DJ Bean

Bean: Bruins are Cup contenders; there's no such thing as a 'favorite'

Bean: Bruins are Cup contenders; there's no such thing as a 'favorite'

As the great William Martin Joel (yep, his name is Billy Martin) once sang, "there ain't no in betweens." 

Bruins fans went from expecting an OK team with no shot at a deep playoff run to now believing the B's are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. I can't go that far. 

It's not because I don't think the Bruins are an excellent team. They are. They might even be the best team in the NHL. I just think it's silly to assume that the best team will win in this league. I've watched hockey before. 

Here's what I think will happen: The Bruins will win the Atlantic Division, cruise past some buttbags in the first round and then play the Lightning in the second round. I think whoever wins that series will win the Conference finals and meet the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final. This is to say that I think the three best teams in the league are the Predators, Bruins and Lightning. 

So what chances do the Bruins have of winning the Stanley Cup? I'm putting it at 20 percent, which is a huge, huge number. Here's how I got there: 

Start with the aforementioned three teams and give them even chances. Then, because it's the NHL, give an enormous piece of the pie to the field: teams like the two-time defending Cup champion Penguins, the puzzlingly great story of the Golden Knights and the snakebitten-in-the-postseason-but-never-snakebitten-against-the-Bruins Capitals, none of whom I believe in, but all of whom are among the teams who could surprise us as many teams have before. 

Consider that for as much time as we spend this time of year getting excited about the teams atop the standings (the Predators should win the Presidents' Trophy and the B's and Bolts will be the top-two point-getters in the East), it's often a lower seed that makes a run to the Cup Final. Lest we forget these teams: 

2016-17 Predators: second wild card (or what used to be known as a No. 8 seed), reached Stanley Cup Final

2015-16 Sharks: No. 3 in Pacific (sixth in Western Conference by points), reached Stanley Cup Final

2013-14 Kings: No. 3 in Pacific (sixth in Western Conference by points), won Stanley Cup

2011-12 Kings: No. 8 in Western Conference, won Stanley Cup

2011-12 Devils: No. 6 in Eastern Conference, reached Stanley Cup Final

So, that's five times in the past six years that a team ranked in the bottom three of their conference has gone on to reach the Cup Final. Two of those teams won it. In fact, it has been just as common in that span for a No. 8 seed to win the Cup as it has for a No. 1 seed (the 2013 Blackhawks). So, with all due respect, miss me with the assumptions of the top of the standings signifying any sort of free ride to June. 

Now, the Bruins are one of the best three teams for a reason: They're better equipped to take that ride than the ones below them. They have no apparent weakness. They're stout offensively (third in the league in scoring entering Saturday), defensively (third in the league in goals against entering Saturday), have a Vezina winner in net and are dynamite on special teams.

So, Bruins fans should feel awesome. They should be given as good a chance to win the Stanley Cup as anyone this year, one of three teams atop the leaderboard. There have been years where one team was clearly going to win it all along (Gretzky's Oilers, the 2013 Blackhawks), but this isn't one of them. Hell, look at last year's Capitals. They were a wagon and lost in the second round.

There's a reason why people (like Jim Rome!) always say that the Stanley Cup playoffs are the best playoffs in professional sports: because regardless of who's playing whom, it's going to be extremely high-energy and extremely competitive. 

So, while you and I would both be correct in feeling the Bruins should steamroll most teams in the tournament, assuming such would be to ignore what's so amazing about the postseason. 

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AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal. 

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