Ratto: Despite run, no separation for Sharks


Ratto: Despite run, no separation for Sharks

Feb. 16, 2011


Ray Ratto

In the last month, the Sharks have cured themselves of their most pernicious impulses the ones that whisper in their heads, Youre fine right here at the blue line. Someone else can backcheck this shift, and Youre a skill team first, youre a skill team first.

We know this because in that month, theyve gone 10-2-0-1, averaging almost three goals and allowing fewer than two per game. Next to Vancouver, which is the best team in the West, Minnesota, which plays nothing but defense, and Calgary, which was dead and now is anything but, it is the best goal differential in the conference over that span.

RELATED: NHL Conference standings
But you know why the games played early the ones that the Sharks gave away while they were having their crises of identity -- matter? Because other teams are hot now, too, and there are too many teams still in play for them to feel anything but the adrenalized panic of knowing there are no more days off. This morning, only two teams can be safely pronounced as dead, Colorado and Edmonton, and a third, St. Louis, has never really enjoyed a stretch where one could say, Theyre about ready to break out. In fact, here are the standings since January 15, and make of these what you will: TEAM W L OTL SOL PTS GF GA
CALGARY 10 2 2 1 23 57 42
SAN JOSE 10 2 0 1 21 37 25
VANCOUVER 8 3 2 2 20 47 32
MINNESOTA 9 3 18 38 22
LOS ANGELES 8 3 1 1 18 29 21
NASHVILLE 7 5 2 1 17 38 34
ANAHEIM 8 3 16 35 30
COLUMBUS 7 3 1 1 16 39 32
PHOENIX 8 6 16 39 38
DETROIT 7 5 14 36 37
DALLAS 5 7 1 11 33 34
CHICAGO 4 4 3 11 35 34
ST. LOUIS 4 5 2 1 11 31 40
EDMONTON 3 11 1 7 33 48
COLORADO 2 10 4 23 52
What they tell me is this: The Sharks have discovered what they are truly good at, have played their tails to the coccyx, have had as good a run as theyve had in some time, and havent really separated themselves from any part of the field not called Edmonton, Colorado or St. Louis.
You cannot reasonably argue that they have been the best team in the West because that is Calgary, which was 14th and only eight points of Edmonton at the time. Nor can you envy them over Vancouver, even though Vancouver goes through defensemen they way you go through socks. But Calgary gave up a lot more ground early than San Jose did, and Vancouver wins all the time. But everyone else? Detroit: Showing a bit of wear despite a light schedule. Phoenix: The epitome of the average team, except that they stink at home. Anaheim: Not many games, but won most of them. Dallas: Running out of steam, and now without Brad Richards, whom they are thinking of trading anyway. Nashville: The best goalie and the best defense pairs overcome a dreadful attack. Minnesota: Todd Richards had no problem getting his team to understand its identity, unlike his mentor, Todd McLellan. Los Angeles: Like Nashville, is defense first. Has the best goal differential of any Pacific Division team, and still sits last. Chicago: Stuck in the mud all year long. Comes from knowing your best days are in the rear-view mirror. Columbus: 7-3-1-1 is a decent record. Going from 13th to 12th isnt that impressive. In summation, the Sharks were 11th but in the race a month ago. Now, after playing their best hockey their best way and without having any injuries to speak of, theyre seventh and in the race. What theyve done, then, is enjoy the benefits of Dallas coming back to the pack and play just slightly better than Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix. But out of the woods they clearly are not. Theyve learned who they are, which certainly beats continuing to delude themselves, but the conference hasnt gotten any easier to solve. Lesson: November, December and January may not seem like much to you, but it makes an enormous difference. In this case, the difference between home safe and dry and worrying about first-round matchups, and in the middle of a thicket that shows no signs of getting any less thorny.

The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports


The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports

The apparent cratering of the Draft Kings/Fan Duel phenomenon is largely a tale of greed gone wild, with coatings of arrogance and bullying through advertising, not to mention naked avarice, raw cupidity and what the Greeks used to call “pleonexia,” which is Greek for greed, avarice and cupidity.

It is a tale of what happens when you try to game a system that’s bigger than your own without cutting the people who run the bigger system in on the goods. It’s alleged wise guys finding out that it’s easier to skirt the law when you make the law. And it’s very definitely guys who got out over their skis trying to dominate a market that was doing fine on its own.

And hey, what’s better than smart guys getting theirs?

But there is actually a greater lesson in this for all of us, and it is this: Fantasy sports leagues are best left as small, interactive tribes whose competitors see each other, talk with each other, exchange money with each other and socialize (re: drink beer) with each other. The phenomenon began as an entirely holistic and communal idea in the 1960s in Oakland surrounding the still-larval American Football League, and grew on the ground level in other sports, in bars, rec rooms, bars, office break rooms, bars, vacations, bars, taverns, and ultimately, bars.

It was a way for friends to gather and ignore the bigger issues of living (like, say, families, which are far too time consuming, expensive and always end up with the parents battling desperately for a tie in a game once it becomes clear that they cannot win).

It was not meant to be mass-produced, let alone dominated by the guy with the best algorithms. That’s not sports, that’s math, and when was the last time you said, “Honey, I’m going out. Some math teachers are getting together to raise a little hell, and I don’t want to miss it”?

So never mind the “The DraftDuelers and FanKings tried to pull a fast one” angle, even though they did. Ignore the “They got too big and too grabby too fast” narrative, even though they did that, too.

What happened here was a perverse monetization of something that didn’t actually need improving or enlarging, because it was perfectly good the way it was. And perverse monetization is the path to perdition, I think we can all agree.

The fantasy industry also made a fatal error by trying to say for legal reasons that it wasn’t gambling, which it clearly was – except in one very granular way that nobody ever addresses.

Gambling, as in finding a bookie who will let you bet on games in any manner of exotic fashions, is meant to be a solitary pursuit left best for quiet brooders. If you have Seattle plus the 1½ when everyone else is bitching about the evils of a 6-6 overtime tie, you quietly accept your incredible good fortune and start to handicap Broncos-Texans, which you probably lost.

Fantasy sports, on the other hand, are meant to be shared, but only with those in your particular fantasy league as opposed to all other people, who do not give a steaming chalky damn about your made-up aggregation of athletes and actively hate you for breaching their worlds with your relentless yammering about your alternate-universe imaginings.

Put another way, people who tell you about their fantasy teams are people who need to be taken into the desert and abandoned. And people who commit these crimes should be allowed to avoid hypothermia, dehydration and coyote dinner only by making regular offerings of alcohol and foodstuffs to those whose peace and quiet they have thoughtlessly breached.

And the industrialization of fantasy sports was the last frontier of that obnoxio-hateful social development. It used commercial television to beat us all to death with something only a few of us cared about, and it reminded us that our culture loathes two things above all others – people trying to pull a fast one, and people telling us repeatedly about things we’re not remotely interested in hearing.

In other words, even if you were planning to be saddened by the collapse of the first wave of industrialized fantasy sports, don’t. They were people trying to cut themselves in on action that wasn’t theirs, and make a national phenomenon out of a social development best confined to a single room with six-to-20 people, all of whom had the good sense to bring wine and snacks.

I mean, seriously. Why would you want to screw with that setup?

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.