From Zero to Two

In my annual Oscar predictions, I made a point of noting that I had not yet had the chance to see Zero Dark Thirty when I made my best of 2012 list. Ditto for Django Unchained (the ‘D’ is silent.) Having now seen—and loved—both films, I have updated my list below. But not before another caveat: I still have not yet taken in Amour, The Impossible, or The Master, though I’d be surprised if anything but the former breached my top 11. As promised:

1. Lincoln
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Skyfall
4. Silver Linings Playbook
5. Argo
6. Looper
7. Django Unchained
8. The Avengers
9. Perks of Being a Wallflower
10. Life of Pi
11. The Dark Knight Rises

Magic Mike and Les Misérables—excellent films in a phenomenal year for movies—unfortunately fell off the list.

Grown Up Badgers

On opening night of the National Hockey League season, 17 former Wisconsin Badgers were on NHL rosters. Here is a team-by-team breakdown:

Carolina Hurricanes: Jamie McBain (D)
Detroit Red Wings: Brendan Smith (D)
Edmonton Oilers: Justin Schultz (D)
Florida Panthers: Jack Skille (W)
Los Angeles Kings: Davis Drewiske (D)
Minnesota Wild (3): Tom Gilbert (D), Dany Heatley (W), Ryan Suter (D)
Montreal Canadians: Rene Bourque (W)
Nashville Predators: Craig Smith (W)
New York Rangers (2): Ryan McDonagh (D), Derek Stepan (C)
Ottawa Senators: Kyle Turris (C)
St. Louis Blues: Brian Elliott (G)
San Jose Sharks (2): Adam Burish (W), Joe Pavelski (C)
Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Gardiner (D)

Sam Gagner is an interesting story because he committed to Wisconsin but his draft stock soared so high that he was snatched up by the Edmonton Oilers with the sixth overall pick and went professional before donning the Cardinal and White. That 2007 draft the Badgers had three—but really four, if you count Gagner—first round picks as Turris went third overall to Phoenix, McDonagh was picked with the 12th selection by Montreal, and the Detroit Red Wings chose Smith with the 27th pick. Interestingly only Gagner and Smith and still playing for their original teams.

After I spent a couple years worrying that the (not-well-liked) Anaheim Ducks would have two Badger defensemen skating for them for the next decade, the departures of Jake Gardiner and Justin Schultz—one by trade, the other by pure hutzpah—remarkably leave no Badgers currently donning a Ducks sweater.

To recap: Anaheim traded away Gardiner to the Toronto Maple Leafs, knowing they had another—and arguably better—Badger blueliner in the pipeline. Schultz, however, played three years at Wisconsin and then, once he officially left school, declined to sign with the Ducks and once they lost their sole bargaining power, he became a free agent. He signed with Edmonton—he originally hails from Westside in British Columbia—and is my pick for NHL Rookie of the Year.

Soon enough, though, there will be another excellent Badger heading westward.

Anaheim’s senior vice president of hockey operations is Dave McNab, a goaltender on the 1976-77 Wisconsin squad that won the national championship. One of the greatest teams ever assembled, they went 37-7-1, capturing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season and playoff titles before winning the national title over arch-rival Michigan in dramatic fashion, with #11 Steve Alley lighting the lamp 23 seconds into overtime to give the Badgers the 6-5 win. McNab was instrumental in drafting Gardiner and Shultz and has also secured the rights to stud freshman winger Nic Kerdiles, after Anaheim took him in the second round last season.

Other current drafted Badgers include:

Joe Faust, New Jersey Devils
Joseph LaBate, Vancouver Canucks
Jake McCabe, Buffalo Sabres
Michael Mersch, Los Angeles Kings
Brad Navin, Buffalo Sabres
John Ramage, Calgary Flames
Eddie Wittchow, Florida Panthers
Brendan Woods, Carolina Hurricanes

Elsewhere around the NHL: whereas I’m quite pleased there are no longer any Wisconsin Badgers on the Chicago Blackhawks, there are now quite unfortunately three studs—Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, and Tom Gilbert—now firmly ensconced on the Minnesota Wild. (At least if they do have success—I predicted they would miss the postseason this year—Minnesotans will have to live with the fact that it was in huge part because of these Badgers that they made the playoffs.)

Speaking of ex-Wisconsinites (once) playing in Minnesota . . . then there is Phil Kessel.

Best Trade in Boston Sports History

On July 14, 2010 I wrote this:

(Un)Lucky Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs can’t catch a break.

Though they finally have a sound organizational structure in place, one trade they and general manager Brian Burke will very likely always regret came back to rear its ugly head again at last month’s NHL Entry Draft.

Before the 2009-10 campaign began, the Leafs sent the Bruins their first and second-round picks in the 2010 draft, plus a first-round selection in next year’s draft.

And because of their anemic 74 point (30-38-14) showing, that 2010 first round pick turned out to be second overall—in a draft that featured two young dynamos in Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.  Boston nabbed Seguin, the skillful centerman, at No. 2 and then landed another pivot in Jared Knight from the London Knights (!) of the Ontario Hockey League, where he tallied 36 goals, 21 assists, and 57 points in 63 games.  And they still have the Leafs’ first round pick next year to utilize.

And what did a center-starved Toronto get in return?  A soft winger who has never won anything.  Ever.  In fact, he was a key cog in the University of Minnesota hockey machine . . . that crashed and burned in the biggest upset in college hockey history, falling to lowly Holy Cross, 4-3 in overtime, in the 2006 West Regional semifinal.  (Relive the glory with the Crusaders’ announcers!)

No one is arguing Phil Kessel can’t put the biscuit in the basket (although 96 goals in 292 career games is nothing to write home about for an alleged sniper), but from his severe defensive limitations—two-way hockey is not a course offered at Minnesota—to his lack of leadership, it is no wonder that a team that had just reached the Eastern Conference finals was very happy to rid itself of a talented young scorer.  Flash and panache rarely acquit themselves well as traits needed to hoist the Stanley Cup.  Just ask the Washington Capitals.

Oh, and thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now mired in the longest championship drought (they last held the chalice 43 years ago in 1967) in the National Hockey League.

Immediately after the lockout ended, the new owners of the Maple Leafs fired Brian Burke. Many speculated it was because he refused to trade for Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo. An equally compelling case can be made for the trade he did made—the one that set Toronto back years.

The final deal: Phil Kessel from the Bruins to the Leafs for Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.

Hamilton is a 6’5” defenseman who has already, at the tender age of 19, established himself as a regular NHL blueliner. And to add insult to injury, a recent New England Sports Network (NESN) poll found—with nearly 48 percent of the vote—that swindle to be the best trade in Boston sports history.

And now, predictably, there are much louder calls to excise him from Toronto. I have long stated that though a talented player, he will never have team success at the highest level because he won’t do the little things—the daily, grueling sacrifices—necessary to win a Stanley Cup. So far, NHL general managers seem to agree with me.

Epilogue: Though a much-lauded goal scorer, Phil Kessel has yet to find the back of the net in 10 games so far this season.

The Three Amigos

The perfect receiver: always exactly where he was supposed to be, and great, great hands.”

—Brett Favre on Donald Driver

With #80’s retirement after 14 seasons, 205 games, 743 receptions, 10,137 yards, and 61 touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers, much has been made of his eye-popping statistics and where he ranks as an all-time Packer great. I would have him as the third best receiver after James Lofton and, my personal favorite, Sterling Sharpe. Kudos to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for providing these stats contextualizing Driver’s career.

Three things stand out:

1. The amazing career—in both length and breadth—of Donald Driver. He is one of pro football’s most amazing stories.

2. Running back Ahman Green ‘s total yards, but especially the number he earned through the air. Where has the screen game gone, Mike McCarthy?

3. The absolute dominance of Sterling Sharpe. Check out his career numbers: 

Receiving

Rushing

Year

Age

Tm

Pos

No.

G

GS

Rec

Yds

Y/R

TD

Lng

R/G

Y/G

Att

Yds

TD

Lng

Y/A

Y/G

A/G

YScm

RRTD

Fmb

AV

1988

23

GNB WR/wr

84

16

16

55

791

14.4

1

51

3.4

49.4

4

-2

0

5

-0.5

-0.1

0.3

789

1

3

5

1989*+

24

GNB WR

84

16

16

90

1423

15.8

12

79

5.6

88.9

2

25

0

26

12.5

1.6

0.1

1448

12

1

14

1990*

25

GNB WR

84

16

16

67

1105

16.5

6

76

4.2

69.1

2

14

0

10

7.0

0.9

0.1

1119

6

0

9

1991

26

GNB WR

84

16

16

69

961

13.9

4

58

4.3

60.1

4

4

0

12

1.0

0.3

0.3

965

4

1

8

1992*+

27

GNB WR

84

16

16

108

1461

13.5

13

76

6.8

91.3

4

8

0

14

2.0

0.5

0.3

1469

13

2

14

1993*+

28

GNB WR

84

16

16

112

1274

11.4

11

54

7.0

79.6

4

8

0

5

2.0

0.5

0.3

1282

11

1

15

1994*

29

GNB WR

84

16

16

94

1119

11.9

18

49

5.9

69.9

3

15

0

8

5.0

0.9

0.2

1134

18

1

12

Career

112

112

595

8134

13.7

65

79

5.3

72.6

23

72

0

26

3.1

0.6

0.2

8206

65

9

77

He led the league three times in receptions, once in yards, and twice in touchdowns. It’s such a shame that a neck injury cut short a likely Hall of Fame career.

Argo . . . On a Roll!

In my rapid reaction to the Oscar noms, I wrote: “The absence of Ben Affleck is a travesty. Argo was as taut and relevant a thriller than anything in years. And it looks like it is Steven Spielberg’s—and Lincoln’s—Academy Award to lose after Kathryn Bigelow failed to be nominated for Best Director for Zero Dark Thirty.”

Turns out the rest of Hollywood agrees. Since that baffling Oscar snub, Affleck (and, by extension, Argo) has been on a ridiculous roll, winning Best Director at every major (and minor) ceremony so far, including the Golden Globes, Broadcast Critics Association, Critics Choice, Screen Actors’ Guild, and—the most prestigious of the lot and, in normal years, the best harbinger of Oscar success—the Director Guild of America.

Not since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989 has a film won Best Picture without its director being nominated. Despite Argo‘s unprecedented run, I still think Lincoln continues that trend this year.

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