Ratto: Niemi stands tall amongst elite NHL goalies


Ratto: Niemi stands tall amongst elite NHL goalies


Creepy alert: When Doug Wilson wants you bad enough, you surrender.Not-so-creepy alert: Antti Niemi left some money on the table to stay out of the free agent market.The Sharks goaltender who started slowly but is now one of the teams biggest assets agreed to a four-year, 15.2 million deal, making him the 17th-highest paid goaltender in 2011-12. That last number is important because Wilson had to convince Niemi and his agent Bill Zito (no relation, as if you needed to be told) that signing now for less was a better idea than waiting until July 1 and be smeared with riches from the Flyers, Red Wings and other bigger spenders with goaltending issues.NEWS: Niemi signs 4-year extension
I met with Billy in Chicago and Boston within the last month, and I talked with Antti today, Wilson said. I just tried to let him know that we wanted him, but that we didnt want to have to tear the team down to get him. He likes it here, he likes his teammates, and he bought in. Im no genius. Hes just a guy who gets it.And will get it, with an escalating contract that starts low and builds from there. He apparently is satisfied where he is that he can stand comfortably behind the following goalies for 2012:1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers, 6.875M
2. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver, 6.716M
3. Cam Ward, Carolina, 6.3M
4. Ryan Miller, Buffalo, 6.25M
5. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary, 6M
6. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota, 6M
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh, 5.5M
8. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey, 5.2M
9. Tim Thomas, Boston, 5M
10. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim, 4.5M
11. Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders, 4.5M
12. Pekka Rinne, Nashville, 4M
13. Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton, 3.75M
14. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas, 3.7M
15. Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis, 3.5M
16. Carey Price, Montreal, 3M

And ahead of:18. Steve Mason, Columbus, 2.6MIn other words, his 2012 actual number is around 2.7 million, which it can reasonably be inferred would have been significantly higher had he entered the market. Even allowing for owner penury entering a CBA year, goalies still get paid, and Niemi has a ring and the makings of an excellent second season on his resume.We just told Bill and Antti, We want you here, and if you want to be here, lets work on this so we can keep this group together. And they both understood, Wilson said.Now the question of whether the group should remain together is always a dicey one, but it is clear that Wilson is in a stand-pat-with-the-nucleus-tinker-at-the-edges mode (see Ian White, Ben Eager, Kyle Wellwood).In fact, he sort of has to be, as the biggest names and highest price tags (Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Boyle) have no-move deals and are due 28.567 million next year. The biggest name among available free agent Sharks is Devin Setoguchi, who will be a restricted free agent, followed by White, Scott Nichol, Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins, Eager and Wellwood.In short, Niemi was the biggest piece for Wilson to take care of today. Setoguchi comes next, with just those 19 pesky regular season games and some as-yet-undetermined number of playoff games in between.Or, as Doug (Dont Call Me Svengali) Wilson put it, We can live with this. I will sleep better tonight.Thursday, of course, is another matter.

NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale


NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale

The National Football League has been reminded yet again that it neither understands nor cares to understand about domestic violence.

But it will do better, you may rest assured. They’ll have a week where all the on-field personnel wear purple to commemorate the bruises.

That’s what the NFL does when it can no longer ignore its own tone-deafness – they turn their stupidity into a marketing opportunity. After all, every social problem can be solved in the league’s eyes by figuring out a way for the league to monetize it.

The latest example of the NFL’s slack-jawed world view comes from New York, where the Giants could not and still cannot figure out what to do about kicker/serial domestic abuser Josh Brown except not let him go to London for the weekend.

This means the league has learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident, even as Rice of all people is showing on a regular basis how to learn from it. More than that, it means it has no interest in learning anything about it, and will never prioritize it beyond crisis-management level – “Uh-oh, something bad just happened. Quick, put it behind us.”

Then again, the league has been so relentlessly ham-handed on so many things that, as convenient as this may be for it, we should stop expecting it to do so, to the point that when someone from the league wants to explain some social issue to us we should simply say with one voice, “Oh, shut up, you yammering frauds.”

It is difficult to prioritize the number of ways the Giants failed to comprehend the problem currently smacking them between the numbers, although owner John Mara’s “He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that” may summarize it nicely.

Put another way, one could make a case that the Giants extended the universal talent-tolerance scale (if you have the talent, anything can be tolerated until it can’t) to include placekickers.

That seems less likely, though, than the more obvious point that the league doesn’t regard domestic violence as something worth concerning itself with, while bloviating all the time about all the things with which it is concerned. The league is the beat cop who never gets out of his car to see what is happening on his beat, and is shocked when something does.

And while it will be handy to pile this atop the list of reasons why Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get it, the truth is he is merely the painful rash that reveals the league’s case of shingles. The league’s 32 constituent elements are culpable here because ignorance in the face of so much evidence becomes willful, and Goodell’s skill is not in guiding the league but in figuring out where his 32 bosses want him to go, and avoiding all the places they don’t.

Hence, domestic violence. This is not an easy problem to solve, as any expert will say, but Mara trying to decide how many punches are enough isn’t it. The league’s six-game suspension guideline that is now four years old has never been imposed on any player. It wants the power to use the talent-tolerance scale at whim to do what it wishes when it wishes to do it.

Or in this case, not do anything at all until it has to, and then in as minimal a fashion as it can manage.

So, Josh Brown loses a week in a foreign country on the company dime as a trade-off for continually terrorizing his wife. The league says it punished him for a game but was powerless to do anything else while knowing all along how severe the problem had become.

In short, it did the minimum. Now that everyone knows the fullest extent of Brown’s abuse, and how much the league knew without doing anything, it will now extend the minimum out to what it thinks is a new minimum.

So we now know that the NFL is looking for some metric that will determine the transactional “extent of that,” as John Mara so eloquently put it for us. When it comes up with that formula, it will surely ignore that standard, because the real standard is still “talent-tolerance,” and the world is made up of concentric circles surrounding the people who make the league and its members a dollar more tomorrow than it made today.

And spouses are a long way from the center.

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

The National Hockey League began its 685th season (or whatever the hell it is; the other reason to know is for the yobs who have to authenticate the shoulder patches), and apparently is going to belong to Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid and the new focus on speed and attack and goals.

At least that was the talk after Night One of 179, in which the first three games of the new season featured some mid-‘80s level run-and-run play. The Ottawa-Toronto game gave us Matthews’ first four NHL goals in a game his Torontos lost, 5-4. The Edmonton-Calgary game finished 7-4, with the nonpareil McDavid scoring twice. Even the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks engaged in some fun-time up-and-down play in a 5-2 St. Louis victory.

But here, we get cold, hard sanity – the discipline and territorial integrity that is the hallmark of the new-ish and ever-so-slightly improved San Jose Sharks. They opened their defense of the Not-Quite-Stanley Cup with a very grind-y 2-1 win over the allegedly declining but still obstinate Los Angeles Kings.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Couture, Burns push Sharks past Kings]

Guess which game won’t be talked about come the morning’s national rehashes. And guess who won’t give a farthing’s worth of damn.

Matthews and McDavid will of course dominate – Matthews, because he is a Toronto Maple Leafs and all things Leaf trump all things anything else in this still-defiantly Canadian league, and McDavid, because he helped usher in the brand new civic boondoggle . . . err, arena in Edmonton with two goals and the quote of the night.

“I don't think I touched the puck four times in my first game,” McDavid said, telling what is clearly a monumental whopper because he knows a good story when it is thrust upon him.

That will get run.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have resumed their plan running silent and running deep. Despite having the territorial and chance edges, the Skating Selachimorpha needed to stay true to their truth, which is that 11-goal games are not to their advantage, and that the sum of the whole must exceed its parts.

That’s how they got to hang a new banner from the rafters of The Old Grey Girl on Santa Clara Street – by keeping their heads when all about them are scoring theirs off.

Then again, the Sharks have older legs in key positions, greater expectations than Get The Puck To The Young’uns and Try Not To Finish 13th, and a coach in Peter (Chuckles) DeBoer who has the pressure of taking last year’s stealth success and finish the job the Pittsburgh Penguins prevented them from doing a year ago.

In short, the Sharks are likely to be just as under-the-radar this year as they were last, and assuming health and focus, they are still one of the two or three best teams in the Western Conference.

It’s just that they can’t run hither and yon chasing whatever puck looks tempting to them. Their first duty is to maintain defensive integrity, which they did with fervor and purpose Wednesday night, and their second is to see to it that goaltender Martin Jones is not oppressively treated by the opponent (San Jose outshot Los Angeles 31-22, and totally outshot the Kings, 73-58).

There was, in short, relatively little to make anyone wax euphoric about this team off one game, and in fairness, Kings coach Darryl Sutter knows how to keep games into the race-to-three stage, which may color the judgment some.

But the Sharks are playing the way they have learned works best for them, and that means gumming up passing (15 takeaways) and shooting lanes (21 blocked shots). They are like the Kings – well, the Kings of a couple of years ago – than they are the newest incarnations of the Oilers or Leafs, and based on history, that shall be considered a good thing.

Of course, the game, she is a’changing, and at some point in the next couple of years the changes that every season brings will become substantive ones, the old core will give way to a new one, and the current orthodoxy that speed is the most important component to happy-happy-win-joy will overtake San Jose.

DeBoer, though, showed against last night that is perfectly comfortable dancing with who brung him, as the kids no longer say, and making the most of what Providence has offered him. And Wednesday, as it did for most of the past year save the lost fortnight in Pennsylvania, that philosophy once again came up trumps.

Well, maybe that’s a saying we should probably forgo for awhile. Let’s just leave it at “Sharks, twice as many as Kings.” That’s a good enough result to get paid off in this league, and until DeBoer is asked for style points, that will more than suffice.