Bettman: NHL set to return to Europe

Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88), shown scoring a goal against the Senators last weekend, and his Boston teammates have had plenty to celebrate as the team has gotten off to a 11-2-2 mark to begin the season.

Maybe following sports in general is not as all-consuming for you as it is for someone like me, but nevertheless, I like to be on top of things sports-wise, particularly if I’m going to be viewed as a legitimate, well-versed sports columnist.

But even I was taken a little bit aback when I was putting together The Sun Chronicle’s sports section the other night, and while assembling the Scoreboard page that includes national standings, stats, and box scores, there it was:

Boston Celtics: First place, 6-1 record.

Boston Bruins: First place, 11-2-2.

New England Patriots: First place, 8-1.

Even the Boston Red Sox, World Series champions just a year ago, had an undefeated October.

Ahem.

Yet despite the Red Sox’ disappointing finish in 2019, they are still a team to be respected and feared, especially with their talent-laden roster, a top-notch skipper, and a newly hired Chief Baseball Officer with tremendous upside and potential.

Not surprisingly, the Red Sox are no worse than the fifth choice by most oddsmakers to return to, and win, the 2020 World Series.

At some point, those who read this column who are not Boston sports fans are bound to shout to the heavens, “Enough!” But it doesn’t seem like the city that has accumulated 12 team championship since 2001 is headed for a downturn just yet in terms of its potential for more sports excellence.

Let’s break it down.

Bruins

Yes, the Black and Gold nearly made it 13 titles for the region in June when they were snuffed out in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final by the upstart Blues.

From a local hockey fan’s standpoint, that one still hurts around here, but the shortened summer and hangover from that stunning loss has seemingly not affected the Bruins.

They opened the season by taking three of four on the road against four quality teams, and have lost only three games in regulation out of 16 games (and two of those losses were controversial in that both saw the B’s have at least one go-ahead goal disallowed by dubious video review).

But unlike the Patriots and Celtics, the Bruins have actually played a pretty tough schedule thus far, and have vanquished some upper-echelon teams along the way, including the Stars, Golden Knights, Blues, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Sharks, and Rangers.

Look, we’re not even a fifth of the way through the season, and the B’s haven’t really dealt with any significant injuries yet, but right now, they look even better than the team that went to last year’s Cup Final, and their depth, speed, and dominance are unmistakable.

Celtics

Losing All-Stars like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, along with spare parts like Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris was supposed to seriously hinder the team’s chances this season, especially since this year’s edition has seven rookies.

When the Green were drubbed in their season opener at Philadelphia, it looked like it was back to square one for a franchise that went to back-to-back conference finals in 2017 and 2018.

But something funny happened thereafter, and the Celtics have ripped off six straight wins, although admittedly four of those were against the lowly likes of the Knicks, Hornets, and Cavaliers.

The other two wins were against the defending NBA champs, the Raptors (who no longer have Kawhi Leonard, but the rest of the team is pretty much intact) and the powerful Bucks, against whom the Green (without starter Jaylen Brown) rallied from 19 points down to emerge victorious.

Obviously, the team chemistry is better without the taciturn Irving to foul things up, but the team’s depth seems to be improved, especially if the team gets improved performances from first-year players Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards, among others.

Patriots

The Patriots’ 8-0 start was almost forgotten after its brutal loss at Baltimore last week, but does anyone doubt the likelihood of seeing America’s (Most Hated) Team play for a conference championship in January?

Not me. Not after the late-season transformation I witnessed last season, when a team that was 9-5 in December ran the table – thanks to a change in philosophy that saw the running game get pushed to the forefront — en route to the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl.

Again, the early schedule was rather unchallenging, but New England did beat a 6-2 Bills team and a Steelers team (with QB Ben Roethlisberger) that has won four of its last five.

Red Sox

All eyes are on the new baseball ops guy, Chaim Bloom, as he tries to return the Sox to the pinnacle of the baseball world. Whether or not ownership is serious about reducing the team payroll from $240 million to around $208 million remains to be seen, but the 2019 season was sabotaged by a poor start and the breakdown of the starting pitching staff over the last two months.

But make no mistake: if health returns to the team’s arms and the Sox do not deal their best player, Mookie Betts, to cut payroll, the Red Sox should be back in the mix for their fifth(!) World Series title of the century.

Revolution

Why not mention the area’s soccer team? After all, the team was 2-8-2 in May when it cleaned house and hired five-time MLS champion coach Bruce Arena to take over the moribund franchise.

The Revs then went 9-2-10 the rest of the way, miraculously qualified for the playoffs, then gave the defending MLS Cup champs all they could handle in their playoff matchup before bowing by a goal.

Perhaps with Arena getting a full season to work his magic, and not spotting the team eight losses so early in the year, we might see the Revolution join their Boston-area brethren in discussions for a championship of their own.

Either way, for New England sports fans, the rich get richer — and that suits them just fine.

Chris Young’s column appears Saturdays in the Sun Chronicle’s Weekend Edition. He can be reached at ballparkfigures@comcast.net.

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