Ratto: Face it, Sharks no longer a special team


Ratto: Face it, Sharks no longer a special team


The Sharks, like the rest of the NHL, are at the All-Star Break, a natural time to stop and assess them.

Not unlike, say, when they hit the 41-game mark, when they had just been shut out by Buffalo at home and were tied for fifth. Yes, much has changed -- they went 4-4-0-1, dropped into a tie for eighth, and a tie for 15th overall.

And therein lies the real problem here. The Sharks are the worst thing a team can be other than the New York Islanders.

Just Like Everybody Else.

The third period and overtime of Wednesdays 3-2 shootout loss to Los Angeles were profoundly instructive. The Kings were the younger, faster team with the superior jump in their legs and the ability to harass San Jose for prolonged periods of time.

And yet, the Kings needed goalie Jonathan Quick to stand on his head to save them in a shootout -- or, if you prefer, the Kings hit two posts in the shootout to prolong the agony.

In short the Sharks and Kings are pretty much inseparable, and thats the real problem for San Jose. They are inseparable from Nashville, Anaheim, Phoenix, Chicago, Colorado, Los Angeles and even, all of a sudden, Calgary.

They are no longer a special team with special players playing special hockey. They are 18th in goals, 13 in goals allowed. 18th in home record, 12th in road record. They are middle of the road or worse in everything but faceoffs, shot differential and power plays, and in 5-on-5 situations, they are a dire 24th.

Indeed, for a team that is supposed to have stars on stars, they got only Dan Boyle to the All-Star Game and Logan Couture to the skills competition.

They have, in short, become an eighth-place team that could finish fifth or 12th. And at these prices for this roster, thats spectacularly insufficient.

The most notable things one gets from watching them are that they are no longer a fast team, or very good at getting the puck out of their own end. That means they have trouble getting into the offensive zone and staying there. That was one of their best attributes the past several years -- breaching the zone and controlling time, space and pace.

They have failed here despite still being second in faceoffs, though dramatically lower than they were a year ago. They simply dont dominate the puck.

You can cite toughness (hello, Ben Eager) or goaltending (where have you gone, Evgeni Nabokov, Long Island turns its lonely eyes to you) or Patrick Marleau (always a comfortable cottage industry for the hockey-disaffected), but it really shakes down to that.

They have players who need the puck, but arent as good at getting it and keeping it. Its not any more complicated.

Couture, Ryane Clowe, Kent Huskins, Benn Ferriero and Niclas Wallin are having better seasons that last year, and Boyle and Scott Nichol are having about the same ones as they always have. Everyone else is dropping off in one important metric or another, and the end result is a team that is faceless while having lots of faces.

Maybe they arent yet used to the grind of grinding for their wins. Maybe the aging process has been misjudged. Maybe they stopped getting better while Vancouver and Dallas and Anaheim and Nashville kept improving.

But those are guesses that, with the exception of Vancouver, could change in a month.

Right now, they are a puck-possession team that isnt very good at possessing the puck, and thats not coaching. Thats playing. They get shots, but theyre not normally great ones. Even with their power play, which accounts for 32 percent of their offense, they are a modest team offensively. At even strength, 5-on-5 or 4-on-4, they are outscoring only Toronto, Minnesota, Ottawa, the Islanders and New Jersey.

Thats teams 26, 27, 29 and 30 in your songbook. Makes you wonder how theyre in the race at all.

Can this be fixed? Sure, if Rob Blake wants to shave about six years off his age and play again. Or if the number of players operating at less than last years pace want to remember how much more fun it was not to be overmatched. A trade isnt likely to change it, and a coaching change is a ridiculous idea that alters nothing.

This, kids, may simply be who they are -- a team just like any other team. A little older, a little slower, and not at all like what they, or you, are used to seeing. They have a home-and-home with Phoenix at the end of the year that will almost certainly determine their fate. If you stick around for that, you will get to know how the other half lives for a change.

They havent been an eighth-place team in 11 years, after all, and havent had to sweat out the final day in 16. Who knows, maybe itll be fun.

Or really suck. With this team, you never really know.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist in sports


Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist in sports

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordinance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time


A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.