Source: Jason Varitek to retire on Thursday

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Source: Jason Varitek to retire on Thursday

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek, whose celebratory hugs with battery-mates Keith Foulke and Jonathan Papelbon are indelibly linked to the only two world championships the Red Sox have won since 2001, will announce his retirement from baseball Thursday after 15 seasons with the club, a source confirmed.

A handful of catchers in recent baseball history -- including Carlton Fisk, Pudge Rodriguez and Bob Boone -- continued to play the game's most demanding position into their 40s. Varitek will fall a few weeks short of that milestone.

Varitek, who turns 40 in April and who served as Red Sox captain from 2005 through last season, had some interest shown to him by other clubs over the winter, but at his age, with declining production in recent seasons, couldn't envision finishing his career with a team other than the Red Sox.

The Sox had conveyed to Varitek over the winter that he could come to camp as a non-roster invitee, but told him there were no guarantees. The club's signing of free agent Kelly Shoppach during the off-season effectively closed the door for Varitek.

Jarrod Salatalamacchia, who took over as the team's No. 1 catcher last season, will continue in that role this season. Ryan Lavarnway, who has tremendous offensive upside but needs additional experience behind the plate at Pawtucket, is also considered to have a bright future and catching prospect Blake Swihart, drafted in the first round last summer, is regarded by some as the top position player in the team's minor league system.

Varitek will retire as the franchise leader in games caught. His 15 seasons with the Red Sox (1997-2001) are eclipsed only by Carl Yastrzemski (23 seasons), Ted Williams (19) and Jim Rice (16) when it comes to those who played their entire major league career with the Red Sox.

He hit .256 with 193 homers and 757 RBI. He won a Gold Glove and was chosen to three All-Star teams. He finishes his career ranked in the all-time Top 10 in several franchise categories, including games played, plate appearances, doubles and extra-base hits.

PROFILE: Jason Varitek, year-by-year

Varitek was obtained at the 1997 trade deadline from Seattle, along with Derek Lowe, for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, surely one of the most lopsided deals in Red Sox history.

In addition to serving as the team's first captain since Jim Rice, Varitek's fight with the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez in the middle of the 2004 season seemed to represent a turning point in Red Sox history, a sign that the Sox were no longer intimidated by the Yankees and their past dominance
of the Sox.

Pitchers continually praised him for his preparation and knowledge of opposing hitters, none more so than Curt Schilling.

He proved remarkably durable in his career. From 1999 until 2009, he played in 100 or more games in every season but one and, over his 15-year career, was placed on the disabled list just twice -- once with a broken elbow and again, in 2010, with a broken foot.

He caught four no-hitters (Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), the most for any catcher in baseball history. He was the only player who played in the Little League World Series, the College World Series, the Olympic Games, the World Basbeall Classic and the World Series.

As recently as 2009, Varitek supplied respectable power numbers (14 homers and 51 RBI in 364 at-bats. But his playing time dipped drastically over the last two seasons as he played just 107 games combined in 2010 and 2011.

The Red Sox traded for Victor Martinez at the trade deadline in 2009 and he became the principal catcher over the final two months of that season and again in 2010.

Varitek's role was further diminished in 2010 when Saltalamacchia, after a brutal first month, seized the No. 1 catcher's role.

The Boston Globe was the first to report news of Varitek's retirement.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

BOSTON -- No matter what Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder say, you get the feeling there’s still some bad blood between these two.
 
It goes back to the playoffs last season when Thomas slapped Schroder in the face and extended into their last meeting in which Schroder said Thomas spoke unkind words about his family in Atlanta (allegations that Thomas has repeatedly denied).
 
Following Atlanta’s shoot-around this morning, Schroder doubled down on his previous comments about Thomas having said things about his family.
 
“Everybody heard it, too,” Schroder said earlier today. “My family sat courtside too. Thabu (Sefolosha) heard some things; he was involved in that. It is what it is. We just try to compete and it’s getting heated in the game. It is what it is.”
 
I asked Thomas about the Schroder allegations following Boston’s 104-98 win at Detroit on Sunday night.
 
“Man, I’m past that. I’m not worried about that guy,” Thomas said. “Once he did that the last game, where he tried to damage my character, (saying I was) talking about his parents … I’m past that. Hopefully we can beat the Atlanta Hawks. I’m not even worried about him.”
 
Schroder speaks a similar tone about his approach to tonight’s game.
 
Boston (38-21) is looking to build off the win at Detroit which snapped a two-game losing streak.
 
Meanwhile, the Hawks (32-26) have lost three straight -- each defeat by at least 15 points -- and four of their last five.
 
In the last two losses, Schroder was suspended for one game because he missed practice following the All-Star break (he told the Hawks there was a visa mix-up) and was late arriving to the team bus for another so he began that game on the bench.
 
That’s why the beef that still exist between both players isn’t likely to be a major deal tonight; at least that’s what they want us to believe.
 
“We gotta win,” Schroder said. “We lost two in a row after All-Star break. I think the team is more important than a player on the other team. We just focus on winning this game and try to compete for 48 minutes.”
 
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer will be the first to tell you that Schroder’s competitive drive is among the reasons the franchise hasn’t looked back on its decision to trade all-star Jeff Teague and give Schroder the keys to running the team.
 
He has certainly had his moments when that decision might be questioned, but for the most part he has shown the kind of growth individually that they were hoping for as a full-time starter.
 
This season he’s averaging career highs in scoring (17.4) and assists (6.3) per game.
 
However, Atlanta hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success this year that we’ve seen from them recently.
 
A fixture among the top two or three teams the past couple of years, they are currently fifth in the NBA, trailing East-leading Cleveland by 8.5 games and the No. 2 Celtics by 5.5 games.
 
And while Boston does have a nice cushion with 24 games left to play, they know a strong finish will position them to better control their postseason destiny -- something that hasn’t been the case the past couple of seasons in which Boston began the playoffs on the road as a lower seed.
 
As much as the need to win will be front and center tonight, all eyes will be on the two point guards.
 
But in the end, both understand that tonight’s game isn’t about which of them can out-perform the other.
 
“Dennis is a competitive guy, as is Isaiah,” Budenholzer said. “They both are more concerned about their teams and what’s best for their teams.”