Bruins

Brett Ritchie ready to bring a little more brute force to the Bruins

Brett Ritchie ready to bring a little more brute force to the Bruins

Brett Ritchie might just be exactly what the Bruins were looking for last season.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder isn’t going to be a 30-goal scorer, of course, and it’s still very much in question whether he’d be able to consistently handle the top-6 right wing spot where the Bruins have a big opening headed into this year.

But Ritchie is going to bring added size, strength and toughness as a 26-year-old forward that just a couple of seasons ago scored 16 goals for the Dallas Stars. He’s brawled with big, bad skaters like Colton Parayko and Tom Wilson and he very clearly brings the kind of size/strength combo that the Bruins just haven’t done a good job of developing among their forwards.

Ritchie was excited to sign with the Bruins in free agency on July 1 because he believes that his rough and tumble game will translate into exactly what’s traditionally been the Black and Gold style over the years.

“There’s definitely a size and strength aspect that’s still there in the league even though it’s getting faster,” said Ritchie. “It’s more skilled, but you definitely need that presence. I think I’m a well-rounded guy but I can definitely bring that physical side. St. Louis was in our division and I’ve played against those big and physical teams for my entire career.

“You grow seeing and thinking of the Big, Bad Bruins and [Boston] is a bigger market than I’m used to in Dallas. The winning culture [of the Bruins] is the feel you get playing against them all the time, so it’s definitely exciting.”

Sure, the Bruins still have Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and David Backes on their roster for size, strength and toughness, but those players absolutely needed more help, particularly among the forward group. The lack of true size, strength and NHL nastiness was on display in the Stanley Cup Final when the B’s were pushed around by the St. Louis Blues, and ultimately wore down against the Blues over the course of a long, physical seven-game playoff series.

The brute physicality is something Bruins fans clearly didn’t get enough of last season as attested to by the 29 percent of Bruins fans in the 2019 New England Sports Survey that thought the B’s needed bigger, stronger and tougher players on their roster. Hopefully Ritchie can help in that area a bit and perhaps Trent Frederic as well if the physical bottom-6 center can stick with the Bruins this season after getting a cup of coffee, and his first NHL fight, at the NHL level last season.

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NHL announces players can start working out at league facilities on Monday

NHL announces players can start working out at league facilities on Monday

The NHL will finally be swinging their doors open next week.

After a nearly three-month pause to the 2019-20 NHL season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the NHL announced on Thursday night that the league's practice facilities will be allowed to open for small groups of players to practice, and work out off the ice, starting on Monday. It doesn’t necessarily mean every NHL team will begin practicing in groups of up to six players starting on June 8, but that should begin a month-long progression toward NHL training camps starting sometime around the July 10 date.

Here’s the statement from the NHL:

Subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice). Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning. Phase 2 is not a substitute for training camp. All necessary preparations for Phase 2, including those that require Player participation (education, diagnostic testing, scheduling for medicals, etc.), can begin immediately. The NHL and the NHLPA continue to negotiate over an agreement on the resumption of play.

It's not yet clear if the Bruins already in the area are going to start skating at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday, but they have already been given the go-ahead by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as the Celtics have started voluntary workouts across the street.

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The league still needs to come to an agreement with the NHLPA on many aspects of the return to play plan that go beyond the 24-team format, and today’s news that advancing teams will be re-seeding after each round and each of the four playoff rounds will be seven-game series following the short qualifying play-in round.

When comparing things to the NBA, who already has dates to resume the season, for their draft and a location for everything to take place, the National Hockey League still has plenty of substantive work to do before hockey is truly back.

There’s no doubt that momentum continues to build for the NHL to resume in the next couple of months with hopes that an eventual Stanley Cup champion will be named sometime in October.

ESPN's Max Kellerman really needs to buzz off with his NHL takes

ESPN's Max Kellerman really needs to buzz off with his NHL takes

It’s thoroughly stupefying in this day and age that the NHL is somehow still not considered by anyone to be one of the “four major team sports” in the United States.

But then again today we’re talking about dopey talking head Max Kellerman, who is a boxing guy, of all things, by trade. There’s zero measure of what actual sports knowledge he’s ever brought to the table aside from the low-hanging fruit of bashing Tom Brady.

Clearly Kellerman knows a thing or two about an irrelevant sport given his boxing background, but somebody should perhaps clue him in that the NHL is a $5 billion-plus business with the preponderance of that business being done in the USA with 24 of the 31 teams located in America.  

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“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but in the United States of America nobody cares about hockey,” said ESPN’s Max Kellerman while appearing on "First Take" on Wednesday. “The old joke is every town has 20,000 hockey fans because they all have season tickets. The arenas are always sold out, but the TV ratings don’t do anything. So it’s not one of the four major team sports.”

I don’t want to hurt Max Kellerman’s feelings, but who the hell is Max Kellerman besides a super duper poor man’s Larry Merchant?

Certainly, there are pockets of the U.S. where hockey isn't huge, particularly in southern cities where there isn’t any NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL sports team representation, and where college sports are treated like the pros. There is always some national interest in the NCAA around college bowl time or March Madness, but that’s about it.

Does anybody who actually lives in a major metropolitan U.S. city consider NCAA sports more of a “major team sport” in the U.S. above and beyond the world of the NHL?

Has Kellerman ever heard of NHL superstars like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin who play in U.S. markets as iconic household names with national endorsement deals and pop culture crossover appeal?

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins were all pegged with values over $1 billion according to Forbes Magazine and they were joined by Canadian billion dollar hockey clubs in Montreal and Toronto as well.

That sounds like a lot more than 20,000 fans scattered around those cities, doesn’t it?

Let’s be honest here.

Clearly Kellerman knows nothing about the NHL or hockey and is resorting to tired old clichés when talking about the league.

He’s clamoring for attention given that he’s been saying for years that Tom Brady was “falling off a cliff” and that TB12 was the worst QB in the NFL playoff fields in years that New England then went on to win the Super Bowl. If you keep saying it each and every year then the law of averages dictate you’ll finally get it right at some point, right?

He was roundly mocked as a bozo complete with a clown nose for that take, and this NHL bashing is a variation on that same bombastic, look-at-me theme.

And he’s working at the perfect place for it given the short shrift that ESPN has always ludicrously given to the hockey world once they no longer had a TV deal with the National Hockey League.

But the NHL is one of the four major team sports in the U.S. as well as in Canada, and takes its position alongside the NFL that is still king, an NBA that has grown exponentially in popularity over the last 40 years and a dying business of Major League Baseball that might be dealing itself a fatal blow with its foolhardy inability to get back on the field since the COVID-19 outbreak.

The NHL has a national television deal with NBC and it has thriving fan bases in non-traditional markets like Nashville, Las Vegas and Tampa Bay because their teams have made it to the Stanley Cup Final in recent years. Who can forget the 2017 Stanley Cup Final in Music City where a who’s who of celebrities and country western superstars turned the games in Nashville into big-time events from a national perspective?  

The Stanley Cup Playoffs remain the most captivating and attention-grabbing of all the postseasons run by any of the four major pro sports, and the Winter Classic has proven to be a ratings-grabbing national event in the prime New Year’s Day television-watching spot. That’s why genuinely talented and entertaining American sports talking heads like Charles Barkley have been preaching the gospel of NHL hockey for years and years.  

You won’t hear any of that from Kellerman, or his piping hot hockey takes, while he patiently waits for his preferred sport of boxing to return after not being anything close to a major sport since Mike Tyson was heavyweight champ 30 years ago.

Stick to the Tom Brady bashing, Max, or hope and pray that the world of boxing becomes barely relevant again sometime soon.