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Weekend whirlwind

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 8, 2010 10:21 AM

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OK, so here’s how this will work: In the vein of the Monday morning quarterback, we bring you the Monday morning blog. Each week, this will allow those of us caught in cyberspace to catch up on the weekend developments in Boston sports, a stream that begins today with …

...the unquestionably dirty hit on Marc Savard. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is, courtesy of NESN. Though culprit Matt Cooke alleges, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that he was merely trying to finish a check and that the contact was shoulder-to-shoulder, Savard was knocked unconscious – how does that happen if you get hit in the shoulder? – and even some Pens players seemed to offer their disapproval.

"It's pretty scary stuff,’’ Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis told the Post-Gazette. "You don't wish that on anyone. It's pretty tough to watch, actually."

And why . . . because it’s clean?

Here’s the question: what’s the NHL going to do about this sort of thing? One of the issues currently being discussed by NHL general managers concerns such hits, which do not carry disciplinary measures that are severe enough. Savard will miss at least three games, maybe more, all while the Bruins are fighting for their postseason lives. Already the lowest-scoring team in the league, the B’s now have to plod along on a seven-game road without their top playmaker.

For the defending Cup champion Pens, what’s the price? Suspending a player like Cooke for even as long as Savard remains sidelined is hardly justice for obvious reasons. Relatively speaking, in terms of talent, Cooke is a clown. The good news for the Bruins is that the Pens are due in Boston on March 18, when the B’s could be forgiven for taking a run at Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or maybe, just for kicks, even newcomer Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Maybe then Cooke’s teammates will hold him accountable. And maybe then he’ll understand the ramifications of his actions.

Meanwhile, as NFL free moves along, the Patriots have locked up Vince Wilfork, Stephen Neal and Tully Banta-Cain, which might be good news were it not for the fact that all three players wore the New England uniform last season. Thus far, the Pats have done nothing more than pay for the status quo, which last season got them a 10-6 record and a butt-kicking in the first round of the playoffs.

The problems that existed at the end of the season still remain. The Pats need a front-line pass rusher, receivers, linebackers. A good chunk of the more attractive players have been taken off the market, from Anquan Boldin and Kevin Walter to Julius Peppers and Aaron Kampman. Though there is still ample time for the Pats to address their issues – the draft is still more than a month away – the 2010 is starting to feel like much more of a rebuilding year than 2009 did, even after the Pats traded Richard Seymour.

Obviously, the Wilfork deal is terrific news. But given that he, Neal and Banta-Cain were team property to begin with, why weren’t these deals done long ago? One cannot help but wonder the announcement of these deals was timed with free agency to help soften the negative publicity that would result from relative inaction on the free agent, particularly when the Pats are focused on people like Josh Reed while the Boldins, Walters and Brandon Marshalls go elsewhere.

Fine, so the Patriots haven’t gotten worse.

But they haven’t improved yet, either.

Of course, the same seems true of the Celtics, who miraculously escaped defeat by the Washington Wizards thanks to the heroics of Ray Allen. Since the trading deadline, Allen has averaged 18.7 points per game while shooting an absurd 57.7 percent from the field overall and 44.2 percent from 3-point distance. The problem is that the Celtics generally have done nothing to inspire any more faith in them, which is precisely why they may regret having kept Allen at the trading deadline.

Think about it: when Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were united, Allen was coming off double-ankle surgery. He was the biggest health concern of the new Big Three. As it has turned out, Allen has played in 252 of a possible 265 regular- and postseason games with the Celtics, precisely the same number as the younger, bigger Paul Pierce. Garnett (204) trails by a landlside. Allen’s contract is up at the end of the season and, as Gary Washburn points out today, keeping him may now be a more prudent decision than letting him go, largely because the Celtics don’t have the financial flexibility to use the entirety of Allen’s contract on the open market.

Still, there is a small chance that the Celtics will flip some magic switch and play the postseason as they did the early stages of the regular season, when they looked like a juggernaut. Yet, as the season goes on, it is far easier to come to the conclusion that the Celtics simply are not as good as they thought they were.

Is there really anyone that can argue with that?

Now that John Lackey has made his spring debut, maybe we can start talking about the potential dominance of the Boston starting rotation. But before anybody gets too giddy, let’s acknowledge that things rarely ever go according to plan. The last American League team with three 20-game winners was the 1973 Oakland A’s, who accomplished the feat two years after the 1971 Baltimore Orioles had four 20-game winners.

Admittedly, the 20-win season itself has become something of an aberration. (If Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester win 17 games each, no one will complain.) But the general point is that getting three ace-caliber pitchers to fire on all cylinders at the same time is the exception more than the rule, because someone is almost certainly going to have an off year. If everyone clicks, the Red Sox could win 100 games. But if everyone does not, the Sox’ perceived shortcomings on offense will be magnified, regardless of whether general manager Theo Epstein trades for a bat.

We all love this pitching staff. That was never in doubt. The Lackey signing was a huge short-term gain for the Red Sox, even if it contradicted their history with regard to free agents. If the Red Sox can keep Lackey, Beckett, and Lester healthy, they should be able to get 600 innings from them. The wins will take care of themselves. But remember that we all thought the Sox had more depth than they would need entering last season, and they ended up needing every last bit of it.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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