Boychuk headed to Austria's Red Bulls

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Boychuk headed to Austria's Red Bulls

Johnny Boychuk became the latest member of the Bruins to exit Boston for a hockey job overseas when he confirmed to CSNNE.com that hes signed with the Salzburg Red Bulls in the Austrian First Division Hockey League.

Boychuk becomes the 11th member of the Bruins the most of any NHL team -- to head over to Europe for a hockey job while the NHL and NHLPA have surpassed Day 60 of the NHL lockout in North America.

The Red Bulls boast former Bs goaltender Alex Auld on their roster, but it appears that Boychuk will be the first NHL refugee to sign on with Salzburg since the lockout.

Boychuk, ever the mirthful prankster, joked with CSNNE.com that hed signed with the Melbourne Down Unders before coming clean about his contract with the Red Bulls. The Boychuk signing in Europe means that four of Bostons six projected starting defensemen are currently playing in Europe, and the sixth Dougie Hamilton is still playing OHL junior hockey for the Niagara IceDogs.

That leaves Adam McQuaid as the only Bs blueliner that isnt currently experiencing game-intensity while getting ready for a potential shortened season. The 28-year-old Boychuk is entering the first year of a three-year, 10 million contract extension with the Bruins, and put up 15 points in 77 games for Boston last season.

Boychuk did have a scheduled appearance with Brad Marchand at a Providence Bruins game on Dec. 2, but it appears he wont be able to make that event. The defenseman is told CSNNE.com that he leaves right away for Austria, and probably wont be back until the dreaded lockout has finally ended.

Boychuk had been a staple at the morning skates in Boston among locked out Bruins players over the last two months, but their numbers had dwindled down to just Shawn Thornton, Mike Mottau and Daniel Paille skating with a handful of other NHL players on Friday.

As with all NHL skaters in Europe, Boychuk has an out clause in his deal that will allow him to return to Boston when the NHL regular season is ready to begin.

Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'

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Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had perfect attendance at each of their last two practices. The Steelers, on the other hand, have been working with less than a full deck.

All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell has been conspiculously absent from Pittsburgh's practices each of the last two days. On Wednesday, he was listed on the injury report as a non-participant due to non-injury related reasons. On Thursday, coach Mike Tomlin announced that Bell had been excused from practice due to "personal reasons."

Tomlin added that Bell will be ready to go against the Patriots on Sunday so it seems as though the team is painting this as a nothing-to-see-here situation. And it probably is. Whether or not Bell practices at all this week won't necessarily have any bearing on the AFC title game; if he's healthy, he'll be a factor. 

If for some reason he doesn't follow up his 170-yard performance against the Chiefs with another strong game, however, people will wonder how his preparation was impacted by missing out on the first two of his team's on-the-field sessions this week.

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

BOSTON - The weight room, as much as Instagram, has been Pablo Sandoval’s home in the offseason leading up to the 2017 season.

His change in diet and routine have clearly led to visible results, at least in terms of appearance. His play is yet to be determined. But his manager and teammates have taken notice.

“Compliments to Pablo,” John Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner. “He’s done a great job with the work that he’s put in, the commitment he’s made. He’s reshaped himself, that’s apparent. He knows there’s work to be done to regain an everyday job at third base. So, we’ll see how that unfolds. We’re not looking for him to be someone he’s not been in the past. Return to that level of performance.”

Farrell noted that Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge are the other two players in contention for time at third base and while others, such as prospect Rafael Devers, may get time there in the spring, those are the only three expected to compete for the job.

“The beauty of last spring is that there’s a note of competition in camp,” Farrell said. “And that was born out of third base last year [when Travis Shaw beat out Sandoval at the third base]. That won’t change.”

Sandoval's 2016 season ended after shoulder surgery in April. 

While the manager has to be cautiously optimistic, Sandoval’s teammates can afford to get their hopes up.

“Pablo is definitely going to bounce back,” Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com “Especially with the weight he’s lost and the motivation he has to prove a lot of people wrong, to prove the fans wrong.

“He’s been a great player for his whole career. He’s not a bad player based on one year. Playing in Boston the first year is tough, so, hopefully this year he’ll be better.”

Prior to Sandoval’s abysmal 2015, his first season in Boston, when he hit .245 with 47 RBI in 126 games, the 2012 World Series MVP was a career .294 hitter who averaged 15 home runs and 66 RBI a year.

If Bogaerts is right and Sandoval can be that player again, that will be a huge lift in filling in the gap David Ortiz left in Boston’s offense.