As we move quickly towards the end of 2008, Boston sports fans continue to be spoiled by the success of our local major sports teams. We could easily be like Detroit, with a Stanley Cup Champion hockey team, paired with a winless and hapless football team. All four of our teams are more than competitive. We have reached the point where our expectation levels of our teams are so high, if a team doesn't win a championship, the season is a disappointment. I freely admit to being the guiltiest in this regard. Looking at the Boston sports landscape, I decided it would be fun to rank them in order as to which team is currently the most successful for the year 2008.
1.) The Boston Celtics - Championship rings talk and the Celtics not only won the NBA championship in 2008, but so far in the 2008-2009 season, seem hell bent on proving last season's championship was anything but a fluke. Paul Pierce may be the captain of the team, but the emotional leader is Kevin Garnett, who sets the tone for intensity and the team's focus on defense. Before he joined the Celtics, I didn't realize HOW GOOD Kevin Garnett was. Anyone can score and rebound. However, the things he does in games that don't even show up on a stat sheet, such as tipping loose balls in the air to keep rebounds alive and altering shots on defense by his mere presence in the lane are what make me truly admire his game.
OUTLOOK - Right now, seemingly the only team in the Eastern Conference that can prevent a Celtic return to the NBA Finals is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Other than injuries, my only concern about the Celtics is the absence of James Posey come playoff time. Leon Powe and Tony Allen have both been excellent off the bench this season. Can we count on Tony Allen to be the defensive stopper and make a big basket down the stretch in a playoff game like Posey?
2.) The Boston Bruins - Yes, THE BOSTON BRUINS! If you haven't watched any Bruins games so far this season, I highly recommend you start tuning in to Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley on NESN three times a week, because this team is a real treat. Hallmarks of Bruins teams the last 17 seasons were bad coaching, shaky goaltending, porous defense, and lack of scoring punch. The 2008-09 Bruins feature terrific coaching, an excellent 1-2 combination between the pipes, a hard hitting defense, and three legitimate scoring lines - led by bonafide sniper Phil Kessel, who is currently on pace to pot 46 goals. You like hitting? Follow rugged second year winger Milan Lucic around the ice, because he hits everything in his path. Lucic is a crowd favorite at the Garden.
OUTLOOK - I love what I see. The Boston Bruins are the top team in the Eastern Conference. Coach Claude Julien has them playing hard on both ends of the ice. His best coaching move came back in April when he benched Phil Kessel in last season's playoff game vs. Montreal, sending a message that lackadaisical effort on defense won't be tolerated. Kessel now back checks and works hard on both ends of the ice. His maturation process this season has been impressive. Every night, a solid player is inactivated, because all four lines are playing well, and they can only activate 20 players per game. There's a cup Bruin in Boston!
3.) The Boston Red Sox - Despite making it to game seven of the ALCS, I thought the Red Sox had a disappointing 2008 season. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis had MVP caliber seasons, but I thought the season was marked by underachievement and injuries. This team drove me crazy. Never did the team truly get hot and rip off a 10 game winning streak. The set up guys in the bullpen were inconsistent most of the season. David Ortiz and Josh Beckett had disappointing years, and Clay Buchholz and Jason Varitek were flat out AWFUL. The best story of the season was the development of Jon Lester, who twirled a no hitter in May and finished the season with 16 wins.
OUTLOOK - The Red Sox need to make a decision as to what to do at catcher. I'd like to see them move on from Jason Varitek. GM Theo Epstein is always creative, so I'm confident he will be able to craft something together to move the team forward at the catching position. The team is loaded with young pitching, who can be used as bargaining chips in potential trades. David Ortiz was not himself at any time last season, so the team needs to hedge its bets in terms of getting some extra thump in the lineup. Was Ortiz's season a result of the injured wrist or is age starting to show? The Red Sox are still among the best of the American League, but changes need to be made on offense to keep this team a World Series Champion caliber squad.
4.) The New England Patriots - Please raise your hand if you thought back in December 2007, that the undefeated Patriots would be the 4th ranked team in Boston twelve months later. Right, I didn't think so. Bill Belichick coached teams always have been known for the strength of their defense. The 2008 edition of the New England Patriots features the team's worst defense since the 2000 season; Belichick's first year coaching the team. The secondary is atrocious and the team's pass rush is in the Witness Protection Program. Why any team would bother to run against the Patriots is something I don't understand. The most enjoyable parts of this season have been the development of QB Matt Cassel and the contributions of unrestricted free agents Gary Guyton at LB and BenJarvus Green-Ellis at RB.
OUTLOOK - The dynasty is officially over. Unless the Patriots run the table the rest of the regular season, they will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Tom Brady injury or not, this team was ultimately doomed from the start because of the play of the secondary. The defense cannot get off the field on 3rd down and they are terrible in the red zone. It is also time to upgrade the offensive line by investing in a new left tackle who can move his feet vs. speed rushers. Matt Light would be better at right tackle at this point in his career. I'm hoping the Patriots are aggressive in offseason free agency, as well as in the draft looking to upgrade the secondary, the OL, and finding another pass rushing DE/LB to pair with Adalius Thomas.