December 31, 2013

Tom Caron: Let a happy new year kick off for Boston fans

All in all, life is pretty good for sports fans around here.

Time to ring in the new. As we prepare for 2014, it’s easy to think about the good times of the past year. Times like the improbable run to a World Series title and a Stanley Cup final.

Reminiscing is fun. Building upon success is work. That’s why 2014 could be a challenging year for Boston’s pro teams. With that in mind, it’s time for our annual update on the four local teams. All in all, life is pretty good for sports fans around here as we countdown the final hours of the year.

Boston Red Sox

A year ago, the Sox faced no expectations. None. Any modicum of success would’ve been greeted with jubilation. Instead of taking a step forward toward a championship, the Sox went and won it all.

Now they face the expectations of repeating as champions. They are the team to beat. Let’s face it, last year’s team was a roster filled with overachievers. Can they do it again? That will depend on the makeup of the roster. Jacoby Ellsbury is gone, as is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Their replacements won’t be guaranteed successes.

What the Sox do have, again, is pitching. Lots of it. Teams around baseball are looking into some of Boston’s surplus starters. The Sox also have a strong bullpen once again, and have added depth with Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop.

Pitching wins championships, so the Sox will be in the hunt. That, alone, puts them far ahead of where they were on Jan. 1, 2013.

New England Patriots

We could fill this space talking about what the Patriots don’t have thanks to the rash of injuries that has plagued this team all season long. Instead, let’s focus on what New England does have. Namely, one of the greatest coach/quarterback tandems in history.

Bill Belichick is a genius, and demonstrated that throughout a season that saw his team questioned by fans and so-called experts. Those questions were answered with a first-round bye and a perfect home record. The team delivered one shocking comeback after another, and heads to the playoffs with a new-found running game spearheaded by LeGarrette Blount.

Tom Brady has done more with less than at any point in his career. He has worked without his tight ends and with a constantly changing supporting cast. And he’ll be sitting at home next Sunday relaxing while his team enjoys a bye.

Nothing new here. The Pats are once again a favorite to win the AFC.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins have been a perennial contender under Claude Julien, who will now have to channel his inner Belichick after the loss of Dennis Seidenberg for the rest of the season. Seidenberg is one of the foundations of Julien’s system, a rock who logs massive minutes and settles things on the blue line. Young defensemen like David Warsofsky and Kevin Miller will get their chance, but the Bruins may need to make a move to add a defenseman at the trade deadline.

That said, they’ve got the goaltending and enough scoring to compete. Even without a roster move, they should be able to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Boston Celtics

The biggest surprise of the New Year is that the Celtics are holding onto a playoff position. That’s bad news for many fans who want this team to tank it and get a high draft pick. Coach Brad Stevens looks like he is 12 but has quickly become one of the top young coaches in the game. He is getting more out of his team than we ever thought possible.

That might turn this team’s rebuilding efforts into a much longer process, but it’s making this team more interesting to watch.

That said, it’s a long way from a year ago with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still wore the green. And it will be a long time until that optimism returns to the parquet.

Tom Caron is studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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