The Chicago Blackhawks Pay Their Own – The Signings of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

Every (professional) sport operates under the guidelines of some type of collectively-bargained arrangement. Players and ownership collaborate to usually find a middle ground, where both sides make concessions in order to reap the sizable rewards that come with playing sports in the United States (and Canada).

Each sport has its quirks. MLB sets no maximum on player or team salaries, provided that those teams which spend above a certain threshold pay a sizable penalty. The NFL has the franchise tag, which forces certain players to be paid an exorbitant one-year wage under the mandate that they play for their current team. The NBA has both team and player maximum salaries (in addition to player term limits), which can be bent for certain players, often under the instruction they return to their current team.

The NHL combines certain aspects of all three under its most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA), signed in the wintry abyss that was January 2012, ending its third lockout in less than two decades at an embarrassing 119 days.

The new CBA instituted term limits for players – no contract could last longer than seven years, except for players returning to their respective teams, they would be allowed eight-year deals. The “hard” salary cap remained – no team can be a penny over the $69 million limit once the season begins (excluding LTIR or other oddities allowed to circumvent the upper limit). The actual cap number itself is subject to intricate calculations with components only the league has access to, so while many believe that each team will be able to spend upwards of $75 million on player salaries by 2017, there’s no definitive measurement to determine this.

Between NBC shelling out $2 billion for ten years of the NHL rights in the United States and Rogers Communications opening its checkbook to the tune of $5.232 billion over 12 years, the league will be flush with cash. Barring unforeseen and catastrophic incidents, the salary cap will increase substantially over the course of the CBA.

What this means is that player salaries will increase as well.

Under the prior CBA, no player earned more than $12 million per year (Brad Richards), but with no term limits, the highest dent to a team’s salary maximum was Alex Ovechkin’s $9.538 million. Some players signed up to 15-year contracts, with many of those deals designed to pay a player more up front , but still keep the perceived economic value of the player lower so the team could sign more (or better) players. How were they able to do this? They tacked on near-league minimum salaries at the end of the contract, even though both the team and the player knew the player would retire before these dummy years kicked in. The lockout happened in part due to these deals, which have since been removed and stiff penalties await the teams that signed these players.

With the new CBA and television rights deals in place, impending star free agents have it substantially better than their predecessors. Competing teams likely know the parameters of the contract demands and while a player’s current team can negotiate with that player a year before free agency, the possibility of top-dollar salary keeps free agency a star-powered affair.

The two best players eligible to be free agents after the 2014-15 season were the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, star players currently 25 and 26 years old, respectively. They’ve won a combined two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals and should only improve as they reach their prime. The NHL does not have a player maximum, so market forces — and incessant owners – often dictate what players earn. Kane and Toews will each count as $6.3 million against the salary cap this upcoming season in the final year of their five-year $31.5 million deals that began in 2010. The Blackhawks, a big market team that’s finally acting like one, aggressively hinted deals for both players would be done before the end of July. There was only one question that remained: how much would they make?

According to the Chicago Blackhawks, the team has signed both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to identical 8-year/$84 million contracts, with an average annual salary (AAV) of $10.5 million (this is the number that will count against the cap for each). These are the largest contracts signed under the new CBA and carry the distinction of the highest AAV in the NHL. Others will make more – Shea Weber and Sidney Crosby will each earn more than $100 million over the life of their contracts – but signing Kane and Toews under the terms of the prior CBA was impossible for general manager Stan Bowman.

The figures look daunting now, but Kane and Toews may not be the top dogs for very long. Steven Stamkos will be just 25 when he’s eligible to sign a long-term extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning next July. Unless Stamkos takes a discount, it’s not inconceivable he’ll ink a larger deal than either Kane or Toews.

For the Blackhawks, signing the star duo was a foregone conclusion. The salary comes in slightly above what most Blackhawk fans would like, but it represents fair market value in a system that virtually mandates it. It’s entirely conceivable they would have fetched larger offers from other teams, with Philadelphia probably trading its entire roster for a chance to see Kane in orange. With discussion focused on LeBron James not wanting to take a discount to remain with the Miami Heat, it should be known that no player should have to sacrifice their limited earning potential because their front office mismanaged the league’s salary structure. Anyone crying foul that Kane and Toews are overpaid fails to understand how a professional sports league functions. The owners already make 50% of all hockey-related revenue, which doesn’t include their stadium agreements or outside investments. While live sports programming may exist in a type of bubble that could eventually pop, the NHL is locked in through at least 2021. The league has its money; the players should have theirs as well.

For the Blackhawks going forward, these contracts represent a shifting dynamic. Conservative estimates put the salary cap at around $73 million for the 2015-16 season, so having 29% of the team’s total salary tied up in two players looks problematic, but the Blackhawks have built a strong core and have supplemented that with excellent draft picks. Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are significantly underpaid when compared to the value they provide and as long as neither retires anytime soon, the penalties for their contracts won’t derail the team’s hopes at winning a third Stanley Cup within the decade. If it truly becomes dire, Kane and Toews received much of their money up front via signing bonuses, making them easier to trade (if they agree to be traded, of course).

Courtesy of the indispensable capgeek.com, the Blackhawks have nearly $66 million tied up in just 15 players for the 2015-16 season (and $52 million for 9 guys the following year). The team will likely have to trade one or two significant pieces, whether that’s Patrick Sharp (three years remaining on his deal) or Brent Seabrook (two years left). Depending on the agreement Brandon Saad signs – will be a restricted free agent next offseason – both may be expendable.

A rising salary cap tends to shine brightest on deals signed before it jumped. Bryan Bickell’s four-year/$16 million looks like a reach, but it may be downright larceny if he rebounds and similar players are netting $6 million paychecks. Everything’s relative, and relative to the current environment, Kane and Toews certainly got what they deserved. Now, it’s up to them to bring Lord Stanley back to Chicago in 2015.

Bob Ryan, WAR and Trusting the Storytellers

Columnist Bob Ryan wrote a critique of advanced metrics in baseball this week in the Boston Globe, checking off virtually every common complaint induced by the rise of sabermetrics. Elements of his stance are certainly valid, as the divide between casual observer and analytical quant remains significant. For better or worse, intentionally or unintentionally, writers have shown difficulty in incorporating advanced statistics into their reporting in an informative, charismatic way that doesn’t detract from their intended narrative.

However, managing editor of Fangraphs.com, Dave Cameron, offered a rebuttal to Ryan’s piece and touched on a fundamental element surrounding the very nature of the job: the burden of trust. Cameron pointed out that casual fans care about Home Runs and RBIs because sportswriters emphasized those numbers. They understand that a batting average above .300 usually indicates an above-average hitter because journalists have spent decades telling them this is important. As more advanced metrics have been created and tested, savvy individuals (or at least those interested in a deeper understanding of baseball) have begun embracing them. We’ve discovered that RBIs are fairly contextual and rarely provide enough useful information about that particular hitter. A stat like wRC+ on the other hand, measures an individual’s runs created and factors in ballpark, run environment and league. It’s a fairly simple metric to understand, since it’s a simple rate: anyone with a wRC+ above 100 is an above average run creator.

You don’t need to know advanced math or study the intricate details to understand the ins and outs of baseball. You just have to be willing to learn, to trust that these new numbers do a better job of explaining what is happening than the old ones. Old baseball journalists – many of whom have lost the desire to learn – have derided the analytics movement as a fun-killing, destructive endeavor that wants to quantify every last morsel of the game. Not only is this blatantly false, but it misconstrues the very notion of analytics. The goal isn’t to quantify everything, it’s to examine what we know and what we can measure in order to predict the future. If our estimates suggest a negative outcome, we can make the necessary changes to augment that reality. Anyone who has studied advanced metrics in sports understands that luck is the driving force in most outcomes, but over the course of months and seasons and decades, the performance tends to seep through.

In his piece, Ryan also returned to the scene of the sportswriters versus sabermetricians war of 2012, when Miguel Cabrera defeated Mike Trout in the MVP race, despite Trout having a greater WAR. In a “stunning” development, sportswriters not only decreed that WAR was flawed, but that if the goal of analytics was to quantify a player’s value in a single, measurable statistic, it would likely miss the importance of easily-digestible filler like “grit” and “hustle”. The Will to Win at least exists…as an inverse relationship between the Chicago White Sox’ success and Ken Harrelson’s dickishness.

But WAR isn’t a catch-all statistic. It shouldn’t be used as the end point, it should be the basis off which to jump. Using Fangraphs’ methodology, the top five hitters in WAR as of today are Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig and Josh Donaldson. This makes sense, as Tulowitzki is threatening the best 50-game start to a season in MLB history. All five have a wRC+ of 142 or better (all are 42+% better than league average) and all five are slugging at least .500. Columnists have already written lengthy diatribes on these five because they’ve been in the upper echelon for at least a year now.

Looking further down the leaderboard, two names jump out. Seth Smith, a 31-year old corner outfielder for the San Diego Padres, is eighth in WAR while Brian Dozier, a late-blooming middle infielder for the Minnesota Twins is 11th. Without any additional information, we can discern that these two are, at least for the time being, pretty good. But we don’t know why or how or if this success is sustainable.

Bryan LaHair, a journeyman prospect was offered a starting spot on the 2012 Chicago Cubs, hit 10 Home Runs in the first two months of the season and made the All Star team. He was the subject of quite a few gushing columns, with at least one calling him the “best story of the season”. For casual fans, this may have filled them with optimism, that the Cubs found a diamond in the rough who would save baseball on the north side of Chicago. Sabermetricians and scouts alike would have noticed his poor track record, high strikeout numbers, poor defense and good luck and known that the bottom would have fallen out eventually. He hasn’t played in the majors since. He finished the 2012 season with 0.4 WAR, barely in the top 200 of position players with at least 350 at bats.

With players like Dozier and Smith, we can use WAR and advanced metrics to examine their pasts, present and futures. Smith likely won’t hit .333 for the season, but he’s striking out less, walking more and showing immense power. Even if the results are lucky, the skills have improved. Writers shouldn’t overgeneralize or deal in absolutes, but examining Smith’s performance compared to his past would allow for a discussion on what he’s doing well. We as fans learn something while writers still get to spin their yarn.

Ultimately, the numbers (or better versions of these numbers) will seep further and further into the public consciousness until they can no longer be ignored. MLB itself has pushed for player mapping (installing cameras in three parks so far to measure just about everything that happens on the field). This type of data collection should foster curiosity and excitement that idea that we can learn more about how this game works, making our viewing experience better, our discussions on the futures of our favorite teams more applicable and allows the journalists to examine exactly how the best players perform so well. We should embrace analytics because, in fact, they make the game better. There’s still 25 guys on the roster, 8 playing defense and one on the mound. Only now we have a better idea if they’re good enough to win.

Expectations and Regrets – Neighbors Review

Without traversing down a rabbit hole of self-reflection, self-loathing and metaphorical self-mutilation, it’s difficult to discuss the essence of life at all, let alone in two hours with jokes. Neighbors attempts such a feat, but at too great a price. The humor simply doesn’t land often enough to separate the audience from the realization that the characters in the film are simply too conflicted to serve as frequent punchlines.

Neighbors stars Seth Rogen and Rose Bryne as new parents who have made the leap into adulthood headfirst. They have no money, it was invested in property, their second worst sunk cost (after their child). A fraternity moves in next door, with all its swearing and nudity and loud music, causing the exhausted parents to voice their concerns. Delta Psi, after losing their previous home under dubious circumstances, tries to settle the situation amicably, but it escalates because there needs to be a plot and/or a vehicle for jokes. The frat boys could’ve been played by anyone, but it seems notable that Zac Efron is the president of Delta Psi, because of Hollywood and test audiences and latent themes of maturity.

The premise sets up all of the major elements as these two warring factions push the boundaries of human decency. The pranks — most of which are presented in the trailers and promotional material for the film — rarely surprise; the airbag stunt was the most jarring and humorous. Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) grounded the comedy in reality, opting to lay off the laugh-a-minute in favor of moments of self-reflection. It becomes too overt at times, especially when Efron and Dave Franco are forced to confront their impending graduation.

To its credit, this type of exposition allows Bryne to shine as someone looking to balance her teenage ambition with her adult responsibilities. Rogen gets to skate on most of his potential responsibility, but at just 97 minutes, Neighbors doesn’t have enough time to devote any meaningful moments to Rogen’s professional life, save for introducing a welcome supporting role from Ike Barinholtz. Bryne’s character balances the boredom of early motherhood with her conflicted feelings on life’s meaning. The audience may have an attachment to Rogen’s character as it closely exemplifies our perception of his life, but Bryne becomes the ultimate hero simply because the performance feels authentic.

The main issue with Neighbors is, in fact, its authenticity. It mines the depths of modern monotony, but that act in and of itself isn’t ripe for comedy. Neighbors succeeds in infusing a rather mundane issue with a comedic presence and outlandish humor, but that very grounding limits the highs it could’ve reached. It may be more applicable than a film like 22 Jump Street, but its inhibitions diminish its potential.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, BILLIONS, THE SEQUEL: RANKING THE BLOCKBUSTERS OF SUMMER 2014

The premise is simple: take the major motion pictures released between May and August and rank them by their opening weekend box office gross ticket sales.

Starting with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which was released on Friday and ending with August 22nd’s When the Game Stands Tall, I’ll put each film in order based on the projected first weekend sales, factoring in competition, quality of film, critical reviews, directors, actors and overall buzz. This is the second annual competition — you can find last year’s estimates here and also the explanation for my “success” from two weeks ago here.

There are slight differences with this year’s analysis. Most importantly, only 30 films vie for the crown in 2014 versus 34 in 2013 (as some lesser-performing films have been omitted for everyone’s sake). I’ve attempted to eliminate films with limited releases as they heavily skew the numbers lower, as well as most films without any public promotion/buzz/think pieces yet in the public eye. The volatility between predicted and actual results will likely increase as the summer wages on, but that’s part of the fun.

As always, the numbers in this piece are taken from the esteemed Box Office Mojo, which tracks ticket sales both domestically and internationally. For the purposes of remaining as impartial as possible, I have not sought any outside consultation or read any early reviews.

Without further ado:

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction – June 27

PREDICTION: $102 million

The biggest tentpole of the season will likely be Transformers which benefits from the competing Marvel films in April and May and the limited competition at the end of June. Each of the first three Transformers films grossed at least $70 million on their respective opening weekends, with the second movie — Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen — netting $109 million to lead the trilogy. Factor in the IMAX bump and the fact that special effects, rather than story or even a modicum of narrative, draw the crowds and Transformers: Age of Extinction will likely be the only film to pull in nine figures during its opening weekend.

2. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – May 2

PREDICTION: $98 million

Early buzz for the film suggested that director Mark Webb may have been too ambitious (or been advised to be so ambitious) with the narrative structure of his standalone Marvel franchise. Countless foes and an emphasis on romance likely contributed to the mediocre reviews given to the film ahead of its release, but the success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million) should make Spider-Man a success. It will definitely outpace its predecessor, which opened to a soft $62 million in early July 2012.

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past – May 23 

PREDICTION: $82 million

The drop off from two to three isn’t as steep as last year’s $19 million, but it represents the likely end of any film’s chances at breaking the $100 million mark. The X-Men films have ranged from $54 million in 2000 to $102 million in 2006 (with the most recent, X-Men: First Class, grabbing $55 million in 2011 and Wolverine grossing $53 million last summer). Days of Future Past combines the actors from both iterations of the series and has enough star and promotional power behind it to approach the $85 million the first Wolverine movie made.

4. How to Train Your Dragon 2 – June 13

PREDICTION: $79 million

The biggest mistake I made last year was overvaluing the best animated films. I predicted that Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University would each surpass $100 million. Neither topped $85 million. With that in mind, How to Train Your Dragon 2 seems like the logical choice for highest-grossing family movie. Factoring in the 3-D bump and its favorably received predecessor, and everything points to a strong showing.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy  – August 1

PREDICTION: $71 million

In the past five years, no Marvel film has grossed less than $55 million in its opening weekend, save for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (which Nicolas Cage likely has forgotten exists). Twelve have topped the $80 million mark. Guardians of the Galaxy could fall anywhere between $30 and $80 million, but the source material makes pegging a number — or even a range — a tough task. If Hercules flops, nothing will be standing in this film’s way of a massive opening, but only if the film is truly impressive.

6. The Fault in Our Stars – June 6

PREDICTION: $68 million

Young adult fiction has proven to be a lucrative avenue for Hollywood and this should be no exception. It’s a tear-jerking emotional gut-punch against a backdrop of science fiction and massive explosions. Shailene Woodley carried Divergent to the tune of $54 million back in March and given the popularity of the book by the same name, The Fault in Our Stars has a clear path to topping $60 million.

7. Godzilla – May 16

PREDICTION: $64 million

Incredible marketing and fan excitement helped 2008’s Cloverfield roar with $40 million in its first weekend, still the second best January opening weekend in history (behind Ride Along). Early trailers hint that Godzilla could turn in a similar performance, especially since its greatest competition — Million Dollar Arm — likely has much less domestic appeal. Provided the film isn’t atrocious, it should at least outperform its 2008 monster movie counterpart.

8. 22 Jump Street  – June 13

PREDICTION: $61 million

The only R-Rated comedies to exceed $60 million in their opening weekend are The Hangover Part II and….well, that’s it. 22 Jump Street certainly has a chance to follow in its footsteps — a sequel to a comedy that grossly outperformed expectations with likable stars and quality promotion. With Neighbors likely out of most theaters by this point, there’s little competition in the sector.

9. Neighbors  – May 9

PREDICTION: $52 million

Given that most comedies don’t reach even $50 million during their opening weekend, the predicted success of Neighbors stems from its cast — Seth Rogen and Zac Efron combined appeal to a wide variety of moviegoers –and its well-produced commercial spots, highlighting the film’s strong comedic elements. Neighbors will certainly turn a profit, the only question is how long will it take?

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes  – July 11

PREDICTION: $49 million

Ten years after Mark Wahlberg led the first reboot, the sequel to the second will open in in theaters. Rise of the Planet of the Apes premiered three years ago to nearly $55 million against limited competition (remember The Change Up?) and its spawn will likely fall in the same range.

11. Hercules  – July 25

PREDICTION: $44 million

Outside of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, the case can be made that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is not a movie star. His best opening weekend? G.I. Joe: Retaliation‘s $40 million, and even that could be attributed more to Channing Tatum and the G.I. Joe franchise. He’s the main attraction in Hercules and it will be on his ridiculously broad shoulders that this movie rests. For any film outside the top 10, Hercules has the best chance of sliding into the upper echelon.

12. Edge of Tomorrow  – June 6

PREDICTION: $41 million

Mix Tom Cruise and science fiction and you get Oblivion…wait, or War of the Worlds…or Minority Report, or in this case, Edge of Tomorrow. This will likely outperform last April’s Oblivion ($37 million), but with The Fault in Our Stars coming out on the same day, expectations should be tempered.

13. Maleficent  – May 30

PREDICTION: $39 million

This is another film that’s difficult to evaluate. Angelina Jolie starring as a seminal Disney villain seems like a safe bet, but since this is live-action, it certainly could flop. Betting on Jolie and the director who created the lush worlds of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland still only gets someone so far.

14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  – August 8

PREDICTION: $37 million

Adjusting for inflation, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles released in 1990 earned $46 million in its opening weekend, nearly double the $24 million taken in by TMNT in 2007. The power of Michael Bay to make Shia Labeouf seem somewhat well-adjusted may not be needed here, but his visual prowess could drum up enough interest to get both kids and adults in the theater. It’s also possible Guardians of the Galaxy destroys this in its second weekend and Bay lives out his days crying at various tech expos.

15. A Million Ways to Die in the West  – May 30

PREDICTION: $36 million

Only eight movies grossed more at the domestic box office than Ted, the foul-mouthed bear that gobbled down $219 million (en route to$549 million worldwide). While A Million Ways to Die in the West stars MacFarlane in a similar type of film, the lack of animated stars could somehow be a detriment. The film will likely be popular, but crude humor just works better in plushie form.

16. Think Like a Man Too  – June 20

PREDICTION: $35 million

Two years ago, Think Like a Man drew $33 million during its opening weekend and with the cast returning for an unnecessary sequel, a similar result seems likely.

17. Sex Tape  – July 25

PREDICTION: $30 million

Bad Teacher starring both Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz netted more than $31 million during its opening weekend, which likely puts Sex Tape within the $20 – $30 million range.

18. The Expendables 3  – August 15

PREDICTION: $30 million

The Expendables grossed $35 million in 2010 while its sequel grabbed more than $28 million. The Expendables 3 will likely fall somewhere in the middle, especially if the limited August release schedule flops around it.

19. The Purge: Anarchy  – July 18

PREDICTION: $29 million

The Purge surprised analysts by grossing $34 million on its way to $89 million worldwide by the end of its run. Of course, a sequel was needed because, well, money. Only the director returns from the original, but if Paranormal Activity has taught the industry anything, it’s that low-budget “thrillers” are a desirable commodity.

20. Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For  – August 22

PREDICTION: $28 million

Almost a decade after Sin City ushered in the Frank Miller era (and with it Zach Snyder, so thanks Sin City for ruining the Justice League), the sequel will finally hit theaters. Fans of the original will likely support the followup, especially since its competition appears quite weak.

21. Jupiter Ascending  – July 18

PREDICTION: $26 million

The only prediction I know will come true is that Sean Bean will die in this movie. It’s his destiny. That being said, Andy and Lana Wachowski didn’t necessarily follow the success of The Matrix with further success. Both Cloud Atlas and Speed Racer flopped, suggesting a strikeout is forthcoming. However, the star power of Channing Tatum may exist, and the premise is insane enough to warrant the speculative watch if reviews indicate the film isn’t a total train wreck.

22. Deliver Us from Evil  – July 2

PREDICTION: $25 million

It’s a horror movie, it stars Eric Bana, and it has five days to reach $25 million. That’s the USA way.

23. Tammy  – July 2

PREDICTION: $24 million

The Heat opened to $39 million on the strength of Sandra Bullock, while the lesser Identity Thief grossed $34 million. Tammy will ask Melissa McCarthy to carry a film by herself, and while it’ll likely challenge for funniest comedy of the year, ticket sales may be consistently mediocre during its run.

24. Blended  – May 23

PREDICTION: $23 million

A fun litmus test would’ve been to show five-second teaser spots with the name of the film and a still of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore acting goofy as the only promotion for this film. It likely would’ve been better than the current trailers on the market. Blended looks terrible, but Sandler and Barrymore alone should at least keep this from performing worse than That’s My Boy.

25. Planes: Fire and Rescue  – July 18

PREDICTION: $20 million

It’s the only animated movie that will be released in July. It features talking planes. Will it be good? Not likely.

26. Let’s Be Cops  – August 15

PREDICTION: $19 million

This has potential to rival 22 Jump StreetNeighbors and Tammy as funniest movie of the summer. Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. are ready for breakout roles and early indications are the film at least packs some decent gags. If any film has the potential to pull a We’re the Millers — as in use August as a springing board to out-earn its budget by 700% — it’s Let’s Be Cops.

27. If I Stay  – August 22

PREDICTION: $18 million

Featuring Chloe Moretz as a half-ghost, half-too good for this movie, If I Stay could find success with well-crafted trailers and a decent marketing campaign. Or, more likely, it’ll get lost in the August shuffle.

28. Million Dollar Arm  – May 16

PREDICTION: $17 million

No baseball film has ever grossed more than $27 million in its opening weekend, and Million Dollar Arm is unlikely to buck that trend. It should perform better than 2012’s Trouble With the Curve, which dragged in just north of $12 million, but will be hard-pressed to attract a similar audience to last year’s 42.

29. Jersey Boys  – June 20

PREDICTION: $16 million

Clint Eastwood and musical theater, it’s a match made in Billy Eichner’s mind. Eastwood has directed excellent films in the past, but his recent offerings suggest a man at the end of the line. Chicago only drew in $8 million in the first weekend it was in wide release (behind something called Darkness Falls), though a summer release suggests Warner Brothers has a much bigger target in mind. Going up against only Think Like a Man Too in its first weekend may be beneficial, but it’s likely a tough sell as a box office smash.

30. Moms’ Night Out  – May 9

PREDICTION: $14 million

Points for the correct use of the plural possessive, and for giving Patricia Heaton something to do. But this is less Bridesmaids and more that scene in Bridesmaids where Kristen Wiig realizes she couldn’t cut it as a pastry chef.

Are the Milwaukee Brewers This Year’s 2013 Boston Red Sox?

The 2011 Boston Red Sox remain one of the best examples of the media’s role in the fragility of organizational baseball. The Red Sox, one of the best teams in the sport for most of the season, sustained a September swoon that knocked them from World Series contenders to October vacationers.

If the slide had occurred in June, articles would have followed depicting the team’s resilience, the “they’ve been here before” mantra that underscores every bottom-to-top resurgent and underdog story imaginable. Instead, it literally ended their season, angering fans who demanded answers and exciting journalists who sought to find them.

From beer and fried chicken to pill addiction, scoops and sources dominated October baseball in Boston. Eventually, all that remained were the players. The two-time World Series-winning manager, Terry Francona, was dismissed, while general manager Theo Epstein opted for a new (and more difficult challenge) resurrecting the immortally cursed Chicago Cubs. Bobby Valentine replaced Francona with pomp, circumstance and the worst mismanagement since Don Baylor joined the Cubs. He effectively alienated his players, bosses and ownership, the holy triumvirate that pushed him out less than a year later.

From 2002 through 2011, the Red Sox finished above .500 every year, won 90 or more games in eight of the ten seasons (including 2011) and won two World Series. In 2012, the year of the Valentine, the team finished below .500 for the first time since 1997 with a record of 69-93.

However, Boston’s true talent did not correspond with just 69 wins. Injuries and clubhouse turmoil (largely the former, somewhat the latter), were responsible for the precipitous decline into the cellar of the American League East. A new manager – but most importantly better health – would likely result in a rebound back toward respectability. But the Red Sox exceeded even their own most optimistic expectations.

The 2013 Red Sox won 97 games (the most since 2004) en route to another World Series victory. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester combined for 16.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2013, after netting only 12 combined in 2012. Newly acquired Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli added 9.5 between them. That’s more than 14 wins better than 12 in just these six players, many of whom, save for Ortiz perhaps, were expected to contribute at or near this level entering the season.

With that in mind, is there a team in 2013 that experienced what the Red Sox went through in 2012? A team decimated by injuries or underperformance that could rebound in 2014 and challenge for the largest single-season turnaround in baseball history?

The Milwaukee Brewers present themselves as exhibit A.

At 14-5 through Sunday, the Brewers lead the National League Central by three games over the St. Louis Cardinals due to their best 19-game start since 1987 (when they rattled off a 17-2 mark). They have one of the best 10 all-around position players in baseball (Carlos Gomez) and another in Ryan Braun who hopes to return to that level.

It should be noted here – before the bloviating truly begins – that 19 games have little impact on the entirety of the baseball season. It’s less than 12% of the 162-game slog that kills the weak and easily-fatigued. The Los Angeles Dodgers, a much better team than the Brewers on paper, went 42-8 over a stretch last season. They went 50-62 in the remaining games. Small sample sizes have destroyed clichéd narratives and hot starts before, but the Brewers actually have a legitimate chance at improving on their 74-88 mark from 2013.

The doldrums of 2013 weren’t necessarily evident from the beginning. The team’s first 19 games: 11-8. However, a weak pitching staff led by the remains of Yovani Gallardo’s fastball didn’t hold up. Braun missed a month due to a hand injury, though its effects plagued him all year. His nine home runs in 61 games are easily the lowest of his career, even when adjusted to a full season’s worth of at-bats.

Eleven different pitchers started at least two games for the Brewers in 2013. Only two of them – Kyle Lohse and Tyler Thornburg finished with ERAs below 3.50. On July 21, he Brewers beat the Miami Marlins by a score of 1-0 to improve their record to 41-56, second worst in the National League.  And then what was left of their season fell apart.

Braun was subsequently suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policy (and for being caught lying about failing it the first time). Rather than appeal, Braun wisely took his punishment, using the time to rehab his digits amid a lost season for his team. The pitching remained lackluster and the hitting – outside of Gomez and a great 80 games from Jean Segura – was inept as well. The Brewers only had three players – and no pitchers – finish with more than 3.0 WAR in 2013. The Red Sox, by comparison, had 11.

Entering 2014, the front office attempted to rectify the issues that plagued the team in 2013. Milwaukee signed Matt Garza to a four-year/$50 million contract, a great value for the organization since it doesn’t also cost the team a first round draft pick (like Lohse did the year prior). Mark Reynolds and his strikeouts joined the Brewers as a first baseman. A healthy Braun would be like a free-agent signing as well given his poor performance in 2013, assuming he was fully healthy (the steroid effect has been difficult to prove and/or quantify). The team was projected to win between 78 and 84 wins this year.

And so far, 84 may be just about right. In 17 games Braun has accumulated 0.8 WAR, more than 50% of what he totaled last year in 61 games. He picked up 0.5 in just two games, after crushing home runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend. He may not ever be an asset in the field, but his hitting could return him to the upper echelon of players.

Gomez has set out to prove that 2013 wasn’t a fluke and his numbers — .312/.365/.610 with five home runs and plus-plus defense – confirm that he’s the best player on the team. Aramis Ramirez – who missed 70 games last season – is hitting .352/.403/.465 – respectable, but the low slugging percentage may remain low as he approaches his 36th birthday. Reynolds has hit five home runs…and struck out 20 times, fourth highest in baseball for hitters with 50 or more plate appearances.

The pitching, so difficult to judge this early in the season, could challenge for the second best in the division. Gallardo may have learned how to pitch with his diminished velocity. Lohse has shown signs of having fundamentally fixed something during his 2011 season with the Cardinals – he’s posted a 3.17 ERA over the past 625 innings since the beginning of 2011. Francisco Rodriguez has been remarkable and the back end of the rotation – Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta – should be at least mediocre, with the potential for improvement if the strikeouts tick higher.

Still, there’s a reason this team wasn’t projected to challenge the Cardinals for the division crown. First base – even with hack-a-homer Reynolds – is an area of weakness. Reynolds will likely hit .230 with 25-30 home runs, but he’s not a strong defender and has little chance of outperforming expectations. The second base platoon of Rickie Weeks and Scooter Gennett may provide a negative WAR this year, especially if Gennett doesn’t walk or hit for power. Weeks has only started once in the past week – and probably shouldn’t play much in general – a sad decline for a top-10 second baseman just three seasons ago.

Then there’s Jean Segura. An All-Star last year after hitting .325 in the first half last year with 11 home runs and 27 steals, he hit just .241 with no power in the second half. He’s followed that up with a .233/.263/.301 that makes Starlin Castro look like Troy Tulowitzki. He has the fourth worst walk rate in baseball (among qualified batters) and his .274 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), suggests some unluckiness, but not enough to expect a return to his All Star start.

The pitching will ultimately determine if this team beats out the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds this year (they’ll definitely top the Cubs). Milwaukee finished 28th in pitcher WAR last year with 6.6, equivalent to Clayton Kershaw (by himself). They’ve already accumulated 2.7 alone in April and the pedigree of Garza, Gallardo, Rodriguez and Lohse could lead to something in the vicinity of 17 WAR, which would have been the 9th best in 2013). As long as Jonathan Lucroy continues to be their battery mate – he’s arguably the best pitch framer in baseball, an ability to deceive umpires into favorably awarding strikes that has not yet been captured adequately by any metric – the pitching staff has a chance to be respectable.

Still, with holes in right field – Khris Davis has one home run after getting extremely lucky on fly balls leaving the yard last season – shortstop, second base and arguably first, the Brewers are extremely susceptible to injuries. A putrid farm system means the team has little assistance in replacing an injured player or trading for an adequate replacement, a luxury the Cardinals have in spades.

These wins are banked, but a .500 team on a three-week hot stretch should only reasonably expect a four or five win improvement over the course of the year. Given the pedigree of the front end of the rotation (and Peralta’s potential improvement with age), the Milwaukee Brewers could challenge for a Wild Card spot with the Pirates, San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves (not to mention the three projected division winners if they underperform or sustain injuries). Their likely inability to make a trade by the July 31 deadline could hamper them, as the Red Sox were able to acquire Matt Thornton and Jake Peavy last year. Since the Brewers have little in the pipeline, they need to either win now, or look to aggressively bottom out and rebuild. With a 14-5 start, there’s no likelihood the former will happen.

The Milwaukee Brewers are not the 2013 Boston Red Sox, but they have a chance to be similar. All it takes is some good fortune and some unexpected surplus value to right the ship. Oh, and having arguably two of the ten best players in the National League certainly doesn’t hurt.