Chara returns against the Flyers

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Chara returns against the Flyers

PHILADELPHIA Zdeno Chara has proven once again that hes more machine than man.
One week after suffering a left knee injury that looked fairly serious in nature, Chara is returning to the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center for a game against the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers. Claude Julien said there was no hesitation in placing the 6-foot-9 defenseman back into the lineup, and that things werent being pushed despite Charas noted desire to avoid missing games.

Chara's presence became an automatic when the Bruins announced Friday nightthey were sending Steve Kampfer and Jordan Caron to Providence for some "knock the rust off" games this weekend.

Hes fine obviously. We wouldnt be taking the risk if he wasnt. Yesterdays practice went well and after we got here in Philly we checked in with him after the flight and he was great, said Julien. So hes been cleared to play and hes ready to jump back into the lineup.

The Bruins havent been the picture of defensive excellence over the last handful of games without Chara, and it was painfully obvious in allowing 90 shots to the Kings and Senators that things need to be tightened up. The Bs coach said it was more about the five-man unit pulling together through the neutral zone to slow down the oppositions attack than it was about installing Chara back into the lineup.

Charas absence may have a little bit to do with it, but not a lot, said Julien. Certainly our team is better than that with the amount of shots given. It wasnt Zdeno as much as it was all of us being much better without the puck.

Were giving teams a lot of space and werent closing the gaps quickly. Its a habit that had crept in before. We dont want to take any credit away from Chara, but we also dont want to give him any more than he deserves also.

Credit or not, there's a nagging sense the Bruins are going to be much better defensively with Charaagainst the Flyers in a marquee Eastern Conference tilt this afternoon.

Belichick: This month’s been ’definitely an evaluation’ of Garoppolo

Belichick: This month’s been ’definitely an evaluation’ of Garoppolo

FOXBORO – The Patriots probably thought Jimmy Garoppolo would perform capably if he had to start a regular season game. That he could handle the game-planning, practices, mental preparation, off-field demands, in-game adjustments and situational quandaries.

They don’t have to “think” he can do it anymore. Now they know.

Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston asked Bill Belichick Friday morning about the value of this month when it came to knowing exactly what the team has behind Tom Brady.

“Yeah, definitely an evaluation,” Belichick said. “Absolutely. No question. It’s different than preseason. It’s different than any other game situation where the game is declared one way or the other. It’s totally different. That’s what all players play for – the opportunity. When they get it, then they control how they perform to it.”

The Patriots were down this road before in 2008. That time, because Brady was lost for the season with an ACL, they had to stay on that road until its 11-5, postseason-less end.

Belichick spoke about how valuable that period time was in learning about Brady’s then-backup Matt Cassel. Interestingly, Cassel did not perform well at all in the 2008 preseason just before taking over during the season opener.

 “We obviously thought a lot of good things about Matt, but until he actually played and was the starting quarterback, it was different,” Belichick said.

“We certainly modified a lot of things during the year, as the year went along, based on Matt. It’s as simple as that. There were some things we did more of, there are some things we did less of than we had done in the past.

“I think that’s probably true of most any two quarterbacks; if you’re going to go an extended period of time with a player, as you work more with that player, you find certain things that he’s better at or more comfortable at, or maybe your team is better at. Maybe it’s not just him; it’s a combination of him and whatever else is on your team, and you try to put yourself in the most competitive position every week.

“Hopefully that will lead you down a certain path. Maybe you knew it. Maybe you didn’t. But I’d say you probably never know exactly what it is. You might have a general guideline.”

What Garoppolo’s put out there in his five quarters of play and what Jacoby Brissett’s put out there in six are at the very least general guidelines for what they may be capable of over extended periods. In reality, their performances will lead the entire franchise down a path that’s much more well-lit than it was at the start of the month. 

 

Belichick: ‘I don’t think you can be afraid of free agency’

Belichick: ‘I don’t think you can be afraid of free agency’

FOXBORO – We’ve mentioned – a few thousand times – that the Patriots have a fleet of key free agents up at the end of the 2016 season.

There’s Jamie Collins, Donta Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Duron Harmon, Martellus Bennett and Logan Ryan. Malcolm Butler, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent. How does the team maintain its laser-focus on the games of 2016 while knowing that – if these business decisions aren’t addressed – the games of 2017 could look starkly different.

I asked Bill Belichick Friday morning about stealing a glance at the business side of things and planning for the future while the season’s ongoing.

“In general there’s some team planning you can do,” Belichick said after noting the team’s immediate focus is currently on Sunday’s game with the Bills. “Sometimes, if you can work out a contract with a player during the season – we’ve done that with various players – if you can work it out, you work it out. If you can’t, then there’ve been a number of players that we’ve signed – our players – that we signed once free agency has started. Devin [McCourty] to pick a name.

“I don’t think you can be afraid of free agency,” Belichick continued. “It’s not like if a guy gets to free agency you can’t re-sign him. You’re in a competitive market but, you know, you’re in a competitive market anyway.”

There are things that occur now, that could occur this weekend that can drastically impact every plan laid. It’s my impression that the Patriots are slow-playing this free agent class. Waving lucrative extensions in front of players before knowing how they’ll make it through this season and before knowing what their appeal will be on the open market is short-term satisfaction.

It will satisfy the players who want the security and it will squelch hand-wringing that EVERYBODY’S GOING TO LEAVE in the media.

Long-term, it’s risky.

Consider Donta Hightower. He’s got a knee issue that’s kept him down two games. He played three-quarters of the year in 2014 and 2015 and this year isn’t trending better. He brings absolutely everything the Patriots want in a player except the durability. The onus is on them to factor that into any contract offer they extend. Meanwhile, the onus is on Hightower to – if he isn’t getting what he and his agent feel he can command – to find out if another team will give him different terms if the Patriots’ aren’t suitable.

As Belichick pointed out, “These guys know that they have other options depending on who the player is and what the situation is. They have other options but we know there’s only so much money to go around. If you can work it out, then you have that security. If you can’t then you have your options. They have their options, we have our options. That’s professional sports. I don’t think that’s anything revolutionary. I don’t think it’s different than any other pro football team or any other pro team. You see the same in all the other sports.”

In general, the Patriots have shrewd free agent operators. Pulling the ripcord on Darrelle Revis and Wes Welker were two of the tougher calls made in recent years. Both decisions caused howling from the fanbase and predictions of doom from the media. Both were prescient decisions.

Teams splinter when the seasons end. And the second-guessing about the business decisions is inevitable.

“It’s been that way … since we had free agency,” he said. “That’s what it is. That’s the way it is in all sports. Basketball season’s over, you’re talking about a few guys going here, going there, staying with their team, whatever. You’re not gonna be able to get around that. Even if we were to sign a couple of those guys or whatever that is, there’s gonna be a couple of guys that aren’t so you can talk about those. Same thing we come in here Monday after every game. Somebody had production [but media asks], ‘But what about these guys this guy didn’t catch that many passes, this guy didn’t get that many carries.’ There’s always those guys to ask about. There’s no simple answer to it.”

This season, the questions seem even more challenging.