Kraft: 'It's time' for an NFL franchise in London

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Kraft: 'It's time' for an NFL franchise in London

LONDON - Robert Kraft tries awfully hard to make it seem like playing 3,100 miles away from home gives the Patriots an edge.

At an NFL Fan Rally Saturday in Traflagar Square, the Patriots owner was asked if his team is at a competitive disadvantage after traveling from Seattle two weeks ago, playing an overtime game against the Jets in Foxboro and then heading here for Sunday's game with the Rams.

To argue his point that the Patriots have a leg up, Kraft employed some pretzel logic.

"Well, if you think about it like this, this is an away game for us," Kraft began. "We came from Boston to London. St. Louis came from Missouri to London. This is their home game. So if we have to play a team at home in London, I don't know, I sort of feel like this is a home game for us when we're playing the Rams."

The point Kraft is making is that the Rams gave up a home game to play here but the Patriots had a shorter commute. So the angle is valid.

But how does it help the Patriots in the overall, not just this Sunday? How does a team with Super Bowl aspirations realize an edge over the rest of the NFL elite by volunteering to travel all over God's green earth?

"Well, that's part of the challenge of organizing yourself," Kraft said when asked if this trip asks a lot of his players and coaches. "You get different time zones, you get players sick, you get players injured, it's just part of the operating experience.

"We only look at the positive side and we think the way we've set things up, hopefully we have a competitive advantage week in, week out, home or away," Kraft continued. "I think every football coach in America that coaches in the NFL would prefer to have every one of their games at 1 o'clock Sunday at home. But that's not the way the world works."

At least not for the Patriots, it doesn't work that way.

The noontime rally was held under chilly gray skies and was well-attended by a blend of both American fans who made the trip to Europe and curious Londoners.

The Rams took the stage first followed by the Patriots who hauled out Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Zoltan Mesko and Brandon Lloyd to parade across the stage.

Kraft spoke first during the rally, pushing the agenda of the NFL planting a permanent flag in Europe.

"You're already hosting the premier league, and we believe we're the premier sport in the world," Kraft told the crowd. "I think London has shown, with the way they've handled the Olympics and every other major sporting event, that it's time for you to have your own NFL franchise, based in London."

In a brief Q&A with one of the emcees, former Patriot Ross Tucker, Bill Belichick said he was excited to be in London.

Gronkowski remained in character by spiking a microphone on demand.

Asked about that moment during a brief huddle with media, Kraft said,
"(Gronkowski) actually seemed very calm while he was speaking so I asked Bill if he fed him something, a calming influence. But then Gronk showed his true colors. Let's hope he does that during the game tomorrow."

Not surprisingly, everything was a plus according to Kraft. 

Playing in London? "It's great. We played before the largest crowd we ever played...actually, I think about playing here and Gillette Stadium is the best home record of any stadium in America but our record here is the best, we're undefeated when we play in London so hopefully it stays that way tomorrow."

Has the team adjusted?

"Having been here three years ago I think was a good learning curve experience. They practiced Thursday and then came on the plane and adjusted here in a way that hopefully we get a victory Sunday."

What did he think of the Patriots holding a Friday walkthrough in London's Hyde Park?

"It's good. Ya know, once again, it's something that we did before and I think it turned out to be very productive so we'll see what happens Sunday."

While it's hard to swallow that playing in Europe is good for the actually product on the football field, there is no arguing the people in London at the rally were (not surprisingly) thrilled the Patriots were in town.

Carl and Mary Kernander of Northwood, New Hampshire (by way of Woburn, Mass.) were among the fans in Trafalgar.

Mary is such a rabid Patriots fan that there is a Patriots logo on her husband's wedding band.

"She went kind of wacko in the early 90s, a little before they went to their first Super Bowl," Carl said of his wife.

What caused the fanaticism?

"I've always watched sports with my dad growing up and it used to be the Bruins and then I switched over," Mary explained. "I just love football. I just love football. This (experience) has been awesome."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.