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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Giving The NHL Playoffs The Oscar Treatment

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For anyone who saw the outstanding Spike Jonze-directed movie Her at some point during this unending winter, there were a lot of things that made it an Oscar contender.

The futuristic yet not unrealistic setting, the fascinating questions about where human relationships are headed, the wardrobe choices – I’m looking at you, high-waisted pants – and Joaquin Phoenix’s subtly vulnerable performance were all captivating in their own right.

But nothing was quite as attention-grabbing as that voice. The sultry tone of Samantha, the operating system that made Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly begin to fall in love, was captivating enough to make even the audience forget it was actually coming from a computer.

The voice, that voice, was famously Scarlett Johansson’s, but you know whose it was supposed to be? Samantha Morton’s. Fine actress, Academy Award nominee, probably a nice person, but little more than your run-of-the-mill British accent.

Jonze brought Johansson in during the post-production process and, though no footage or audio seems to have been released with Morton voicing Samantha, the decision completely changed the experience viewing and hearing the movie. It’s a good flick if Morton’s is the voice you’re hearing Phoenix banter with for two hours, but the switch to Johansson made it borderline great.

The NHL regular season is a pleasant, satisfying Samantha Morton – always comforting, occasionally wonderful.

The NHL playoffs are ScarJo.

Steven Stamkos now has two healthy legs on which to celebrate. (Getty Images)

Steven Stamkos now has two healthy legs on which to celebrate. (Getty Images)

There’s a lot of playoff analysis and regular-season award chatter around this time, but instead of simply breaking down the first round or delving into who should win the Calder and Hart trophies, why not combine some postseason prognostications with a bit of talk about which individual hockey hardware belongs where?

Without further ado, Checking The Score presents … the NHL playoff Oscars as we head into the best postseason in sports.

8.) Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

And the Oscar goes to … the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens.

Steven Stamkos missed 45 games with a broken leg and the relationship between GM Steve Yzerman and franchise mainstay Martin St. Louis was so damaged that St. Louis wound up being dealt to the New York Rangers. Yet here’s Tampa Bay, with 100 points and home-ice advantage against Montreal. Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn stepped up in Stamkos’ absence and Ryan Callahan – over from the Rangers in the St. Louis trade – became a positive presence after a somewhat difficult start. The Lightning’s biggest adaptation, however, may be yet to come. Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop has a sore elbow and won’t play in Wednesday’s Game 1, leaving backup Anders Lindback and his woeful .891 save percentage to start. The Canadiens, meanwhile, have gone from a team that relied too heavily on balance in 2012-13 – no consistent goal scorers, too much pressure on an inconsistent Carey Price – to one that has two stud scorers and a completely confident Price between the pipes. Max Pacioretty finished fourth in the league with 39 goals and Thomas Vanek had 15 points in 18 games after coming over for basically nothing from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline. It’s Price, though, who may make the biggest difference. He’s 12-4-1 with a .945 save percentage since Jan. 28 – and oh, by the way, he led Canada to Olympic gold in that stretch as well.

Post-Oscar buzz: Bishop should return at some point in the series and Tampa Bay is a far better possession team that Montreal and figures to keep Price busy. He may be up to the task in a series that figures to be tight and low-scoring – these two produced just 11 combined goals in four games this season. I’ll take a healthy Stamkos to be the difference.

Academy consensus: Lightning in 7

Henrik Lundqvist doesn't let the Flyers get much by him. (New York Times)

Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t let the Flyers get much by him. (New York Times)

7.) Best Visual Effects

And the Oscar goes to … the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers

There’s just something appealing about these two matching up in the postseason for the first time since 1997, and what’s so striking might be the contrast in styles. Only conference No. 1s Boston and Anaheim have scored more goals since Jan. 1 than the Flyers, and no one has allowed fewer than the Rangers in that time. Claude Giroux has been a different player for Philadelphia after a rough first two months that cost him a spot on Canada’s Olympic team, but like Price in Montreal, New York’s Henrik Lundqvist has been rejuvenated after leading Sweden to silver in Sochi. He’s 11-4-1 with a .939 save percentage since March 7 and he’s kind of owned the Flyers in recent years – if that’s what 13-3-0 with a 1.81 goals-against average in his last 16 starts means. He’s allowed 21 goals in 14 home games against Philadelphia in five years, and guess what? He has home-ice here. There are always questions in net for the Flyers and that’s no different here, with Steve Mason slated to miss Game 1 with an upper-body injury. That means Ray Emery, and that probably means trouble for Philadelphia.

Post-Oscar buzz: The advanced stats love the Rangers, who are fourth in the league in shot differential and far better in puck possession. The Flyers thrive on the power play but New York actually is four goals better overall in special teams differential. The Rangers are, quite simply, not a good matchup for Philadelphia.

Academy consensus: Rangers in 5

It's OK, this man is Swedish so he's allowed to wear this jersey. (USA Today Sports)

It’s OK, this man is Swedish so he’s allowed to wear this jersey. (USA Today Sports)

6.) Best Foreign Language Film

And the Oscar goes to … the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings have imported more Swedish products than Ikea for the last few decades, but it’s one of their youngest who helped push their streak of consecutive postseason appearances to 23. Gustav Nyquist had 14 goals in his first 18 games back from the Olympic break, keeping Detroit afloat while Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were down with injuries. Datsyuk is back but Zetterberg is no sure thing to return for this series. Even if he does, he’ll run into fellow Scandinavian stalwart Tuukka Rask, who’s 11-1-2 with a 1.68 GAA in his last 14 starts and was outstanding throughout the postseason while guiding Boston to the Stanley Cup final a year ago. Boston’s defense has a lot of youth in front of Rask with Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg out, but it also has Zdeno Chara, a top-seven penalty kill and the fewest goals allowed in the Eastern Conference. Chara, in fact, was one of eight Bruins to score at least 16 goals for a team that had the NHL’s best differential (plus-87) since Ottawa and Detroit topped that in 2005-06.

Post-Oscar buzz: The Red Wings didn’t just miss Datsyuk and Zetterberg. There are still injuries to Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Cleary, Stephen Weiss and Jonathan Ericsson to worry about, which will severely test their youth and depth against what’s probably the league’s deepest team. Detroit played well down the stretch but this is an awfully tall task. Had the Red Wings jumped Columbus for the first wild-card and landed a series against Pittsburgh, they might have had just enough to pull the upset. Rask was sick in the Olympic semifinals and his absence cost Finland against Sweden, but he’ll get a little sweet Scandinavian revenge here.

Academy consensus: Bruins in 6

Jonathan Toews reminding Alexander Steen that he may win this series, but still lives in St. Louis. (USA Today Sports)

Jonathan Toews reminding Alexander Steen that he may win, but he still lives in St. Louis. (USA Today Sports)

5.) Best Original Score

And the Oscar goes to … the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks

This was going to be the second-round matchup for the ages, the defending Stanley Cup champs against the loaded, deep machine that was out to run them down. Then something funny happened: the Blues became kind of mediocre overnight. Starting with a 4-0 loss at Chicago on March 19, St. Louis went 5-9-0 down the stretch, totaling an NHL-worst 21 goals and breaking out the fine china to serve up the Central Division title to Colorado in a 14-course meal that would make Thomas Keller blush. The Blackhawks’ woes date back to their return from the Olympic break, as they went 11-10-1 down the stretch and lost eight of 10 on the road. The last 13 of those, however, came without Patrick Kane and the last six without Jonathan Toews, both of whom will be back for Game 1. The Blues had a lot of injuries down the stretch as well, and not all of their walking wounded are likely to be back as soon. Shootout sensation T.J. Oshie and center David Backes should be, but Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brenden Morrow may not be ready for Game 1. If the ‘Hawks and Blues are even close to full strength, expect some offensive fireworks. Chicago was second and St. Louis seventh in scoring in the regular season and neither Ryan Miller nor Corey Crawford was particularly impressive in net toward the end of the regular season.

Post-Oscar buzz: Aside from injuries, a lot of both teams’ struggles may have had to do with complacency. It’s difficult to get up for each of 82 games the season after winning the Cup, and in the Blues’ case, the Olympics seemed to do plenty to slow what to that point had been the Western Conference’s speediest freight train. This is a heavyweight title fight in every sense, and it’d be no surprise to see it go the distance.

Academy consensus: Blackhawks in 7

He's no Goldberg, but the Ducks are hoping he'll do. (AP)

He’s no Goldberg, but the Ducks are hoping he’ll do. (AP)

4.) Actor in a Supporting Role

And the Oscar goes to … Frederik Andersen

Jonas Hiller was a Swiss Olympian and Anaheim’s unquestioned starter through the first half of the season, but he might not even be the backup when the top-seeded Ducks open the playoffs against Dallas on Wednesday. The starting job belongs to Andersen, who beat out Hiller and fellow rookie John Gibson to be the eventual target of coach Bruce Boudreau’s ire. Andersen wasn’t exactly awesome himself down the stretch, posting a 2.72 GAA since the Olympics, but he’ll be the Ducks’ man – at least initially. Both Anaheim and Dallas rely heavily on their top lines, and this series may come down to whether Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf or Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin can produce more. Neither team has a particularly productive power play and neither has a starting goaltender with playoff experience – though Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen certainly isn’t without NHL experience. The 10-year veteran will get his first taste of the postseason since playing two games for Atlanta (remember them?) in 2006-07. He’s perhaps the best backstop in this series, though, having gone 13-5-1 with a 2.07 GAA since February and winning nine of his last 10 home starts.

Post-Oscar buzz: There doesn’t seem to be a lot of faith in the Ducks for a team that finished atop its conference, and with the questions in goal, many of those may be justified. Anaheim is not a great possession team and isn’t particularly good at faceoffs, and there’s a lot of pressure on Perry and Getzlaf to carry the team – particularly with the inexperience in next. The Stars haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, but Seguin should have a vested interest in stepping into the spotlight after his 2013 postseason disappearing act with Boston. The Ducks went down in Round 1 last season after winning the Pacific, so why can’t it happen again?

Academy consensus: Stars in 6

Odds are Patrick Roy is angry with you right now. (Icon CMI)

Odds are Patrick Roy is angry with you right now. (Icon CMI)

3.) Best Director

And the Oscar goes to … Patrick Roy

After no playoff appearances in their last three years under Joe Sacco, the Avalanche made the ballsy move to hand the reins to Roy, who had no previous NHL coaching experience. And … it couldn’t have worked out better. Roy made his presence felt from his first game behind the bench, nearly challenging Boudreau and Anaheim to a fight, and the Avalanche seemed to take their cues from their feisty and often crazy boss. Colorado won 12 of its first 13 games but was playing perhaps its best down the stretch, going 8-1-2 in its last 11 to seize the Central Division from St. Louis and likely lock up the Jack Adams Trophy for Roy. The Avalanche aren’t without their warts, though. Leading scorer Matt Duchene likely won’t play in this opening series against Minnesota due to a bruised knee. They’re 25th in the league in shot percentage, meaning they’ve perhaps too heavily relied on Semyon Varlamov at times. The Wild, meanwhile, are hitching their wagon to Ilya Bryzgalov, who was solid in the final two weeks of the regular season but has a spotty postseason track record – unless a 3.70 GAA in his last 15 starts is your thing. Minnesota lacks Colorado’s depth up front – especially down the middle – and is going to have to turn this series into a bunch of 2-1 games to have a chance.

Post-Oscar buzz: With Duchene out and his team’s sudden offseason transformation from the second-worst in the league to the third-best, Colorado would seem to be ripe for an upset. The Avs aren’t a great possession team and they’re relying on a lot of youth in key areas, but Minnesota – for as well as it played down the stretch – isn’t the team to knock them out.

Academy consensus: Avalanche in 6

That baby face my never seem to age, but the Penguins' gap between Cups is getting wider. (Getty Images)

That baby face my never age, but the Penguins’ gap between Cups is getting wider. (Getty Images)

2.) Actor in a Leading Role

And the Oscar goes to … Sidney Crosby

Yes, Flyers fans, it’s richly ironic that we’re giving the diving diva of a man you all love to call “Cindy” an award for acting. Very funny, but go back to booing your grandmothers so we can all move along. The NHL’s leading scorer is a shoo-in for his second Hart Trophy – and it really should be his third or fourth, but they have to give Alex Ovechkin some reason to keep playing. All that being said, Crosby’s Penguins have earned the label of postseason underachievers the past few seasons. The captain himself shouldn’t shoulder a ton of blame – he’s averaged 1.39 points in the regular season and 1.28 in the always more tightly contested playoffs while his shooting percentage (14.8) is identical – but he hasn’t really elevated Pittsburgh come mid-April since the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2009. The pressure is on, yet in reality this isn’t one of the Penguins’ strongest groups. They missed 529 man-games to injury – most in the league and 180 more than the No. 3 team – but Crosby played essentially his first full season in four years. Pittsburgh is a poor puck possession team and relies heavily on its special teams to succeed, generally lousy things to rely on if you fashion yourself Cup contenders. The forward depth isn’t even as good as it was last season, when the Penguins were last seen scoring two total goals while being swept by Boston. Enter Columbus, which has never won a playoff game in its 13-season existence, yet has turned into a solid two-way club with a stud goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky under coach Todd Richards. Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy last season, but he might have to be superhuman to keep Crosby and the Penguins from advancing.

Post-Oscar buzz: The Blue Jackets couldn’t solve Pittsburgh in the regular season, losing all five meetings, and Bobrovsky has a career 3.38 GAA in 11 games against the Penguins. Boston completely shut Pittsburgh down in last season’s Eastern Conference finals but Columbus won’t be able to rely on Bobrovsky doing it alone. The Penguins have been vulnerable in up-and-down, high-scoring hockey games the past few postseasons, but Ryan Johansen is the only consistently intimidating offensive threat for the Jackets.

Academy consensus: Penguins in 5

Quick! Who was the last goalie to single-handedly win a Stanley Cup? (Getty Images)

Quick! Who was the last goalie to single-handedly win a Stanley Cup? (Getty Images)

1.) Best Picture

And the Oscar goes to … the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings

These games might be low-scoring, but not in an “Astros-Marlins can’t get out of their way” type. I’m thinking more along the lines of “Greg Maddux-Pedro Martinez throwing zeroes for nine innings” type. The home team won every game in last season’s 7-game second round masterpiece, which featured five one-goal margins, and four of their five 2013-14 meetings were also decided by a single light of the lamp. San Jose had the highest shot differential since the Cup-winning 2009-10 Blackhawks, peppering the net with nearly 35 shots per game, but there may be no goaltender you’d rather have facing those than Jonathan Quick. Twenty-two goaltenders have started at least five games over the last two postseasons and Quick’s 1.62 GAA is nearly a quarter-goal lower than the man closest to him, Boston’s Tuukka Rask. The advanced stats love the Kings, who rank first in Corsi and also happened to allow the fewest goals in the league. The Sharks, meanwhile, can empathize with the Penguins’ underachiever label – but at least Crosby and company have one Cup to show for their troubles. San Jose has finished with at least 105 points in six of the last seven non-lockout-shortened seasons and hasn’t even made it out of the West once, losing eight of the nine conference finals games it’s played in that time. With Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and a healthy Tomas Hertl, there’s plenty of firepower to make this year the year for the Sharks. But it’s hard to believe it until we see it.

Post-Oscar buzz: The Kings had identical 23-14-4 records at home and on the road, and when it comes to the playoffs, that’s probably a good thing. They owned the road en route to their Cup win two years ago, though they had no success winning in San Jose last postseason. In fact, they’ve lost 10 of their last 11 in the Shark Tank and scored a whopping total of … 17 goals. Quick is good, but the Sharks are better, and more importantly, they have home-ice this time around. One bounce will probably decide that series, and San Jose is finally due to have it go their way. This is a series worthy of a conference final.

Academy consensus: Sharks in 7


I Suffered Through ‘Draft Day’ So You Didn’t Have To

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When I see a trailer for a movie, the first thing I ask myself is pretty simple: Who is the target audience? Who is the studio trying to pull in? When that Friday night of opening weekend rolls around, the butts in the seats of the biggest theater in a cinema belong to whom?

It’s usually pretty obvious. Big-budget action flick? Guys 18-35. Romantic comedy? Women, and the men who will reluctantly go with them. Period piece? A sophisticated older set. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot? Me. Nicolas Cage star vehicle? Everyone.

When I initially read that Draft Day was in the works, the first thing I did was dismiss the article as an Onion-type parody. Surely no one was crazy enough to actually make a major motion picture about the NFL draft, the offseason bellwether of the most powerful professional sports league on the planet but an event that hardly draws a diverse fan base. Surely no one would make a movie that’s ostensibly centered around the Cleveland Browns. Surely no one would ever employ Kevin Costner again after 3 Days to Kill.

We started seeing ads for the movie during the NCAA tournament We started seeing the NCAA tournament during commercial breaks from Draft Day trailers in mid-March, and by then it became increasingly clear: This is a real thing with breathing human actors and seemingly legitimate production value. This is not a Funny or Die sketch or an SNL commercial parody.

It wasn’t screened for critics, which is perhaps more of a red flag to a movie than your babysitter arriving in a windowless white van is to parenting. Despite all the warning signs to stay away, I couldn’t help myself. I had to see it. You can have your Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens. There’s no better fantasy out there than a man trying to save the Cleveland Browns.

Draft Day is advertised as a sports movie, but it’s not. It most certainly is never made without the page-to-screen success that was Moneyball, which also was more about what was happening on the phone than on the field. But that had Brad Pitt, a star-making turn from Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and a screenplay from Aaron Sorkin. Draft Day, based off a made-for-TV event hosted by Chris Berman, has a wooden Costner, Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy/Sean Combs and a pair of first-time screenwriters.

It’s reasonably well directed by Ivan Reitman, but Reitman’s background is in comedy – Animal House, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs. The last film on that list aptly describes his most recent directing work – My Super Ex-Girlfriend and No Strings Attached – and Draft Day is no different.

It’s a movie without an audience.

When Berman's voice is the first you hear in the movie, considering leaving the theater. (All photos courtesy Summit Entertainment)

When Berman’s voice is the first you hear, considering leaving the theater. (All photos courtesy Summit Entertainment)

Twenty million people watched the first round of the 2013 NFL draft on either NFL Network or ESPN, making it the most popular show on cable that night and nearly tripling the days’ next most-viewed sporting event, a Clippers-Grizzlies game on TNT. It’s an event that has turned from being little more than a teleconference as recently as the late 70s to a three-day television juggernaut, chock full of drama for fans hoping their team will begin a rebuilding process or find that missing piece to put them over the top.

[SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know the nitty-gritty of how this fictional absurdity goes down, scroll down. There’s a lot of ground to cover.]

There’s no such thrill in Draft Day. The movie telegraphs where it’s going from the moment it introduces Chadwick Boseman’s Vontae Mack, the stud linebacker from Ohio State who is apparently either going to be taken with the seventh overall pick by the Browns or fall to the late teens. Mack learns that Costner’s Sonny Weaver, Jr. trades Cleveland’s pick to Seattle – along with first rounders the next two years – for the No. 1 overall pick and, presumably, the right to take Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan.

OK, so Seattle has the fictional No. 1 pick. Probably not the wisest choice considering the Seahawks were coming off an 11-5 season during filming and have since won the Super Bowl, but I’ll overlook it. And the Browns trade the 7th overall pick and two additional No. 1s (we’ll assume those are around the 15th pick each year) for the top pick. According to this trade value chart Weaver overpays, but considering Callahan is, according to fake/real Mel Kiper, Jr. “the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck” (TWO whole years ago!), we’ll allow it.

"Yes, I'm a pass-happy stud QB from Wisconsin and my agent is Puff Daddy. ... Hello?"

“Yes, I’m a pass-happy stud QB from Wisconsin and my agent is Puff Daddy. … Hello?”

Callahan won the 2014 Heisman Trophy according to the movie, an impressive accomplishment considering the 2014 Heisman will be handed out almost seven months to the day AFTER the 2014 NFL draft. He’s by all accounts the real deal and a true franchise changer, which everyone seems to believe. Except for Seattle, which needs a QB. And Cleveland, which already has a serviceable if injury-prone QB and needs to “make a splash,” according to owner Arthur Molina (Frank Langella).

Weaver seems set on picking Callahan for just that reason, but wait! Mack somehow has Weaver’s cell number! That leads to the following completely believable set of events.

1) Mack tells Weaver to watch tape of the Ohio State-Wisconsin game, and pay attention to Callahan’s reaction after each of Mack’s FOUR sacks.

2) Weaver notices that Callahan looks scared on the play immediately following each of the sacks.

3) Weaver watches Callahan’s game-winning touchdown pass and realizes that (GASP!) Mack wasn’t out there!

4) But why?

5) Because after Mack sacked Callahan and returned the ensuing fumble for a touchdown, he handed the ball to a fan (his now-dead sister!) and was flagged by the referee. He then took off his helmet and was ejected.

6) Because this was apparently some hidden secret that happened in a game that was not televised or garnered attention in anyway. Ohio State and Wisconsin. That’s Home Shopping Network material, right there.

7) The team security guard tells Weaver that Callahan had a 21st birthday party and none of his teammates attended.

8) Weaver, who apparently hated his father and mother and can’t even have a real conversation with the woman he supervises at work and also recently impregnated (Jennifer Garner), is taken aback that Callahan’s teammates wouldn’t be there for his birthday celebration.

9) We haven’t even addressed that Mack is projected to fall to the late teens despite a) playing at Ohio State, b) being a premium edge rusher, and c) sacking the eventual Heisman winner four times in the HGTV Game of the Season.

Mack not only is a terrific outside linebacker, he's also apparently the movie's best scout.

Mack not only is a terrific outside linebacker, he’s also apparently the movie’s best scout.

Of course, he doesn’t drop. Weaver takes Mack, whom he could have drafted seventh, with the first pick. Coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary) finds a crumpled up note of Weaver’s, which we saw him write earlier in the day, that reads: “VONTAE MACK NO MATTER WHAT.”

So, to review: GM of downtrodden franchise needs to make a splash, or he’ll find his job in jeopardy. GM trades three No. 1 picks to take franchise QB. GM is scared off by QB not having friends. GM takes player at No. 1 he could have taken six picks later without giving up two more No. 1s. GM needs post-it note to remember what he plans to do, because remembering is hard. GM is about to get fired by cranky owner.


While he’s in the middle of feuding with Coach Penn (Leary being Leary!), avoiding his baby mama, apologizing to his nerdy intern and yelling at his mother for her wanting to scatter her husband’s freshly minted ashes on the practice field (seriously!), IDEAS ARE FORMING.

Once Weaver passes on Callahan, every other NFL team is scared. What red flag did he find? We can’t trust our own scouting! If the GM of a team that hasn’t won anything in a half-century who fired his own father thought Callahan wasn’t worth taking, then our own eyes deceived us!! Callahan starts dropping.

What to do, what to do. …. Oh, the Jaguars are terrible! And they have a rookie GM! Let’s lob them a call. Weaver does and offers Jacksonville two second-round draft picks for the No. 6 pick and the chance to draft the QB who has imaginary friends and, suddenly, a drinking problem. The Jags’ clearly scared GM rebuffs Weaver, but when Weaver offers a third second-round pick the Jacksonville war room suddenly reacts as if they’d just been given the chance to acquire John Elway, a healthy Bo Jackson and a topless Scarlett Johansson to be the team’s mascot. Deal.


Now Weaver has traded away the Browns’ first- and second-round picks for the next three years and has only Mack and presumably Callahan to show for it. He has a chance to save face after fleecing Jacksonville’s green GM in the new NFL Netowrk special Baby’s First War Room. Let’s go full circle. Let’s call up the Seattle GM and tell him how you’ve been reading the message boards and fan blogs and he’s being skewered for trading away the top pick. This is their chance to get Callahan and wind up paying him millions less.

Weaver wants his three No. 1s back. Seattle agrees.


“What else do we need?” he asks the war room. And Ali Parker, team salary cap expert/coffee getter/person who talks to Weaver in supply closets/carrier of Weaver’s child demands a punt returner! We have them over a barrel … DEMAND A SPECIAL TEAMER!

Denis Leary seems quite comfortable playing the role of Denis Leary.

Denis Leary seems quite comfortable playing the role of Denis Leary.

The Seahawks, clearly confused, are happy to oblige. At the end of the day they got the next Andrew Luck for a hefty discount and a punt returner. The Jaguars passed up a chance to take a franchise QB and wound up with three second-round picks, thus increasing the likelihood of the team moving to Los Angeles. And the Browns took a running back with the seventh pick and made Coach Penn a little less crotchety.


Despite all of those shenanigans, the biggest problem with Draft Day is that it’s boring. It’s empty phone call after empty phone call. It tries to set up the “twist” at the end as the big victory, but the only reason Weaver still has a job by the end of the movie is because the Jaguars’ GM was kidnapped by an assistant manager at Walgreens.

It’s two hours of NFL infomercial, complete with a Roger Goodell cameo. It’s trying to attract an audience that makes the draft a titanic production, but forgetting the reasons why the event is such a force in the first place: 1) alcohol, 2) genuine intrigue, and 3) booing Roger Goodell.

Get used to this shot.

Get used to this shot.

None of those really applies here, and even if they did, this is not a movie with any broad appeal. It’s not a blockbuster, not a date night flick and it’s not really a sports movie. Costner might as well be reading his dialogue, 70 percent of which is on the phone, off cue cards, while Garner doesn’t have much to do other than look perpetually worried. The only compelling performance comes from Boseman, who at least attempts to bring a sense of emotion to his interactions with Costner.

It’s not enough to make a difference, but I’ll give Draft Day this: The premise of the movie lines up identically with the action that permeates throughout.

It’s all about phoning it in.

How I Met Your Mother And Then Made Her Nothing But A Plot Device

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From the moment the wonderful, audacious, cleverly unique pilot aired back in 2005, there was almost no chance How I Met Your Mother was going to be able to stick the landing.

The concept was bold. It was sitcom brushed with mystery. Friends with a touch of Twin Peaks. There would be lots of humor along the way even without the hideous, canned laugh track, but the heart of the series would be Ted Mosby’s attempt to meet the woman with whom he was destined to spend the rest of his life. We met womanizing Barney, couple-since-college Marshall and Lily, and fledgling TV reporter and charmingly Canadian (mined often for comedic gold, eh?) Robin. It was New York, it was a bar, it was a group of friends in their mid-to-late-20s figuring out who they are and what they want to be. It was slap bets and playbooks and wingmen and career changes and kids and failed relationships and, even once, being left at the altar.

It worked so well for three or four seasons, when the writing was crisp and it was about the journey rather than the destination. The casting was spot-on, taking established stars Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan, up-and-comer Jason Segel and virtual nobodies Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor and turning their 22-minute exploits into something we wanted to be a part of.

But, as the show kept avoiding its own mortality and earning renewals, the characters never quite lived up to the actors portraying them. Barney wasn’t just a serial dater but a misogynistic dickhead. Robin was proudly independent and career-oriented to the point where she was unwilling to allow a man to be an equal part of her life. Marshall and Lily were the most real, but spent large chunks of seasons 4 through 8 as caricatures of their former selves. And with every neurotic, overbearing decision he made in each subsequent relationship, it became kind of obvious why Ted was still single.

The love triangle between Ted, Robin and Barney was one of HIMYM’s central arcs, but it became painfully clear that neither of those pairings would ever realistically come close to working. Robin didn’t, and as we later found out, couldn’t, have kids. Ted wanted a family. Barney wanted to be promiscuous and never settle down and continue to be a serial liar. Yet here we were, in one final, unnecessary season, an entire 22-episode structure dedicated to the 48 hours prior to Robin and Barney’s wedding.

I had checked our mentally on the show three or four seasons earlier. I was introduced to HIMYM sometime in the third season, binged to get caught up and was totally invested until it became clear around Season 5 that there was no reasonable end in sight. If ever a show was in desperate need of a defined end date, it was this one.

Yet there were still moments that kept me and millions of others around. The episode where Marshall’s father died was one of the most touching and difficult moments I’ve ever seen on television, regardless of genre. It felt real and, while a punch to the gut, turned into an interesting arc that would follow Segel’s character through the rest of the series.

Those moments were fleeting, but the promise of – at some point – finally meeting the mother was the ultimate hook. As annoying as Ted Mosby was, I was invested in how his story ended. He wasn’t going to be happy with someone who had a little bit of room for him in her life, like Robin. He needed someone whose life was completed by his quirky presence. He needed his soul mate.

He needed the female Ted Mosby.

cristin milioti

The final episode of Seinfeld’s seventh season was notable for (1996 SPOILER ALERT!!) George’s fiancé, Susan, dying after being poisoned by licking toxic wedding envelopes, but it also had an interesting plot involving Jerry. He met his apparent soul mate in Jeannie Steinman, played by Janeane Garofolo, and found out almost immediately that they had everything in common. But after realizing that he can barely stand himself and certainly couldn’t spend the rest of his life with the female version of himself, Jerry breaks off what became a sitcom-quick engagement.

Obviously Seinfeld’s complete surrealism makes it a bit hard to compare it with HIMYM, but Ted, all along, needed his Jeannie Steinman – a person who would laugh at his jokes, finish his sentences and even dress like him. And in what should have been the saving grace for a show that had overstayed its welcome, creators and showrunners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas found her.

Instead, it was – as Parks and Recreation’s once-great Chris Traeger would say – LITERALLY the show’s death knell. (In fact, this basically sums up a reaction I’d have had upon Bays/Thomas telling me the HIMYM series finale plot).

How Your Mother Met Me

Segel will go on to be at least a somewhat bankable movie star – he already is in some ways – but the prominent HIMYM cast member that does the biggest things going forward might just be the last one cast.

Cristin Milioti was introduced in the final moment of Season 8 and was a newcomer to virtually everyone who hadn’t seen her on stage in Once or couldn’t remember her from a few brief appearances late in The Sopranos. The reveal of the mother of Ted’s kids provided a little hope for Season 9, which turned into an otherwise completely unnecessary mess leading up to a Barney-Robin wedding that would result in divorce just 20 minutes into Monday night’s series finale.

Her scenes, though, were almost entirely phenomenal. She had excellent chemistry with Radnor, but it was more than just that. Her presence, fleeting as it was, was a shining light and a pleasantly scented Yankee Candle in a series that had permanently ventured into a musty old attic. She interacted glowingly with each of the four main characters besides Ted, but it was the show’s 200th episode, ‘How Your Mother Met Me,’ that gave us the most rewarding glimpse of what Milioti could bring to the table. She gave us not only a reason to care about the show again but a reason to care about Ted. She seemed too good for him but a perfect fit at the same time. The narrative structure of the show had been rushed to the point where we didn’t get much of her, but each appearance she made in the final season made me long for the happy ending we’d seemingly been promised nine years ago.

And then Monday night happened.


It wasn’t hard to see coming. We knew, going into this series finale, a few things.

1) As hinted four episodes earlier and deeply implied as being the fate of The Mother, a woman isn’t going to be around to see her daughter’s eventual wedding.

2) For a sitcom, this show (Marshall’s father, The Mother’s own previous love) isn’t afraid to drop a death bomb and unlike, say, Seinfeld, it ain’t gonna be for the sake of uncomfortable laughter.

3) The show was practically beating us over the head with Ted/Robin “Will they or won’t theys” for years, up to and including the second-to-last episode.

4) The ending – at least the part with Ted’s two teenage kids – was filmed in 2006 to keep, for continuity’s sake, with the actors’ ages.

But surely – CERTAINLY – they wouldn’t actually KILL the mother, right? Yet that’s exactly what happened. That was the decision that was made as early as when Carter/Bays pitched the pilot more than a decade ago and definitely no later than the midst of the second season, when they apparently only conceived of an ending that sees Ted and Robin together. You know, for CONTINUITY’S sake. This meant Carter/Bays thought three things.

1) We thought Ted and Robin belonged together despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary for literally nine seasons.

2) We’d think they were so freaking clever for teasing us in the pilot with “Robin is not the mother,” which while technically true, wouldn’t preclude her from being the one Ted ended up with.

3) We wouldn’t be invested in the mother as a character.

Wrong. Wrong. WRONG.

I’d checked out on Barney long ago. His moment of redemption in the finale, when he has a supposedly touching scene in the hospital room with his daughter – the result of an oopsie pregnancy after he had sex with 31 WOMEN IN 31 DAYS – was bullshit. I’d buy Barney’s life being changed by being a father if they’d allowed a viable lead-up and shown seeds of change over time. Nope. Instead, Barney’s final season arc went like this:

1) Be a complete horndog asshole up until the moments before wedding Robin.

2) Make fun of the fact that Marshall and Lily, the lone semi-believable couple on the show outside of Ted and The Mother, had failed or struggled to keep their marriage vows.

3) Realize Robin is about to leave you for Ted and suddenly make a promise to always be truthful.

4) Lie, get divorced.

5) Have lots more sex and do nothing but look upon women as sexual objects.

6) Have a daughter and suddenly become THE GREATEST DAD EVER.

Robin, meanwhile, was always the least interesting character on the show. It was pretty clear that she was deeply invested in her career, which was all well and good, and that’s how it should have gone. When she walks out that door in Marshall and Lily’s apartment at the Halloween party, she should have never been seen again. She should have gone on to become a famous international newscaster in somewhere other than New York, where the emotional pain of dealing with the friends she doesn’t see and the two romantic interests she can’t avoid were too much to bear.

Ted blue horn

As for Ted, I didn’t care as much about his happily ever after as I did for The Mother, who we found out late in the finale was named Tracy McConnell. Shortly thereafter, she’s in a hospital bed, stricken presumably with liver cancer, having attempted to drink herself to death after spending too much time around Ted and his insufferable friends.

Her death was glossed over in about 30 seconds, but I’m really glad we all got to spend 30 minutes earlier this season on such heavy plot devices as “Will Barney successfully have his rehearsal dinner in a laser tag arena?” “Will Marshall stop to get pizza in Chicago with the random black woman who’s driving his rented Hummer across the country?” And my personal favorite, “Why is Billy Zabka here?

Life isn’t always happy endings and sitcoms don’t have to be, either. But the story of HIMYM from the start was how Ted Mosby found his, and we have nine years of evidence that Robin wasn’t it.

Carter and Bays might have thought it was in 2006, but things change. The idea of The Mother character kept folks around, and when they managed to cast the perfect actress for the show and for Ted, their perfect ending needed an audible.

That exit might actually have been legendary.