Home field an advantage for the Patriots

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Home field an advantage for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- In the week leading up to the AFC Championship game, teams will accept any legal advantage they can get. Even if it's something as simple as being comfortable in your surroundings leading up to the game, they'll take it.

"Anytime you are playing at home this time of year is a key thing," Wes Welker said on Thursday. "Getting the fans into it and being able to play at home and practice at your own field and your own stadium and prepare for the game at your own place and all those things are good. We just have to make sure to take advantage of it."

In a way, the Patriots have their AFC title game opponents, the Ravens, to thank for their home field advantage. Of course, the Patriots earned their 12-4 record and their No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. But if the Ravens hadn't beaten the Broncos in last week's AFC Divisional Round, New England would be leaving on a plane soon for Denver.

The benefits of playing on home field? There are the old standbys: Crowd noise, energy and, as Welker noted, home cooking. 
"We have great fans always coming out, high energy," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "Its going to be another huge game here at Gillette, so I think that everyones going to be jacked up."

But that energy hasn't always translated to wins in the playoffs. The Patriots have made the postseason each of the last four seasons, but in that time they've never had to play a playoff game on the road. They lost to the Ravens in January of 2010. They lost to the Jets in January of 2011. And last season they beat the Broncos and Ravens at home before going to the Super Bowl.

As their record shows, home field doesn't always guarantee success. And the Patriots know it.

"Its good that we get to stay home, but once you get out there on the field, you have two teams going at it, all playing for one common goal," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "I dont care where you play; its not going to change how one team comes out.

"Just because you're at home doesnt mean you're going to be more prepared than the team thats on the road. I think the team were playing now shows that. Theyve won a lot of road playoff games over the last couple years, so I dont think the home field advantage will really be that much of a difference as far as assuming since were at home were going to win."

It doesn't mean that there's no such thing as home field advantage. Only that it has its limitations. Welker said that as nice as it is to prepare for a home game at home, once the ball is kicked, the advantage stops there.

"Not really, not once the game starts," Welker said when asked if he puts stock in home field advantage. "Its a game and you prepare and you just have to go out there and execute the way you did in practice the whole week."

Bill "Spaceman" Lee is running for governor in Vermont

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Bill "Spaceman" Lee is running for governor in Vermont

BURLINGTON, Vt. — A former Major League Baseball player is running for governor in Vermont as a member of the Liberty Union party, which bills itself as nonviolent and socialist.

Bill "Spaceman" Lee tells WCAX-TV voters will "need umbrellas" if he's elected, because "it's going to be raining dollars," referring to money trickling down from the wealthy.

Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1969 to 1978. He was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2008.

Lee says he's a "pragmatic, conservative, forward thinker." He supports legalizing marijuana, a single-payer health care system and paid family leave.

Carrabis: Do you trust Dombrowski to find bullpen help?

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Carrabis: Do you trust Dombrowski to find bullpen help?

Jared Carrabis joins Sports Tonight to discuss the news that Carson Smith will undergo Tommy John surgery, and whether he has faith that Dombrowski will be able to find bullpen help.

Haggerty: Miller signing more of same head-scratching stuff from Bruins

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Haggerty: Miller signing more of same head-scratching stuff from Bruins

It’s more than a year into the Cam Neely/Don Sweeney partnership running hockey operations for the Boston Bruins, and it’s still incredibly difficult to decipher what their master plan is for turning around the downtrodden franchise.

The Bruins are badly in need of something special to sell to their fan base, and a four-year contract for Kevan Miller is most definitely not “It.”

The latest chapter in the sagging saga of the Black and Gold is the aforementioned four-year, $10 million contract extension for Kevan Miller signed on Tuesday with little clear reason for the urgency to get something done with the soon-to-be 29-year-old defenseman. There’s no doubt the Bruins will say Miller could have pulled that kind of contract offer had he gone to the open market, and Sweeney should have let him walk –and let another team overpay for him -- had that happened.

One also can’t blame the hard-working, no-nonsense Miller for being pumped about the contract that fell into his lap.

“It’s the team I started with, whether it was in Providence and then back to Boston, the organization I started with. I couldn’t be happier with how things have gone,” said Miller. “That was one of the big key factors of me making my decision is I really love the city. I love the fans. Like I said in my statement, we have the best fans in the league and they’re great to play for. The whole experience so far has just been great. I’m looking forward to four more years of that for sure.”

The immediate negatives are there for Miller after signing the deal: he’s been injury-prone throughout his NHL career, he really hasn’t proven he can be consistently effective against the other team’s best players and he does very little to solve Boston’s puck-moving problems.

There’s a lot of redundancy with Adam McQuaid on a number of different fronts when it comes to Miller and an alarming lack of proven puck-moving defenseman in general beyond Krug at the top of the B’s priority list.

If the undrafted former UVM standout can hold it together as a top-4 defenseman then the Bruins will have decent value for a limited player in Miller, but he could just as quickly, and perhaps even more quickly, develop into another overpaid member of the B’s if he settles into the bottom-pairing role that seems to be his NHL future.

The deal leaves the Bruins with Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Miller and Adam McQuaid as the four defensemen signed through the next two seasons, and features a pair of bottom-pairing D-men in Miller and McQuaid taking up a combined $5.25 million in salary cap space over the next three seasons. That means the Bruins have to move somebody from their aforementioned quarter of signed blueliners, and the Miller contract already has the Bruins backed into a corner before Don Sweeney and Co. even line up their other moves.

That’s the exact same problem that cropped up at the draft in Florida last summer when Sweeney executed a flurry of eyebrow-raising moves to ship Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic out, and then failed to execute when trying to move up for Noah Hanifin as Hamilton’s replacement. It would be an epic Black and Gold trainwreck if Sweeney makes the same mistake two years in a row in failing to land the big move, but it would be of Boston’s own doing.

It’s Roster-Building 101 in the NHL that a team takes care of their big ticket items first during the season, and then moves on to the complimentary and secondary pieces that backfill the roster. Sweeney is doing just the opposite here after tying up $2.5 million per year on Miller, and doing so before he’s even secured a top pairing defenseman or top line right wing on their summer shopping list.

It’s the same kind of thing departed GM Peter Chiarelli did for years in Boston after winning the Stanley Cup, and the very issue that Cam Neely, Charlie Jacobs and Jeremy Jacobs threw their old GM under the bus for during last month’s end-of-season press conference. The multi-year contracts for Jimmy Hayes, McQuaid and Miller over the last two seasons are overly generous deals with too much term for limited players easily replaced by young, cheap players on entry level deals.

There's really no difference between them, and the contracts of Chris Kelly and Dennis Seidenberg that were previously cited so consistently as cap-busting deals. 

It also leaves the Bruins in a tough position with restricted free agent Torey Krug, who they’re going to have to now pay double what they gave to Miller ($5 million per season) if they hope to actually re-sign last year’s No. 2 defenseman. The bigger problem: retaining all these back end players after the B's finished 19th in the league in defense last season is asking, or more accurately begging, for more of the same problems that pushed Boston out of the playoff picture two years running.

It’s too bad the Miller contract has drawn a firestorm of Bruins criticism this week: the rugged blueiner is a good, tough competitor that’s developed into a responsible young leader on the team, and he can make opponents pay a physical price when healthy.

Miller has also been an impressive plus-55 over his three NHL seasons in Boston while at least becoming respectable in the offensive zone, and posted a career-best five goals and 18 points with the B’s last season.

This example of contractual largesse to a low-ceiling player in Miller, however, is exactly the kind of thing that landed the Bruins in cap jail in the first place, and also the very thing Neely and Jacobs claimed they were getting away from after firing Chiarelli a little over a year ago.

It sure feels like it’s the same old gaffes over and over again rather than some fancy new Black and Gold plan to reinvigorate things on Causeway Street, doesn’t it?