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'Miracle' does justice to the greatest moment in American sports

'Miracle' does justice to the greatest moment in American sports

With live sports on pause and most people stuck at home due to the coronavirus, hockey fans have to find other ways to pass the time. Watching a good hockey movie can certainly help, but the fact is some of us haven't seen the "classic" hockey movies since we were kids.

So how good are they really? Do they actually hold up? With nothing but time on our hands, let's find out.

Every Friday during the pause, I'll have a hockey movie review in which I will watch a movie the night before, take notes and provide those notes and a grade for each movie just to see how good they really are.

You can check out the past reviews here:

Happy Gilmore
The Mighty Ducks
D2: The Mighty Ducks
D3: The Mighty Ducks
Goon
Goon: Last of the Enforcers

This week's movie: "Miracle"

If you are going to tell the story of the greatest moment in the history of American sports, you better get it right.

"Miracle" is the story of USA's incredible upset win over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. The movie focuses primarily on head coach Herb Brooks who managed to coach a team of young amateur players to a gold medal, going through what looked at the time to be an unbeatable Soviet Union team.

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For some background, the Soviet Union was considered easily the best team in the world heading into the Olympics. No one expected much from the US, but after a tie against Sweden in the first game, USA would go on to win every game earning a spot in the medal round. Their first game came against the Soviets, who had beaten the US 10-3 just prior to the games, but the US would pull off the incredible 4-3 upset and go on to beat Finland and claim the gold medal.

It is the greatest moment in US sports history, period. It's no surprise that someone would want to make a movie about it.

They certainly cast the right actor for Brooks. Kurt Russell was incredible as the head coach. The players were also pretty good despite most of them not being very prominent actors. Great care was taken in selecting players who could actually skate and play to make the movie more believable so this was the first major movie for many of them.

For a movie in which any self-respecting hockey fan will go into it knowing how it ends, there is still plenty of tension and drama throughout and the payoff at the end still packs an emotional punch.

Here are my notes from watching:

  • The movie begins with a lot of news clips on America. You see news of current events sprinkled in throughout the movie which is important. The win over the Soviet Union is not important because it was a big upset, it was important because of everything else going on in the world. America needed a moment like this and the fact that it came against the nation's greatest enemy at the time made that game the incredible moment that it was. While I would have liked to see just a tad more of the context thrown into the movie, overall it does a good job illustrating why this game mattered and why it was about so much more than just a hockey game.
  • "I'm not looking for the best players, Craig. I'm looking for the right ones."
  • Former Caps forward Dave Christian is depicted in this movie by Steve Kovalcik. It is not a large role in the movie, but he's there. Christian would go on to play seven seasons with Washington scoring 417 points. The fact that he is not a folk hero and considered among the local sports legends is a travesty.
  • I actually did not know Brooks was the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic squad that would go on to win gold until I watched this movie. That must have been brutal and it must have been hard for him to cut Ralph Cox the week before the Olympics too. That was a pretty heavy scene.
  • Did you think the portrayal of Broks was a bit over the top? It wasn't. As assistant coach Craig Patrick described, Brooks knew a lot of the players didn't like each other, as illustrated in a fight scene early in the movie, so he wanted the players to unite and hate him instead. To do that and just not lose the locker room entirely, he needed Patrick to be the good cop to his bad cop. Patrick actually played a pivotal role in this team's success despite the portrayal in the movie that makes it look like Patrick was pretty much just along for the ride.
  • You probably know about the famous bag skate after the Norway game. That happened. If you want to know more about it, here's an oral history of that night. The rink manager actually did turn the lights out and the team skated in the dark. It did not end with Mike Eruzione yelling that he plays for Team USA, however.
  • The movie definitely does a good job of showing how the team bounded over time. It makes an effort to get that point across.
  • I love having Al Michaels re-do the commentary for the movie. The iconic call at the end of the game, however, is the original recording.
  • The locker room speech will give you goosebumps. What a great speech by Brooks and what a great performance by Russell.
  • "Miracle" is hardly the only hockey movie guilty of this, but Hollywood seems to think 95-percent of what a hockey coach does during a game is stand behind the bench yelling "Here we go boys!"
  • The movie notes that USA came from behind in every game, but that's actually incorrect. Of the five games the team had played before the medal round, USA went 4-0-1. They came from behind to win or tie four of those games. In a 7-2 win over Romania, however, USA never trailed. But they did trail in every other game including the win over the Soviet Union and Finland in the medal round so it is still very impressive.
  • Using actors who could actually skate definitely helped this movie. The play looked very good. Jim Craig was a bit exaggerated -- not every save requires an all-out dive to the ice -- but otherwise the play looked very believable.
  • The quiet, solitary celebration by Brooks after the win is an incredible scene. Brooks knew he had to be the bad guy and once he is alone he allows himself a moment to let the emotion go.
  • A voiceover finish was a smart move. For those who may not know, the win over the Soviet Union was not for the gold medal. The Olympic tournament at the time did not determine winners in a bracket-style tournament but instead was decided by a round-robin between the top two teams in each division. The head-to-head matchup between divisional opponents counted so teams only got to play two games in the medal round. USA had one point from its tie with Sweden and won gold because it went on to beat Finland in the second game. Had they lost that game, they would have won bronze and the win over the Soviet Union would not be remembered the way it is today. For a movie, however, the USSR game was definitely the climax so you can't have them come back and play another game. It was a tidy way to wrap up the story while not feeling anti-climactic.
  • Brooks died in 2003 in a car crash. The movie was released in 2004.

Final Grade A-

Russell knocks it out of the park with his performance and the movie still packs plenty of drama, tension and emotion for a story that most people know the ending to going in. It does all of this while staying largely accurate. If I had one quibble, the movie shows why this win was important beyond just a hockey game, but I am not sure it emphasizes the context enough. If someone who did not live through the Cold War or remember the Soviet Union watched this movie, would they come away understanding why this is the biggest moment in US sports history? I'm not so sure. But that's just my only complaint. The movie is a fantastic depiction of a game every American hockey fan should know.

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How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

The NHL salary cap is going to remain at $81.5 million for next two years at least. That is going to make life difficult for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. With the team already tight against the cap ceiling, he won't even get the annual relief of the cap rising. One way in which the team could find a modicum of relief, however, is through the 2021 expansion draft. Every team in the NHL will lose a player to Seattle which means taking a contract off the books. Given the team's cap situation, there is one player specifically to keep in mind when it comes to the expansion draft: T.J. Oshie.

For the expansion, each team will be able to protect eight skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. It seems safe to assume Washington will choose the latter. Here are the forwards that will still be under contract after the 2020-21 season: Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Richard Panik and Tom Wilson. The contracts for both Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, but both will almost certainly be re-signed so we can add them to the list.

Of the forwards the team would want to protect, the most obvious choices are Backstrom, Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Vrana and Wilson. Most would assume that the seventh spot should go to Oshie, but should it?

As I wrote yesterday, one of the issues for Washington is that the team has several long-term deals on the books. For a team with little room under the cap, MacLellan had to offer longer-term deals instead of big money ones to remain competitive in the gree agent market. The risk is that it ties you to a player for longer, but even if a player is not living up to his contract, the percentage of his cap hit would decrease every year with a steadily rising salary cap. Well, now the cap is no longer rising and that means players on long deals, like Oshie, are not getting better as the players age.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Oshie. First, he will be 34 at the time of the expansion draft and will only be halfway through an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. Obviously, the chances that Oshie would be living up to that cap hit when he was 37 or 38 were low when Oshie first signed the deal, but that's OK because with a steadily rising cap, the percentage would probably be low enough at that point that it would not be a significant issue. But now the salary cap is flat which means MacLellan is going to have to take a hard look at all of the team's long-term deals and project out what the team can expect from those players towards the end of their contracts.

Oshie is having a great season with 26 goals and 23 assists. He was on pace for 58 points which would have been his best in Washington. He is a leader on the team and a real boost to the locker room. No one could question his value to Washington now, but the question is what will his value be in the second half of his contract?

RELATED: WHY A FLAT SALARY CAP IS BAD NEWS FOR THE CAPS

Granted, Seattle knows all of this, but there are three reasons why Oshie would still be an attractive acquisition. First, Oshie's cap hit is essentially a non-factor for a team starting from scratch. The Caps have very little room to work with under the cap while Seattle has all of the room to work with. A cap hit of $5.75 million would hardly be a deterrent. Second, Oshie is actually from Washington state. While most fans remember Oshie taking the Cup to his hometown of Warroad, Minn., Oshie was born in Washington and lived there until moving to Minnesota in 2002. Third, when building a team, you need players like Oshie who are personable and charismatic. He is the life of the locker room and a natural leader. He would be Washington's native son, returning to lead the team in its inaugural season.

To me, it is not a stretch to think that if Oshie is indeed selected, he would be in the running to be Seattle's first captain. His departure would also provide some cap relief to a Washington team in need of the extra room. Losing Oshie would mean losing that spark in the locker room, however, and MacLellan will have to decide whether that is a fair trade-off.

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Why a flat NHL salary cap is bad news for the Capitals

Why a flat NHL salary cap is bad news for the Capitals

When it comes to free agency and projecting which pending free agents a team may try to re-sign, there is a fair amount of guesswork involved. For most of the year, we don't actually know perhaps the most crucial piece of information: the salary cap. The salary cap is not set until after a season is over so while we have projections of what the cap may be, we don't actually know. The one assumption that pretty much everyone makes when projecting the cap is that it will go up. Business is good for professional sports, the value of teams continues to rise as does hockey-related revenue...and then the coronavirus pandemic happened.

The revenue the league stands to lose due to the pause to the season, the cancellation of the remainder of the regular season and a postseason without any fan attendance brought the NHL and NHL Players' Association together to negotiate how to navigate the difficult financial times ahead. As a result, an agreement was reached Monday on a memorandum of understanding for the collective bargaining agreement. As part of the negotiations, both sides reportedly agreed to a flat salary cap for the next two seasons meaning the current ceiling of $81.5 million will remain the ceiling.

That's bad news for the Capitals.

But why? If the Caps can afford to fit their team under the $81.5 million salary cap now, why is it such an issue that the cap will remain at $81.5 million next season?

As I mentioned above, everyone operates under the assumption that the salary cap will continue to rise, including general managers. That's not optimism or poor planning. Really it takes something catastrophic to halt that rise, like a lockout/strike or...you know, like a global pandemic. The point is, every team when projecting out its rosters for next year and beyond, did so with the assumption that the salary cap would rise. Now that it's not, that affects the projections for every team.

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For the Caps, yes, they were able to fit their roster under the $81.5 million cap for this season, but just barely. For much of the season, the team carried only six defensemen, the bare minimum, on the roster. That means if a player got sick or injured the day of the game, the team would have essentially had to play a full game with only five defensemen. It took a lot of cap gymnastics for general manager Brian MacLellan to fit his roster under the cap and it was something that was constantly tweaked all year. Will he be able to do it again next year? Not with the current roster.

The biggest issue for Washington is a number of long-term deals that will now come back to bite them. The Caps have for several years now been a "cap team," meaning they have spent right up to the salary cap ceiling. This is typical for teams looking to compete for the Stanley Cup. If you feel you are a legitimate contender, you try to make every dollar count towards building a championship roster. Without much room under the cap to work with, however, MacLellan had to offer free agents something else in order to entice players to sign. As a result, the team has given out several deals to players of four years or more. The benefit to this is, not only can you continue bidding on free agents without much money to spend, but even if a player does not live up to his cap hit, that cap hit gets lower every year in terms of percentage with a rising salary cap.

In 2017, T.J. Oshie was a free agent. The Caps did not have the money under the cap to re-sign him so instead offered him an eight-year deal. There is no question Oshie left money on the table in terms of a yearly salary, but he got more years. Will he be worth a $5.75 million cap hit when he's 38 and on the last year of his contract? Probably not by today's standards when his cap hit alone takes a little over 7-percent of the team's cap space. With a rising cap, however, that percentage would have gone down each year. Now it won't, at least not as much as MacLellan had anticipated.

For a team that has pushed right up against the cap ceiling the last few years, one of the few sources of relief it could find was the yearly increase to the cap. Now it won't have that for the next two years.

RELATED: NHL, NHLPA ADD 4 YEARS TO CURRENT CBA  

Washington has 11 players with at least three years on their current contracts after the 2019-20 season. Those are players whose cap hits by percentage will remain exactly the same next season. With a salary cap of $81.5 million, the Caps have 11 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie under contract with a little less than $10.4 million of cap space remaining.  That's $10.4 million to use on at least two forwards, three defensemen and a goalie. That's not a lot.

There are also restricted free agents like Jonas Siegenthaler and Travis Boyd with cap hits of $714,166 and $800,000, respectively. Both players will be due raises. It's hard to imagine the team walking away from Siegenthaler, but even if they wanted to with Boyd, they would still have to replace him with another player who costs money. Plus, Ilya Kovalchuk, Radko Gudas, Brenden Dillon and, most importantly, Braden Holtby will be unrestricted free agents.

Free agency was going to be difficult for Washington to manage yet again in 2020 regardless of how much the cap was going to rise. Now with a flat cap, the team's practice of handing out long-term contracts is really going to come back to bite them and force some difficult decisions. The team has very little money to pay players more than what they're making now. Does this ensure the end of Holtby's time in Washington? Does the team wait on a long-term extension for Ovechkin to get a better idea of where the salary cap may be in a few years? Can the team afford to keep any of its UFAs? Does the team leave Oshie exposed to Seattle in the expansion draft?

At this point, these are all questions MacLellan now has to consider.

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