Bruins' Brandon Carlo under the radar but having his best NHL season

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Bruins' Brandon Carlo under the radar but having his best NHL season

It’s been there all season long, but perhaps the elevated play wasn’t truly noticeable until both Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy went down with injuries over the last few games.

After all, most of Brandon Carlo’s responsibilities as a shutdown defenseman mean he’s doing his job best when he goes unnoticed without much of the glory.

But it’s impossible to ignore the way the 23-year-old Carlo has played in the last three games while topping 25 minutes of ice time in each game while getting the upper hand going against elite offensive opponents like Alex Ovechkin and Jack Eichel.

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Carlo is winning battles all over the D-zone with his long reach, his 6-foot-5, 210-pound size and the strength that goes along with it, and he’s even developed a little bit of a mean streak for an incredibly nice guy off the ice. Couple that with the four goals and 12 points in 40 games this season offensively and the Bruins have a premium shutdown defenseman beginning to reach his ceiling of offensive potential as well.

He’s tracking for career highs in both goals and points while on pace for eight goals and 25 points this season and has become much more adept at deciding when to take a risk offensively while still holding defense as the first priority in all situations. Carlo himself knows he’s probably playing the best hockey of his career combining his three-plus seasons of experience with the natural physical maturity that comes naturally by entering your mid-20’s at the NHL level.

“I love having more responsibility. It really forces you to elevate your game and play to the best of your ability,” said Carlo. “I don’t get intimidated by those situations, which is a good stepping stone toward being better in those situations. I just enjoy it rather than getting worried or anxious about anything. I feel like I’m continuing forward and growing my game in certain ways. I feel l like I still have a way to go and feel like the ceiling on my game is as high as I want it to be. I’m never going to be content with anything.

“I just want to keep growing my game. I think last year getting my game back on track was a step with that. In my second year I lost a little bit of confidence and I wasn’t playing the game the way I knew I could play it. I’m seeing a lot more opportunities on the ice in terms of when to join the rush and when to not join. I see the ice better and recognize that as long as I play a simple game it’s the best way for me to be. I think I overthought things a lot in my second year. I have a better grasp on that now.”

It may be heard to believe now, but that second year was 2017-18 when Carlo didn’t have a single goal in 76 games played, and finished with a modest six points while averaging a career-low 19:14 of ice time per game. Since then it’s been onward and upward for Carlo as it just keeps getting better and better with the ideal D-man size and excellent skating ability to go along with it, and the raw offensive skills to make him an effective offense producer as well.  

He doesn’t block as many shots as Charlie McAvoy (who leads the team with a whopping 76 blocked shots) or throw as many hits as Connor Clifton, who is third on the B’s with 85 registered hits, but Carlo plays good, hard, old-fashioned defense where he extinguishes plays before opponents even get around to shooting the puck.

In the fancy stats world, they call that shot suppression — and Carlo is one of the best.

It’s no stretch to say Carlo is playing the best hockey of his career while building off a breakout spring during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. As Torey Krug said best, his defense partner is beginning to develop a little swagger in addition to the fundamental parts of his tough, competitive game that play so well once the Black and Gold get to the postseason.

“In the playoffs last year [Carlo] was pretty damn good,” said Krug. “I would say that right now he’s right up there. For him it’s exciting that he sees with Charlie and me both out that he’s going to play a few more minutes and he’s going to play in every situation. If he makes a mistake [during a shift] then he’s probably going to jump over the boards again [quickly] because he’s such an important part of our team and a great player. He’s developing a swagger and that’s what guys from the bottom of our lineup to the top really need in order to be successful.”

When it comes down to it, Carlo has developed into a first-round kind of talent that the B’s managed to get in the second round, a pick that has in some ways saved their 2015 NHL Draft class from being an out-and-out disaster. They may have missed with Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn in the first round, but they hit a top-of-the-second-round bullseye with Carlo. And he also gives the Bruins a very different kind of defenseman than the smaller, puck-moving types like Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk while also handing the B’s a big-bodied shutdown D-man who will still be around to stop opponents when 42-year-old Zdeno Chara opts to someday hang up his skates.

Carlo has been this good all season, but maybe everybody is noticing now because injuries have hit Boston’s back end and the youngster is seizing the opportunity to show just how much his game has elevated over the last calendar year.

“His first year I always look at and thought he was excellent, but some of that had to do with age and where he was in his career. Our expectations were a little lower and he was in a shutdown role every night and scored five or six goals,” said Bruce Cassidy. “But I think all-around [he’s playing his best hockey this year]. He seems to have more confidence with the puck and he’s getting over the bad shifts much more quickly. I think this is a big step for him. Charlie [McAvoy] goes out and this is one of the things that makes our team so good. It’s the next man up.

“A guy gets a little more ice time and takes advantage of it. That’s the sign of a team that’s got good players on it that can go the extra mile when given the opportunity. The extra responsibility hasn’t fazed him. In fact, he’s relished it. That’s the sign of maturity and confidence.”

This mature, confident Carlo continues to be a difference-maker for the Bruins and the last three games with a B’s back end in disarray has been a picture-perfect example of that.

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.