Ratto: Playoffs are 'players' time' to Sharks' Wilson


Ratto: Playoffs are 'players' time' to Sharks' Wilson

Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- This is the time of year when Doug Wilson likes to run silent and run deep. He likes to say, This is the players time, but he would also like to add under his breath, and I have better things to do than talk on the record about our historical profile for the 355th time.Which, as we all know from frequent retellings, is both very good, agonizing and cringe-worthy, depending on where your calendar opens after you throw it.
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It is then fortunate that their foes in this Western Conference final are the Vancouver Canucks, who have as much history with postseason windpipery as the Sharks, and a far greater distrust of the customer base that lives the history out loud every day.Put another way, if Wilson thinks being the general manager in San Jose can be claustrophobic, hed look like Alec Guiness in Bridge On The River Kwai after a few months in Vancouver.As it is, as he and the Sharks arrived in Vancouver for Sundays start of the Western Conference Finals, he is fine. Wary, maybe even weary, but fine. He, head coach Todd McLellan and six players held a pregame media slap-and-tickle at Rogers Arena Saturday, with the usual subject (Which team underachieves better?) front and center.
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I wouldnt think about that at all, he said, and I dont think Todd would bring it up to the players, either. Why would he have to?Whats underachieving anyway, head coach Todd McLellan said. Weve been in eight series in three years, so I wouldnt bring it up even if I thought it had any validity.This is also the time of year when Wilson, if pressed, will most aggressively defend his players, one and all. No hedging, no qualifiers, no quiet pensive moments seeking out the right phrase, and no accepting when the premises of questions even inch toward criticism.For lack of a better phrase, weve come to think of it as the Marleau Gambit, or the Thornton Defense to name the two biggest crit-magnets of the era.Some of this, of course, goes back to Wilsons own career in Chicago, where the constant bristlings of the Wirtz ownership and the creative tensions it liked to brook in the dressing room formed Wilsons own philosophy of what not to do and how not to do it.
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He also sees the criticisms of exceptional players as the brayings of philistines. He is like Al Davis in that he believes that in the end, talent must be honored and talent plus work will win out. That means that the coach at any given time is at least partially responsible for finding those buttons hit in those combinations to get consistent excellence from that talent as Todd McLellan has done with Thornton despite asking him to change his game yet again, and as he still struggles to do with Marleau.And the circle will whirl again with the next generation of Sharks the Ryane CloweJoe PavelskiLogan CoutureJason Demers group of homegrowns. Its just how the hockey world works, has worked, and always will work. Yes, even in the Bay Area, where the game is in bloom for only two months a year.In that way, Wilson has it ridiculously easy. The media following his team is small, fairly malleable, and in some cases out-and-out fanboyesque.But his players come from Canada, and their families read the Globe and Mail and Sun Papers and National Post and Province and Star and Le Devoir, so there is always some blowback to make Wilson grind down some tooth enamel.He never says so out loud, of course. He gets downright adamant when he says he doesnt pay attention to the media horde.But you dont get adamant by not paying attention, no matter how much he may protest. One way or another, he knows what is said and written, he knows who says and writes it, and he knows in many cases how those in question got the information that spurred them to say and write it.So in a series that will be defined by the masses in two ways by who wins, and who remains a group of choking, gagging, retching failing curs he grits his teeth. He is right when he says it is about the players, but thats only in the result sense. The bigger picture is about pride of identification between two cities whose hockey teams have nudged greatness without actually seizing it.RELATED: Canucks had edge over Sharks in regular season
Add to that being on the West Coast, which is the wrong coast for continental attention, and not being part of the Original Snob . . . er, Six, and you get inferiority complexes that Wilson, as someone who likes it to be about the players, can find silently vexing. He likes the cocoon of playoff hockey, but he knows it isnt air tight. Hell, hes always one curious investor with time to kill and an urge to chat from brushing up against the public.So well put it this way. Whatever may happen in this series, the players are their own and only salvations. If the Sharks are better than the Canucks, they should win. If they arent, they wont. Thats the only math that works, because over a series, the better team gets what it deserves almost every time.In other words, winning cures everything, and winning 16 times saves all souls and polishes all reputations. Everyone says and writes lovely things, everyone sings a happy tune, and Doug Wilson aw-shucks his way through the howdjadoit interviews with a definite afterglow that he never got to enjoy as a player or executive.Until then, its a skull-crushing nightmare in which too little can be controlled and too much is in the hands of fate. Both for San Jose, which is 0-for-20, and Vancouver, which is 0-for-40.With all the civic scars to prove it.

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.

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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.