. 3), one at Northeastern, one at Cornell (then No. 14), one at Boston College (then No. 4) and one at UMass-Lowell. That’s as tough a streak of games as any team will play at any point this season. To come out of that 4-1-2 says a lot about the Wildcats.

Albany, NY ponders: Is is possible the Yankees will land both Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford?
The answer to that one is a resounding yes. The Yankees are one of the few teams that have the need and the payroll flexibility to do something like that. Cliff Lee is a no-brainer in terms of filling needs for the Yankees, who were middle-of-the-road at best as a pitching staff. Besides C.C. Sabathia, no starter had an ERA even close to being under 4.00. Crawford would be an upgrade to the outfield, but he’s not quite as essential. That said, Curtis Granderson’s first season in New York was as underwhelming as his last in Detroit, so picking up Crawford, moving Brett Gardner to center and planting Granderson on the bench would make sense if the Yankees were willing to look past the fact that they’re paying him $8.25 million next season. Surely they won’t be able to trade him, seeing as he’s getting that healthy paycheck this year, $10 million next year.

Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Maza’s Monday Mailbag to mazasmusings@gmail.com.

Also, don’t forget to follow along on Twitter @Mazasmusings and ‘Like’ Chris Maza’s facebook page.

Is the path out of Boston opening up for Thomas?

Tim Thomas is playing some really good hockey at this point in the season and a lot of people are wondering whether or not a goalie controversy is in the making in Boston.

But his impressive play just might be helping to clear the way for him to be traded.

Before you turn off the computer, take a minute to think about it. Injuries to Marc Savard and Marco Sturm freed up cap space for the Bruins, who were very much in trouble in terms of the salary cap heading into this season. But by placing those two at long-term injured reserve, the Bruins only postponed the inevitable.

These two are not just throw away players. Savard is still one of the team’s top playmakers and Sturm was the team’s top goal scorer last season. Somehow the Bruins need to clear about $5 million in cap space. Tim Thomas’ cap hit for this season just happens to be $5 million.

Last season, there were rumors about Thomas moving, but nothing came from it. After all, paying that kind of’ salary to a disappointing goalie who had lost his starting job isn’t very appealing. This year, the scenario has changed. Thomas appears to be over his hip surgery and is playing very well.

Tuukka Rask is the team’s goalie of the future and no one will deny that. Trading Thomas would be one way to clear the cap space in order to make a promising offense even stronger and solve a major cash problem for the Bruins.

Maza’s (Thursday) Mailbag (10/14): Time to eat crow?

Due to the Columbus Day holiday, the Mailbag got put on hold. I don’t want anybody thinking I’m trying to dodge my own errors. Therefore, I’ll start out with…

Manchester, CT says: What do you think about Boise State’s chances NOW?

We all remember last week that when this reader asked if Boise State had a shot at the BCS National Championship, I said “In a word, no.” What I should have said is if things remain as they are and the top-5 teams in the nation all remain undefeated, then no, they don’t have a shot. Now I think they do have a shot, though it is an outside one. As of right now they are projected to be No. 1 in the BCS rankings, but I think the schedule will hurt them. Nevada being ranked helps, but if Ohio State can get through a conference schedule that includes Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan unscathed – and I think they will – the Buckeyes have to move ahead of them. The same can be said of Oregon, who have already toasted Stanford and still have tough, yet not insurmountable, games against USC, Arizona and Oregon State. You can’t even rule out Oklahoma, who has already destroyed Florida State, beat up Texas and could go undefeated with possible strong wins against Missouri and Oklahoma State. TCU also runs into the same problem that Boise does when it comes to schedule. They beat Oregon State, but playing the likes of Baylor, SMU, Colorado State and Wyoming isn’t helping them. They have to hope they beat Air Force soundly and then Air Force finishes strong and then beat a tough Utah team. Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see a Boise or a TCU beat the system. Those who know and love me know that I hold the BCS with the same regard as I do mosquitoes. But with the way it’s drawn up, I’m afraid those teams need some major melt downs from the teams around them to make it happen.

Springfield, Ma wants to know: What do you make of the Deion Branch trade? Will he bring back some of that magic from 2004?

I think people should be careful romanticizing Branch’s return to the Patriots. Let’s not forget that Branch was a guy who forced his way out of town because he wanted to get paid. So don’t start painting Moss the enemy and Branch some kind of savior. In addition to that, Branch has not done much of anything since leaving the Patriots. While some of that is due to the fact he was playing in a West Coast offense, a lot more has to do with injury. From 2006 to 2009, he missed over 25 percent of the Seahawks’ games. I’m not saying he’s going to be bad, but expectations of him should be somewhat subdued, especially in the early-going.

Lowell, MA says: Notre Dame just had another really good win against a team that probably will win its conference. Is this a team that can make a run at the BCS?

In mentioning the fact that Pitt will probably win its conference – which I agree with – you’re not making the argument stronger for Notre Dame. You’re just pointing out just how weak the Big East is. If the Irish are going to have any chance of an automatic BCS bid, they have to win out, at minimum. It is possible that that can happen, but that would more of a product of the schedule being soft most of the way. Every game is winnable, but I think eight wins and a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl is a more likely scenario. I don’t think this Irish team is good enough at this point to beat Utah and that’s one they really, really need if they want to be taken seriously. They played have a good number of teams that are currently ranked (Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford), but they haven’t beaten any of them and Western Michigan, Navy, Tulsa and Army don’t carry much weight, so Utah and USC have to be the ‘statement games.’

Enfield, CT asks: Do you think Chicago will repeat as Stanley Cup Champions?

I think Chicago has a very good core group that will make them dangerous. If there’s one mistake I think that team made is letting Antti Niemi go and putting their trust in Marty Turco. Sure, Niemi was not all that heralded and almost didn’t make the team, but at the end of the season, he finished with a 26-7-4 record and an impressive 2.25 GAA and .912 save percentage. Turco is in the twilight of his career and knows it, which is why he took the substantial paycut to play for a Stanley Cup contender this year.

Maza’s Monday Mailbag (9/27): Who’s Danny Woodhead?

Quite a few questions from up north this week, but this week, we’ll start with the simplest of questions that doesn’t have the simplest of answers.

Cary, NC wants to know: Who is Danny Woodhead?

Danny Woodhead is a third-year pro out of that Division 2 Chadron State in Nebraska. He was actually a two-time winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is essentially D2’s version of the Heisman Trophy. He holds the all-time NCAA rushing record with 7871 yards over the course of his collegiate career. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jets  in 2008 in relative anonymity until becoming one of Rex Ryan’s favorites on HBO’s Hard Knocks. But with Ladainian Tomlinson as the backup to Shone Green, there wasn’t a spot for the Jets, who decided they had a greater need at wide receiver and waived him so they could sign David Clowney. The Patriots picked him up the day before their game against the Jets, presumably to get as much information out of him as possible. But when Kevin Faulk went down with a torn ACL, it opened up a more long-term spot for Woodhead. He fits Bill Belichick’s model for a player with versatility, ability and willingness to play special teams and, from what we saw yesterday, a terrific motor. While I don’t think he’ll make a career out of playing in New England, this season he can provide a good change of pace to downhill runners such as Fred Taylor, Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris.

Bow, NH asks:  Of V-Mart, Ortiz, and Beltre, who do you think the [Red] Sox should/would resign? Any free agents you feel strongly about pursuing? Thanks Maz, love the blog!

Victor Martinez should be the Red Sox’ top priority this offseason, followed closely by Adrian Beltre and it’s for a very good reason: the Red Sox have no major league ready option in the organization who can take over if they leave and the free agent talent out there would not be an upgrade. Ryan Lavarnway is probably the best catching prospect the Sox have and he split the year between Salem and Portland and has only been catching since 2007, so he still has some learning to do.  While he’s nothing special behind the plate, Martinez will be the best player available at his position in the upcoming offseason. Miguel Olivo’s  name has been thrown out there, but he’s been very good for the Rockies this year and it’s more likely they will pick up his option. While he probably only has a few more good years at catcher, Martinez offers you the option of playing DH in the future.
Beltre is a concern because in the two biggest contract years of his career, he’s put up by far his best numbers. Still, he seems to fit in with the locker room well and has shown tremendous hustle, even if that hustle did land two Red Sox outfielders on the disabled list early in the season. What catches my eye the most is his numbers are actually better on the road than at home, so his success has not been solely a product of Fenway Park. Throw on top of that the fact that the Red Sox’ best prospects at the position are in Salem and Greenville, respectively, the Sox need to fill that hole with a veteran and none of the free agents are worth taking a look at as a replacement.
Ortiz is not that high of a priority on my list simply because you can find anyone to DH, but not everyone can play the field. Don’t get me wrong, Ortiz proved me wrong by overcoming a brutal early season slump to hit 30 homers and he’ll drive in 100 runs by the time it’s all said and done.  But as far as value goes, Ortiz is very limited, not only by the fact that only AL teams will look at him, but there are only a few that can afford him at his asking price. Should the Red Sox pick up his option, he’d be making $12.5 million for one season. Vladimir Guerrero, who will finish the season with a better batting average, a comparable number of home runs and more RBI is making $5.5 million this season as a DH. Ortiz doesn’t want to play for one year, but doesn’t want to take a pay cut in order to sign a multi-year deal.  And most likely he’d want to go to a competitive team. The Yankees are getting older and have enough players that can fill the DH slot. Tampa Bay is talking about cutting payroll and if it wants to make a real effort toward keeping Carl Crawford, it’s going to have to pinch its pennies. There aren’t many options out there for Ortiz and the Red Sox have the upper hand in this situation. Most likely they will use exercise the option, then try to work out a two-year deal with Ortiz.
Outside of those guys, the Red Sox need major help in the bullpen. Injuries hurt the offense, but the pitching staff can’t use the same excuse. Theo Epstein is financially locked into the rotation he has now, but the bullpen can be addressed, starting with Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon was very hittable this year with a 4.01 ERA as of today and lost a career-high six games this season. Papelbon went from a four-pitch pitcher to a one-pitch pitcher, falling in love with his fastball, which now he throws at 94-95 mph as opposed to 96-98 the way that he used to and that makes a big difference, especially when you’re not willing to throw your other pitches. There are certainly enough teams that overvalue big name closers and will take his past success into account that would like to have him. Daniel Bard was the Red Sox’ most dominant pitcher and outside of him, Felix Dubront and Scott Atchison were the team’s most consistent relievers. That’s a problem. Okajima pitched well in the second half when taken out of pressure situations and is still under the team’s control, but series middle relief help is needed. Michael Bowden has not taken to the transition from starter to reliever and with names like Scott Downs and J.J. Putz on the free agent list, the Red Sox need to make some efforts to sign guys there.

Aspen, CO says: Who would be your pick for AL MVP out of Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera? Or do you think someone else is more deserving?

If I had to choose between those two, I would have to go with Cabrera. I know that Detroit didn’t do much this year and Texas is the team heading to the playoffs, I have to think that if Detroit played in the AL West and Texas played in the Central, the roles would be reversed. By the same token, I think the player who had the benefit of playing an unbalanced schedule with teams like Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim should put up better numbers. Honestly, I would not be upset if one got it over the other because you can make a case for both.
That said, I do believe there is one player who is forgotten in all this and I think he is most deserving. That player is Paul Konerko. Konerko played out of his mind this season and very quietly put up 38 homers and over 100 RBI with a .240-hitting Carlos Quentin protecting him on the lineup. On top of that, he has been a far superior defender than Cabrera or Hamilton and that means something in my book.

Dover, NH writes: What do you think about the Bruins chances? I haven’t heard a ton about Seguin, has he been looking good in camp? Will Savard ever live up to his deal?

I have very high hopes for the Bruins this season. Even despite being right up against the cap, they have been able to maneuver themselves into a very good place heading into the 2010-2011 campaign. The Bruins have arguably the best duo of goaltenders in the league. The defense will be an even better unit than last year and they have depth in the organization at the blue line, but where they are most improved is offensively. Tyler Seguin from what I understand has been as advertised in camp, but the guy I’m really looking forward to seeing more from is Jordan Caron. Caron is a big, physical winger who has the potential to be a real scoring threat. Basically, he’s everything that Blake Wheeler should be, but is not. As for Savard, the post-concussion syndrome is a tricky thing. Savard admitted himself that he probably came back too soon from the hit he took from Matt Cooke and, while I’m not doctor, it stands to reason that that might have something to do with his recent issues. As for living up to the contract, hey, last season the guy was still able to put up 33 points in 41 games, a pretty impressive number, considering the two guys he shared a line with both really underacheived.

Manchester, NH asks: What did you think of Kyle Arrington yesterday? If you were Belichick, who do you start, Butler or Arrington?

I thought Arrington played very soft, but was able to get away with it for most of the game against a Lee Evans. He did a nice job breaking up a potential touchdown pass, but was later burned on three plays in the third quarter that resulted in close to 50 yards. He did play almost every down and also played special teams, so there’s quite a bit to applaud him for in this game. Overall, it was a solid effort that earned him another start next week against Miami, but overall, I still think Butler is the superior talent who just plain played a bad game against the Jets. The guy was the best cover corner in the 2009 draft and I still think he’s the best cover corner the Patriots have in their young secondary.

That’s the mailbag for this week. Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Mailbag by emailing me at mazasmusings@gmail.com

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