Random thoughts on a Patriots-less Sunday


Random thoughts on a Patriots-less Sunday

By Rich Levine

The Pats weren't playing on Sunday, so here are three random thoughts that occupied my brain instead:


There are still 2 12 months before pitchers and catchers report to the geographical paradise that is Fort Myers, Florida, but if you're a Red Sox fan there's already reason to feel a little jaded.

It's not that Victor Martinez is the first big free agent to ever bolt town. It's just that on most other occasions, there was a decent enough excuse as to why. Pedro was on the downside of his career. Damon got a sizable offer from the Yankees. Jason Bay from the big-market Mets. But with Martinez, the Sox just let him get away for a reasonable price to the Detroit Tigers. Boston's not used to losing guys like that. But in this case, that's the reality.

Many say that the deeper reality is that the Sox never wanted Martinez to begin with. That concerns over his age, defense and durability were so pressing that the organization didn't deem him worthy of a long-term deal. And maybe they had a point. But theres no denying that five years ago, the Sox would have re-signed Martinez in a second. At any other point in the reign of this ownership group, they would have brought him back.

The potential problems, and concerns over how the deal could affect the team four years down the road still would have existed, but all that would have mattered is that Martinez makes them better now; that without him there's a huge hole in the lineup. Money wouldn't have been an issue. Years three and four on that contract would have been a small price to pay for all that he gave them in years one and two.

You want to list all the reasons why V-Mart is a risky signing? Where was that logic back in 2006? You dont think the Sox could have poked a few holes in their own decision to give J.D. Drew 14 million a year until hes 35? Or Julio Lugo 9 million a year until hes 34? Where were the excuses then?

They were buried under the ownership's insatiable desire to bring a winner to Boston. To win at all costs. And turn the Sox into the powerhouse brand that they are today. Back then, the excuses and drawbacks were just a necessary casualty of success. But obviously, that's not the case anymore.

Maybe Drew and Lugo are the reason. Maybe some of the big-time busts of the last few years caused the front office to pull back a little; not be quite as reckless with their spending. Or maybe cash that used to be fair game for the Sox is now wrapped up in other New England Sports Ventures . . . um, ventures. On Wednesday afternoon, Tom Werner will officially take over as chairman of the Liverpool soccer club the little 480 million investment the NESV made last month. How can that not affect what the Red Sox spend on free agents?

I'm not saying ownership doesn't care about the Sox anymore. When you have a second kid, it doesnt mean that you love your first one any less. But the second kid does limit how much time, energy and money you can spend on No. 1. And I don't see how that won't be the case with NESV, the Sox and Liverpool.

Of course, it's still early in the offseason, and there's plenty that the Sox could do over the next two months to spin this negative vibe out of town. Next week they could sign Carl Crawford, trade for Adrian Gonzalez and make every one who doubts them look sillier than the Wayans Bros.

But there's something about the way that VMart departed thats left a stain on the franchise. Even if they did hypothetically get Crawford and Gonzalez, why not keep Martinez, too? It's 12.5 million a year, and you're the Sox! That's supposed to be a sure thing.

But, whatever the reason, its not like that anymore, it and might take some time for the Nation to adjust.

Delonte West's broken wrist is disappointing on so many levels. It's disappointing because of what it means for the Celtics on the court, and Delonte off the court. It's disappointing because you know how important it was for him to be out there, and how hard he worked and how much he went through for his dream of playing again to become a reality. Anytime you see one of the Celtics lying flat on the parquet, clutching his wrist and screaming like he just sat on a nail, you're going to feel for him. But with Delonte, it was worse. It's almost been a week, but I still can't think about it without instinctively shaking my head. It's a just a shame that it had to happen.

But at the same time, I'm not surprised that it did.

One of the Wests greatest qualities is his competitiveness; how hard he plays; how badly he wants to win pretty fantastic qualities for an athlete to have, regardless of the sport. But if there's a drawback to West's ultra-competitive nature, it sometimes translates into him acting recklessly on the court. It translates into plays like the one from last Wednesday, where West left the floor and soared towards the hoop with little control of his body or concern over what would happen when he hit the floor. The way West throws himself at the hoop, it's like he half-expects the court to turn into a pool of Sprite upon landing. Or more likely, he just doesnt think about what will happen next because hes too focused on scoring the hoop and helping the team.

Im not sure how you can ever really criticize someone for thinking or acting that way. Its every ownercoachfan's dream to have a guy like that. But at some point, Delonte needs to understand that self-conservation isnt a sign of weaknesses. That taking the intensity down a couple notches in certain situations is more beneficial to the team than playing every possession like it's in the last two minutes of Game 7.

At this point, most people have bought into the Patriots' hype. It's pretty obvious that their 9-2 record is far from a fluke. The Pats are a legitimately good team, and given the current state of the NFL, there's no reason why they cant win another Super Bowl. Who ever imagined we'd be saying that two months ago? It happened so quickly, but it most definitely happened. The Pats have turned the corner.

But as they turn that corner, they'll come face-to-face with the longest and roughest stretch of their season. Four games that will let us know, for sure, how much faith to place in possibility of Ring No. 4.

December football isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be the biggest test of the season, and a month that helps us determine which contenders are for real. But after the events of Week 12, the Pats' December slate looks more taxing than ever.

We already knew they'd have their hands full at home down the stretch. They host the Jets next Monday, and then the Packers two weeks later on the 19th. Both are top three teams in their conference. Both have dangerous, explosive and game-changing defenses. The Jets have one of the league's most powerful rushing attacks. The Packers are one of the most prolific passing games. Both teams know what it's like to play in the cold, as well. The New England winter's not intimidating anyone over there. Those two home games were already circled as two of the season's most significant. But after Sunday's games, the Pats' two road games have taken on new meaning.

December 12 at Chicago

Well, I'm officially impressed. How about you? For the longest time I thought about this game, and the Bears' inconsistent season, and the idea of Bill Belichick vs. Jay Cutler, and never really worried. I figured it would be a tough game, but that the Pats would find a way to win. And while that's certainly not out of the question, the Bears proved in their win over the red hot Eagles that theyre for real. Especially at home.

Right now, Chicago has the second-best record in the NFC. Better than the Giants, Eagles and Packers. And thats the caliber team the Pats need to expect now. They can still win, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did. It was just a little less stressful when you could count on Cutler throwing seven interceptions, being sacked five times . . . and then playing even worse in the second half.

December 26 at Buffalo

Steve Johnson blamed God for the Bills losing on Sunday, but not even He is that cruel. The Bills had three or four different fantastic chances to close out their upset of the Steelers. But it just wasnt meant to be. Literally, Johnson thinks.

But despite Johnson's big drop, and the Bills Big 'L', you can see that they've figured something out in Buffalo. In Ryan Fitzpatrick they have a quarterback who will make plays and keep them in games, and their defense is just tough enough to hold their ground against the more physical teams in the league.

They're still the Bills, but a few weeks ago you would've looked at that last game in December as more as a piece-of-cake postseason tuneup. But after Buffalos two straight wins and one "impressive" loss nothings easy.

Definitely not in December.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority


Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, after a busy morning celebrating my 3-year-old’s birthday at the trampoline park. Yee-ha.

*PHT writer Joey Alfieri says that adding toughness was a big offseason priority for the Montreal Canadiens.

*There’s at least one big fan of the Edmonton Oilers trade that brought defenseman Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils, and that fan’s name is Mark Letestu.

*Here’s everything you need to know about the Ice Guardians movie premiering this fall that takes a long, balanced look at the NHL enforcers.

*Roberto Luongo has an alibi for the robbery in Winnipeg with one suspect getting away in goalie equipment, and it’s funny as you would expect it to be.

*CSN Washington takes a look at the New York Rangers in their season previews for the Metro Division.

*I’m not entirely sure whether this “RIP Harambe” thing is genuine or meant to be ironic by the largely millenial group that seem so enamored with it, but I think it’s just stupid. I think the same with the crying Jordan meme…also stupid.

*For something completely different: a look at how Triumph the Insult Comic Dog learned how to poop on Trump’s politics.


Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension


Report: Patriots sign LB Jonathan Freeny to two-year extension

The Patriots have signed linebacker and special teamer Jonathan Freeny to a two-year contract extension through 2018, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported.

Freeney, 27, was originally signed by the Patriots to a one-year free-agent deal in March 2015 after spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins. He then earned a one-year extension last September and played 13 games, seven starts, with 50 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. 



Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen


Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

Click here for the gallery.

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Danton Heinen.

Danton Heinen exploded into a high-profile prospect for the Bruins after finishing among the NCAA’s top scoring players a couple of years ago as a freshman along with a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin. 

Since then, Heinen has continued to produce offense at the University of Denver and continued to create offense that leads to points. Now, the 21-year-old Heinen will be entering the professional arena for his first full season with the Bruins and he’ll be attempting to transition from the prospect phase to a regular gig in the NHL. That’s the challenge for a talented player who appears headed into a very good opportunity in NHL training camp.


What happened last year

Heinen was every bit as explosive in his second season for Denver as he was in his brilliant freshman campaign. He improved on his scoring with 20 goals and 48 points in 41 games. Then Heinen signed with the Bruins at the end of his sophomore season and played in a couple of pro games in the AHL with Providence as a tune-up for this first full pro campaign with the Bruins organization. Heinen finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating in four games with the P-Bruins and showed the coaches in Providence that he was ready to play and produce with more talented players. If Heinen surprised a little bit as a breakout freshman two years ago, his sophomore follow-up in Denver last season proved to everybody that he wasn’t a fluke.


Questions to be answered this season

The real question surrounding Heinen is about his ceiling as an NHL player and just how good he can become as a player with the skills and playmaking abilities to be a top-six forward. He’s proven he can dominate at the collegiate level while admittedly playing with some pretty good teammates at Denver. Heinen showed at the end of the season in Providence that the pro scene might not be much different for him. At this point, Heinen simply needs to go out and prove it against the best players in the world and show that his speed, playmaking and hockey sense are all elite in the AHL or NHL. Heinen’s biggest obstacle might be his size. He'll need to survive as a targeted skill player despite not being much more than the 6-feet, 180-pound range for a forward. It’s about average for a playmaking wing in the NHL, but the hits and attention will be at a much more intense level than anything he faced in the NCAA world.


What they're saying

“He’s the type of player that he can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ and he’s got really good skill. I think anywhere you put him, he’s smart enough to figure it out. I think you’ll notice him during training camp. It will definitely be up to him, but I think he’ll push some guys.” –Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo on Heinen during last month’s development camp where Heinen soared as a performer.


While Heinen still has some things he’ll need to prove before he’s a regular contributor for the Bruins, he comes into the Boston fold as an experienced player following two very good seasons at the college level. So, Heinen should be a little closer to plug-and-play for Claude Julien than some of the other young players that have come through the system in the past couple of years. Heinen will still need to flash in camp while being handed a big spot to perform with high-end veterans Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand potentially off playing in the World Cup of Hockey. Heinen also has a much greater chance of winning an NHL job sooner rather than later after the Bruins lost out on the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes and still have a top-six forward opening that somebody is going to fill. Heinen and Frank Vatrano are the two biggest favorites to fill that position, which became vacant when Loui Eriksson departed for Vancouver. Whichever winger loses that battle should be also be a strong candidate for a role on the third line, as well, barring any late veteran signings by the B’s. That set of circumstances leaves a very good situation for Heinen to potentially walk into with the Black and Gold, but he'll still have to show he’s fully capable of seizing his good fortune and good timing.