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Keefe To The City: New York And Boston Not Loving Bobby Valentine

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By Neil Keefe
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Prior to Super Bowl XLVI, I assumed that it would be my last email discussion with Mike Hurley of CBS Boston because someone had to come out the loser in that game and the someone who lost would probably never want to talk to the other person again. I don’t know if our “friendship” will ever be the same now that Hurley has had to accept the fact that Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin own Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but if winning two Super Bowls in four years means being unable to have these email exchanges, then so be it.

With the Rangers and Bruins meeting this Sunday in New York, and the Knicks and Celtics playing on Sunday in Boston, and Bobby Valentine running his mouth about the Yankees as if he has ever won anything in the majors, I figured I would send Hurley an email and see if he’s come out of his hibernation since the XLVI loss and see if he’s up for an email discussion.

Keefe: I’m sending this email to you in hopes that you respond. I’m not sure if you have blocked me or deleted me from your email and/or phone since that semi-important football game on Feb. 5. But if you do receive this email, we have a lot to talk about.

This Sunday is another day in the New York vs. Boston rivalry with the Rangers and Bruins playing at Madison Square Garden and the Knicks and Celtics playing at ShawmutFleetCenterTDBanknorthGardenTDGarden.

Last week John Tortorella diffused “Rick Nash to the Rangers” rumors by stating that his team isn’t ready to win now. It took me by surprise because if the No. 1 seed isn’t ready to win a championship then is anyone? I do kind of understand what he is getting at in that this team hasn’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs and they haven’t really extended any playoff run since Tom Renney was the head coach and they haven’t experienced that kind of heart-crushing loss in the postseason that every team sort of goes through before becoming champions. The Penguins had to lose Game 7 to the Red Wings in 2007-08 before becoming champions the following year, and you know a little about this since your Bruins lost in Game 7 in the first round in 2007-08, came back down 3-1 in the second round to Carolina only to lose Game 7 in overtime at home, blew a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia in 2009-10 (and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 at home), but then won it all in 2010-11. These Rangers haven’t gone on anything that resembles a playoff run since 2007-08 when they lost to the Penguins in the second round, but that was Renney’s team and Jaromir Jagr’s team.

To me, Tortorella was building a wall for those people that want Nash (or wanted Nash), like myself, and trying to prevent the “I told you so” columns and discussions if the Rangers lose in the first round because Henrik Lundqvist gives up a goal or two a game and the offense goes to sleep. (This is very likely.) He was making an excuse for his team if they fail, well before they might fail, and preparing everyone for it. Do I expect the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup? No. This regular season has been a wild ride full of crazy, miraculous, late wins and when looking at the Eastern Conference right now, if a few bounces don’t go the Rangers’ way, they could easily be fighting for their lives on the bubble the way they have the last few seasons.

I bring this odd Tortorella quote to your attention because I want to know what you think it means and I want to get the perspective of someone who watched a team built through youth develop into what seems like an annual contender now. And also if you see similarities between what the Rangers have become and what the Bruins were a few years ago.

Hurley: Oh. Hi there, Neil. I’m sorry it took so long for me to respond – your emails automatically go to my junk folder, but I just happened to catch this one.

Tortorella’s comment is certainly interesting, but isn’t everything he says interesting? And how often is it actually the truth? Like you said, a comment like that is to calm down the nutjobs like you who go crazy and make his life more difficult.

I think, interestingly, I have a little more faith in your Rangers than you do yourself. For one, they’ve got the goaltending. Forget about everything else you mentioned – if you have a goalie who can string together the kind of success that Mr. Lundqvist has all year long, then you can win a Stanley Cup, hands down. I direct your attention to Mr. Tim Thomas as proof.

Second, much like the Bruins, they run a defense-first system. Sure, it can be frustrating for people like you who can blow a gasket at any given moment when the team doesn’t score for Lundqvist, but when you allow fewer than two goals per game, you’re going to win a whole hell of a lot more often than you lose. And in a seven-game series, it’s easy enough to sustain that defense when you have a solid system in place.

Do I think the Rangers are going to win the Cup? Well, no, but that’s only because the NHL playoffs are the most insane three months in sports. I do think the Rangers have the best chance to win it all, based on their talent and coaching, but ask the Canucks, Capitals and Sharks how that’s worked out for them in recent years.

Keefe: I know earlier in the season Bruins fans were down on the way the team was playing and you were basically like, “Really Bruins fans? They just won the Cup for the first time in 39 years!” But as the season has gone it seems like everyone is expecting the Bruins to have an extended run in the playoffs again, and why wouldn’t they? They are right there with the Rangers as the best team in the East.

It’s different in New York because the Rangers haven’t won in 18 years and haven’t even been close in 15 years, so fans are hungry to win and it’s why many would have done whatever it took to get Rick Nash. Glen Sather basically wiped away most of the last decade with terrible general managerial decisions, plenty of coaching changes, awful free-agent signings and terrible contracts. If he were a baseball GM, he would have given A.J. Burnett $85 million after his 2008 season, and the Yankees’ $82.5 million would have come up short and the Yankees wouldn’t still be paying him to play for another team. Somehow Sather has managed to survive every possible disaster with the Rangers over the last decade, and he still has a job, and there’s nothing that will get him fired at this point. But I’m tired of watching documentaries and series created about the summer of ’94 on the MSG Network. Highlights of Mike Richter, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves from when I was in third grade are awesome, but it’s time that more recent seasons are made into memories.

If the Bruins go out in the first round this year or lose at any point in the playoffs, no one is going to be upset. I mean sure people will be upset for a minute and it will suck like it does when any season ends, but there’s no loss that can be crushing like the way they went out in 2009-10 or 2008-09 or 2007-08 or 2003-04. The Rangers on the other hand have expectations and those are to at least make the conference finals, whether or not Tortorella thinks his team can even do that this season. Meanwhile the Bruins have bought themselves time and a lot of time with the unexpected championship last summer. Going back to your comments about Bruins fans getting upset early on, what are your expectations for this team a year after winning it all last year and how long is the grace period?

Hurley: I might be in the minority, but I really think the grace period can be as long as it takes to win again. It still blows my mind that the Bruins won the Cup. I watched the Red Sox win after 86 years of misery, I watched the Patriots come out of nowhere to win three Super Bowls and I watched the Celtics compile an All-Star team and beat the Lakers in ’08. I saw all of that … but I never expected to see the Bruins win the Cup. They were just different. They were never that type of team, they never had the league’s best player or the league’s best coach or the league’s best goalie and so on and so forth.

So honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever get frustrated by the Bruins again. And that’s different from the other teams, too. When El Duque got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the ’05 ALDS at Fenway, I was pretty upset. I’m still upset about the Broncos win over the Patriots in ’05. And the Celtics losing the title in 2010 is an underrated moment on the painful list of Boston sports losses.

But the Bruins? They’re definitely good enough to compete with anyone come April, May and June, but like I said earlier, it’s the NHL playoffs. You need so much to go your way to win one series, let alone four series to win a Cup, that to expect it to happen again would be more than a little insane. Game 7 overtime against Montreal, they won (and that was after already wining two other games in overtime that series). Game 7 against Tampa, they score the only goal in what was probably the most evenly matched hockey game you could ever watch. And against Vancouver, they lose their best forward (Nathan Horton) but the “best” goaltender in the league turns into mush and allows 300 goals in four games.

It was an incredible, unforgettable run. I doubt it can happen again, but really, that’s OK.

Keefe: You’re not a Jeremy Lin fan. You have told me so. Or you are, but you couldn’t admit that to me the way I know you secretly like Eli Manning, but know you could never tell me that. It’s OK, you don’t need to tell me that you like Eli or Derek Jeter or any other great sports hero that I like that you can’t like. But how can you not be a fan of Jeremy Lin? And would this make you the only non-fan of Linsanity in the entire country? Can your Boston blinders work that well?

As for your point guard … You love talking about players doing non-human like feats and you have talked about Rob Gronkowski this way and you even somehow beyond belief managed to bring Jason Varitek into the discussion when you talked about all the innings he caught like he was the first catcher ever to do so. But I know you have used this way of describing athletes to talk about Rajon Rondo on several occasions, and once again Rondo is being actively shopped by the Celtics. I guess I shouldn’t say “again” since by now it seems like he has never stopped being shopped, there are just times when he is shopped more aggressively than others.
How do you feel about the fall of the Big Three and the fact that their window of opportunity is slammed shut like a school bus window with those tricky finger things? It seems like if the Celtics are going to restructure their roster and change the makeup of their team, it would make more sense to deal Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen and keep a classic Celtic in Paul Pierce and a younger one in Rondo to build around. But maybe if Rondo is moved it’s just the beginning of more moves for the Celtics in an attempt to change their team?

I know there’s this outlandish idea that they could clear enough room to sign Deron Williams or Dwight Howard or both, and it has been at topic of conversation on the radio up there, but does anyone really think either of those would sign as free agents in Boston of all places?

Hurley: Jeez. Is it possible for you to just ask a question or two without making stuff up, paragraphs at a time?

I’m pretty sure I never said I disliked Jeremy Lin. I didn’t get caught up in that whole sensation crap a few weeks ago because I’m a grown man and not a little child, but I think it’s a good story. And if I had Boston blinders, wouldn’t his Harvard background make me like him? I don’t know, I won’t try to figure out what goes in your weird little brain, so I’ll move on.

Watching the Celtics is almost comical at this point. Danny Ainge said he’ll never be like Red Auerbach and keep the Big Three together longer than they should be together. We know how ugly it got with Bird, McHale and Parish many moons ago, and he swore that won’t happen here. Meanwhile, you’ve got Kevin Garnett on the floor every night for 30 minutes a night, and the man cannot jump. He cannot jump in the air. That’s a problem when your profession is playing basketball.

I still respect the hell out of him because he doesn’t let his inability to jump affect his effort. He’s still the most intense and competitive athlete I’ve ever seen, just to be clear.

But yes, like you said, they have no chance to win a championship, which is an unfamiliar feeling here in Boston that we haven’t felt since this new era began in ’07. But this is just the result of making it to Game 7 of the 2010 Finals and almost winning. The era was supposed to end after that season, but they came too close to not give it another shot. And then they signed … Shaquille O’Neal? And Jermaine O’Neal? And traded away Kendrick Perkins?

Clearly, it’s not that devastating to watch, because any casual observer would have been able to tell you that things wouldn’t end well for a team that makes decisions like that.

Going forward, I think trading Rondo is perhaps the most idiotic thing the Celtics could do. He’s young and he’s a star, and just as importantly, he’s signed for cheap money for three seasons after this one. I don’t care if he’s hard-headed or a jackass. He makes the team better, he’s dynamic, and he’s inexpensive. Keep Rondo.

I also think it’d be impossible to trade Pierce. He’s been on the team since 1998. Back then, the ShawmutFleetCenterTDBanknorthGardenTDGarden was just the ShawmutFleetCenter. With Varitek, Wakefield and probably Faulk all retiring, he’s the only Boston athlete you have left from the ‘90s. If you’re Ainge, you signed him to his insanely overpriced contract, so you get to keep him.

And Garnett and Allen? If you can get something for Ray, knock yourself out, why not? You won’t be winning this year. And nobody would ever trade for Garnett. Because he can’t jump.

(No stars are coming here. No stars ever come here. This Big Three thing was a one-time thing. Dwight Howard doesn’t want to go to Boston.)

Keefe: You calling yourself a “grown man” is the best thing I have heard all day. Your NHL PlayStation 3 résumé begs to differ.

We might as well go around the horn here and touch on all the major sports and that leaves us with the Red Sox who I know you are depressed about, and why wouldn’t you be? John Henry is putting any money he has left after taking care of the next 50 generations of the Lackey and Crawford families into his soccer team, and 40 percent of the Red Sox’ rotation right now have never been starting pitchers for a full season in the majors. If you could send me your home address, I will send you the empty Gatorade bottle next to me right now so you can try and catch some lightning in it this season.

How is this a good idea? Sure, Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard have ability and this isn’t like the Mets going shopping through Dr. James Andrews client list for starting pitching, but how have the Red Sox come to the point where their No. 3 starter (Clay Buchholz) has made 14, 28, 16 and 15 starts over his four years in the league, their No. 4 starter (saying it’s Aceves) has nine career starts and their No. 5 starter (Daniel Bard) has never started a major league game? (Looking up these numbers was essentially like searching for porn.)

I’m going to miss Erik Bedard and Kyle Weiland, but I’m holding out hope that Michael Bowden gets a turn in the rotation at some point (I will never forget his Aug. 21, 2009 start against the Yankees that I attended: 2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 1 HR.) And I’m praying every day that Daisuke Matsuzaka gets healthy and makes a return to the team because baseball just isn’t the same without the bases loaded every inning and 105 pitches in the first four innings of a start.

Now that I think about it, maybe Tim Wakefield was right when he said that Red Sox fans deserved to see him try and break the Red Sox’ all-time wins record. He’s only 45 with a 5.03 ERA over the last three years and has only been retired for like 10 minutes. Wouldn’t it be worth Ben Cherington’s time to give him a call and get him back in the mix?

Hurley: You’ve missed on a lot of your insults, but you got me with the PS3 one. In my defense, I am a world-class NHL 12 player.

Your Red Sox outlook is sadly accurate. They’re not going to be awful, but it does take an awful lot of faith to believe that group will get it done (and add Felix Doubront and his three career starts to the list!). You also have to hope Josh Beckett isn’t terrible, which is no guarantee.

I still think they’ll be OK because their offense is good enough and preseason predictions are completely meaningless (cue our podcast from last February?). So in a way, they’re better off this year with the low expectations, but it’s still going to take a lot to compete with the Yankees and Rays.

(But hey, that won’t matter! Everyone makes the playoffs now! Yippee! Go Bud!)

And don’t be ridiculous. The Red Sox would never sign Wakefield this year. Unless of course Paul Byrd is unavailable, then they might have to give Wake a call.

Keefe: I don’t know how you feel about Bobby Valentine since we haven’t really talked about him before, but I can’t imagine that you are pro-Valentine.

I’m not sure what Bobby Valentine is trying to do by praising Jason Varitek, yet taking shots at Alex Rodriguez and talking about the Derek Jeter “flip” play that happened 11 years ago. I know that Valentine has desperately wanted a chance to manage a team with the talent of the Red Sox, believing that his baseball ways would win with the right players, but I think he also desperately wants to be a part of Yankees-Red Sox history, and this is his way of showing it. He never managed Varitek and was the manager of the Mets during the “flip” play, so I’m not really sure what’s going on here.

A lot of people think Valentine and his comments are good for the rivalry and good for baseball. Most of these people are talk show hosts that need to fill several hours a day or reporter nerds that get a laugh out of a manager talking about things not directly related to the team. But this rivalry has never been because of the managers or about the managers. Joe Torre and Joe Girardi and Terry Francona and Grady Little and Joe Kerrigan and Jimy Williams were faces of the latest chapter of the rivalry, but they were never the focal point, and I think Valentine so badly wants to be the focal point now that he is back in the league and knowing that it’s likely his last chance managing in the league.

What are your thoughts about Valentine and his recent comments and the comments that will likely come in the future when there are actual games played and the 18 games played between these two teams? And how confident are you about a potential blowup with Valentine and Ben Cherington and Valentine and the veteran players. Maybe “potential” isn’t the right word. I think “inevitable” fits better.

Hurley: I’m definitely not a huge Valentine guy, but I don’t know that I’m necessarily anti-Valentine. In a vacuum, I probably don’t like him as the manager at all, but in the actual situation that played, with bores like Gene Lamont, Pete Mackanin and Co. in the mix for the job, I’d rather have a guy who doesn’t make me want to bash my head against the wall every time he drones on and on with baseball cliché after baseball cliché.

At the same time, it’s not much better when the manager makes you want to smash your head against the wall because he’s saying something foolish, but hey, at least he’s saying something.

I think you’re right about your suspicion that he’s desperate to be a part of that rivalry, and I think you can take it a step further. I think he’s pretty dead-set on making sure everything is about him. At his introductory press conference, he talked about his critiques as an ESPN commentator on Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. As if Beckett and Crawford sit around worrying about what the third man on the Sunday night crew says about them.

And I think you can agree with me that we all got a glimpse into the “baseball mind” of Bobby V. during his time in the booth, and, uhh, I’m not sure I’d want to put him in charge of my ballclub after learning what I learned.

But for the Red Sox, it wasn’t all about baseball. It was to inject some life into the brand, and that’s what they have. Maybe, again, if I was a little kid, I’d love him and get all riled up and say, “Yeah! Hate the Yankees, Bobby V.! Yeah!” But I’m not like that. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

Follow Mike on Twitter @michaelFhurley

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