Every so often, the question is worth asking in these parts: which of our professional teams is closest to a championship?The easy answer today would be the Celtics, who made it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals last season before succumbing to the Los Angeles Lakers. But is it really the right answer? On the calendar, the Patriots will have the first chance. If money is a major factor – and it is – the Red Sox have the most. But if you’re looking for the team with the best young talent to make an extended run, it might actually be the Bruins.
That’s right, the Bruins.
Let’s say that one more time:
Here’s a snapshot of our four clubs during that rare, fabulous time of year when all four clubs are at work, concluding their seasons, preparing for them, or now smack dab in the middle of them. Championship odds for all four teams start at 4-to-1 (obviously) and move based on relative strength of weakness to other teams:
Before we get too spoiled, let’s make something clear: since 1984, the Red Sox have won this many games (87) and missed the playoffs only once. That came in 2002, when the Anaheim Angels won the wild card with a resounding 99 victories and the Red Sox were undergoing a transition in ownership. The point is that this has not been a bad season so much as it has been a relatively unsuccessful one.
The Red Sox are going to be playoff contenders again next season because their management and pitching staff is too good not to be, but the goal, for some of us, is not to beat out Tampa Bay for the wild-card spot. The goal is to win championships. The Red Sox have some work to do in their lineup and their bullpen, and there do not appear to be any easy solutions. The Red Sox could very easily make the playoffs next season, but many of us felt that way entering this year and projected the Red Sox as an early-round ejection.
Championship odds: 4-to-1.
Be honest with yourself: What you saw on Sunday was not anything remotely resembling a championship defense – even in college football's Western Athletic Conference. The Buffalo Bills' lineup is the football equivalent of the Seattle Mariners. The Bills have no real explosiveness whatsoever, and yet they punted once against a Patriots group that is clearly out of WAC.
Yes, it was one game. But the Pats have issues. Go through the AFC (honestly) and you can come up with a group of teams that look a good deal stronger than the Patriots today, including: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and New York. Houston and Miami are right there, too, which places the Patriots in the middle of the conference.
Can that change? Of course. We’re talking about a team coached by Bill Belichick here. But the defense is absurdly young, which is going to require rapid growth. At the same time, the Patriots will have a crack at a title before anyone else.
Championship odds: 5-to-1.
Maybe Danny Ainge should have blown it all up at the end of last year. Maybe preserving this group – and we’re talking formaldehyde – was the more prudent way to go. Regardless, Miami is the obvious and clear favorite in the conference, and there are far younger, more athletic teams (Atlanta, Chicago) that should concern you.
Just as the Sox are O-U-T, the Celtics are O-L-D old. We mean really old. If and when the Celtics plod through the regular season in uninspiring fashion, none of us will be as concerned this time around because of what we saw last year. If the Celtics are healthy when they make the playoffs – and they will – they will frighten teams because of their know-how. And they should.
No one would call the Celtics favorites, but their chances look better than the Red Sox or Patriots at this point.
Championship odds: 3-to-1.
This might be a different question, admittedly, but ask yourself this: at the moment, if you had to invest in a team as if it were a stock, which would you pick? If you say anyone other than the Bruins, you’re wrong. Go right down the line. Tuukka Rask. David Krejci. Milan Lucic. Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron. Nathan Horton. Jordan Caron. Joe Colborne.
Know what they have in common? They’re all 25 or younger.
Obviously, Marc Savard remains a concern, but the biggest thing working against them is this: history. As was the case with the Red Sox prior to 2004, Bruins followers are conditioned to think the worst, an entirely understandable condition given the events of last postseason, in particular. But in terms of youth and talent, the Bruins appear to have a very good supply of both.
A suggestion: Buy in. This team could be fun for a while. And good.
Championship odds: 5-to-2.
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