Varitek: Retiring 'most difficult' decision of career


Varitek: Retiring 'most difficult' decision of career

FORT MYERS, Fla. For the second time in as many weeks, a Red Sox icon bid an emotional farewell to his playing career, as Jason Varitek officially announced his retirement Thursday evening.

With many of his now-former teammates looking on, including Tim Wakefield who announced his own retirement less than two weeks ago, Varitek ended his 15-year career. He is the fourth-longest tenured player in Red Sox history to play his entire major league career with the team. He trails only Carl Yastrzemski at 23 seasons, Ted Williams (19), and Jim Rice (16).

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner introduced Varitek at the start of the ceremony.

You have not only been our captain, you have been our rock, Werner said. You have personified the rugged, aggressive, fiercely competitive style of play that has characterized our club during your tenure.

But Varitek choked up throughout his brief speech as he thanked many who were instrumental to his career. Saying he wanted to recognize his teammates, but there were too many in attendance, Varitek mentioned his family, including his parents Donna and Joe, his wife Catherine, and his daughters Ally, Kendall, and Caroline, who were all in attendance.

He also thanked his Little League World Series coaches, his high school and college coaches, and his Red Sox family, especially bullpen coach and catching guru Gary Tuck.

Of Jimy Williams, his first major league manager, Varitek said, I probably wouldnt be here if it wasnt for Jimy.

It wasnt an easy decision for Varitek.

This has probably been the most difficult decision I've had to make in my entire career, he said. But the opportunity to start and finish my major league career in one place meant more to me, and that's why I'm standing here today.

This answer comes down to what's best for me and my family. But you also have to be realistic as to what my opportunities are. My opportunity here was the only opportunity that was worthwhile for me to be a part of. We worked and understood that from our talks in December all the way up until now. I continued to train in hopes that ... You just don't know what's going to happen. You want to exhaust all alternatives with this team and this organization before I really decided fully to retire.

Varitek, who turns 40 on April 11, has been offered a position in the organization, but that is still being discussed.

What I plan on doing right now is going to a lot more soccer practice and a lot more soccer games and mix in a few tennis matches for a little bit longer period of time, he said. We're still discussing, and hopefully as we continue to do this, we figure out a role to maintain and stay involved.

Varitek, a three-time All-Star, retires as the all-time Sox leader in games caught with 1,488, passing Carlton Fisks 990 in 2006. He caught a major league-record four no-hitters one each by Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester. He was the first Sox catcher to win a Silver Slugger, in 2005 when he also won his only Gold Glove Award.

Thursday was the first day he walked into a ballpark as a retired player.

Weird, he said of the feeling. It became really weird. As I start seeing all the guys come over it's just weird. You have a burn, you have a desire. It wasn't something that snapped in my mind overnight and I knew that I wasn't going to play. I still trained and tried to get myself ready. I love being able to play. I love the competition on the field, the chess game behind the plate. It's not easy.

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?

The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.

Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.

In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.

In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.

Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years. 

Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them. 

That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.

But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.

So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.

A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.

So, what are the Bruins to do right now?

There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.

But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.

That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.

Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.  

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

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