Monday, August 25, 2008

Call me Nostradamus... (Pt 1)

Who knew the 16th century crazy Frenchman was a Bruins fan! As I previously mentioned, I have been on something of a Bruins kick lately so I thought I would put down some predictions for the upcoming season. Start with the easy stuff... line combinations:

Sturm - Savard - Ryder
Lucic - Bergeron - Kobasew
Schaefer - Krejci - Kessel
Thornton - Sobotka - Axelsson

Chara - Wideman
Ward - Ference
Stuart - Alberts


Healthy scratches: Reich and Hnidy.
Cavalry: Nokelainen, Wheeler, Lashoff, Hamill.

Swap Kobasew/Ryder - Kobasew showed promise last season playing on the top line and in my mind brings more grit and toughness to protect relative finesse guys Savard and Sturm. At the same time, Ryder would probably do better with a gifted assist-man like Savard centering him and boosting his confidence after last years debacle. Could see it going either way... Ryder is the more talented of the two and his status as the big FA acquisition means he will probably get the majority of time on the top line.

Schaefer - the obvious roster question after he was a flop last year... I heard talk of a foot ailment for much of last season contributing to his poor showing but seen no hard evidence (articles etc) regarding it so I may just be making that up. Still, he showed signs of life in the playoffs and 2.1M is a lot of money (and supposed talent) to healthy scratch...

Kessel - What to do with him? Possible breakthrough came during the playoffs when he realized an all-around game was required to play under Julien... definitely the best hockey of his young career. If he can follow that up with similar play to start the season, it will be hard to keep his talent and pedigree off the second line and could force Lucic down to the third line.

Lucic - Second line too much for the kid? He is only 20 after all and second line of an expected playoff team may be a bit too much pressure for him and may stunt his development. At the same time, he performed admirably last year, was a major spark plug for the team and has consistently won at all levels of play prior to his unexpected tenure with the Bruins. Also love the fact that he will drop the gloves (and absolutely punish his opponents) when needed, thus protecting Bergeron. I expect big things from him this season...

Goalie-go-round - who gets more starts? Fernandez's salary implies he should be the starter but Thomas's performance over the past few years cannot be ignored. For his career, Thomas is 73-62-0-20 with a 2.80GAA and .913% in 155 starts on some TERRIBLE Bruins teams. On the other hand, Fernandez is 127-115-24-8 with a 2.49GAA and .912% in 281 starts, mostly on the playoff-caliber Minnesota Wild. Personally, I prefer Thomas... never thought too highly of Fernandez but his more standard technique and higher potential (better single season GAA and save percentage) may give him the edge in this contest.

Bergeron - The biggest question of the season. Can he come back from the illegal Randy Jones check that could have cost him his life, never mind his career. Will he be gunshy and unwilling to go into the corners after the puck? Will he be playing scared, listening for footsteps coming up behind him? Or will he recover like an invincible young athlete and return to the promise of stardom that he displayed with his 70+ point seasons on poor teams. My money is on nearly full recovery and I expect big things from him as well... along with Lucic, he is (hopefully) the future cornerstone of this ascendant organization.

As for what those expectations are, I will be back later in the week for Part 2 and a look at my optimistic view of the point totals...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Changing of the guard?

It is strange... I, just like most everyone in and around Boston, have always split my fandom between the Red Sox and Patriots. It only made sense, growing up playing Little League and Babe Ruth baseball then transitioning to high school football. Both parents are also big Red Sox and Patriots fans and so they were always watched during their respective season and I had a wealth of information on the rules and history of the sports through my father's encyclopedic mind. They are the sports I know best and in which I show the most aptitude (which believe me, is not much!) and so it startled me when I came to a recent realization... the Bruins are my favorite team right now. The BRUINS?! When the hell did that happen?? I never even played hockey... I can't even skate!! Hell, I only started paying any mind to the sport about eight years ago when a high school friend got me into and it was the only decent sport at Northeastern (for comparison, my interest in baseball and football have existed since before I can remember).

However, I have hardly been watching the Red Sox and don't have the typical level of anticipation for the opening kickoff of the Patriots season but I absolutely cannot wait for the puck to drop on the 08-09 Bruins campaign. Don't get me wrong... I have kept up to date on Red Sox news and check the box score of most every game and will watch a few innings at a stretch but it is nowhere near the typical passion I have had in years past, watching every inning available to me. Same goes for the Patriots... I know who we have signed, drafted and brought in to camp and have followed their progress through the internet but I couldn't tell you when their season starts or who we will be playing in the first few games. Instead I find myself turning to any source I can find for Bruins and NHL news, even going so far to peruse Boston Globe reader forums which are full of useless, whining 'fans'. Who knows... maybe it has something to do with the investment I made in the upcoming season; a 12-pack of tickets for my girlfriend and I, a first-of-its-kind purchase for me. Maybe it has to do with a championship hangover and media overexposure hangover for both the Red Sox and Patriots. Maybe it has to do with wanting to see the underdog black-sheep Bruins come through when the majority of Boston fans have turned their backs on them and given up... being one of the few supporters to get on before the bandwagon started picking up speed (like it did for the Celtics where 'life-long fans' materialized with every win). More than likely, it is a combination of all these factors. Whatever the cause may be, I suddenly find myself in the strange position of being focused on the Bruins above the Red Sox and Patriots. Hopefully, they reward my newfound devotion by living up to their considerable promise and making a deep run in the playoffs...

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Rules of Fanhood

There are many rules in life... some matter, many more don't. In the real world, the following rules don't matter but this isn't the real world, it's the world of sports where they are of the utmost importance...

1) No sports bigamy allowed.
I cannot stress this enough... you CAN NOT be a fan of two teams in the same sport... it just doesn't work! What happens when they go head to head? A true fan supports his team regardless of the opponent but last I checked, you can't support both teams in a contest. The biggest copout is the 'fan' who says they are happy whichever team wins. How can you be a fan if you are happy your team loses!?

2) Team colors only.
This can also be referred to as the 'Pink Hat Rule.' As the Red Sox ascended to MLB dominance over the past decade, there was a rise in bandwagon fans and the ownership realized they could cash in on this by introducing pink colored apparel for these so-called fans. Unless your team had pink alternate or historical uniforms, there should be NO pink apparel whatsoever.

3) Support the local team.
If you grew up in an area that supports a professional franchise, you should support that franchise. It only makes sense to do so... it shows loyalty to your city/region while also giving you something in common with friends, coworkers and even strangers to shoot the shit about. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule:

3.1) Supporting your father's/family's team. If your father supports a non-native team because he grew up in that region, it is acceptable to share his loyalties for the purposes of familial harmony and paternal bonding.

3.2) Franchise relocations. This is less common than 3.1 but still viable for older sports fans. If your team up and leaves only to be replaced years later, you are allowed to support the original franchise (though why you would want to is beyond me... they left you after all!).

3.3) Know someone on the team. I almost had this situation... a high school teammate of mine made it to the NFL as a special-teamer for a season so I followed that team (the Bills) a little more closely. Had he stayed in the league (and not been such a complete asshole) I may have had to think about changing allegiances. Thankfully it never came anywhere close to that, but I can understand why it could happen for others.

4) Know your game.
If you are gonna debate/discuss the game with fellow fans, have a clue about the history of the team, its players and the sport. Don't go spouting off with unverified facts that prove to be inaccurate or start talking about players based on the opinions of others. This is especially true when dealing with fans of a rival team since you will only serve to make your fellow fans, and thus your region, look bad.

5) Have some objectivity.
Basically, don't be an unabashed homer. There is nothing worse than the guy who says Kessel is better than Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin or any other proven non-Boston player, past or present. Just because they are your team does not mean each player is the best at his respective position... that is what the All-Star game is.

6) No comparing eras.
This relates back to 5... players from different eras cannot legitimately be compared to one another. The technology and rules of the game have progressed so dramatically with time, especially within the past two decades, that it just cannot be done. The fact that Bonds hit more home runs than Ruth does not make him the better player... for all we know, Ruth would have hit 1000+ home runs had he been born 40 years ago. Or he may not have even made it to the bigs. The point is, there is no way of knowing with all the differences between their times... just appreciate each for what they contributed to the game (or detracted in the case of Bonds).

7) Respect the past, live in the present.
This relates somewhat to #4 as you should know the history of your team and be proud of it. At the same time, don't go around boasting of the franchises successes that occurred long before you were born. This is especially true for fans of the Yankees, Canadiens and Celtics as they are clearly the historically dominant teams of their respective sports. I mean, who really cares if the Yankees won 26 titles if only 4 of them have come during the past three decades!

8) No membership card needed.
I only know of one instance where this rule can be applied but I fear there may be more in the future. The instance to which I refer is that of the recently discovered 'Red Sox Nation' (God I hate that term) and the teams implementation of membership cards. To put it simply, if you need a piece of paper to prove your fanhood, there is NO WAY you are a true fan (especially if you have to pay for it!).