Ratto: Prescription for what ails Sharks


Ratto: Prescription for what ails Sharks


VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- We know what youre thinking. We always know what youre thinking, because you always think the same thing.

Fire the general manager. No, fire the coach. No, trade the following players who have offended me.

See? I told you.

But in plowing through the Sharks remains after another playoff expiration, the true frustration reveals itself in the following truths:

1. The Vancouver Canucks were a better team.
2. This was, give or take a game, as good as the Sharks could do. Again.
3. All the players you hate cant be moved.

Now theres something to make hope spring eternal for you.

Vancouver had all the known Sedins, which was a sufficient problem in and of itself. But if truth be told (and frankly, why start now?), it was the extra parts the Canucks had that truly explained the reason why the series lasted only five games.

RELATED: RATTO: Sharks' season ends nobly, but harshly

What the Sharks didnt have, and what ultimately got them on the wrong side of the Canucks, was defenseman Alexander Edler, and left wing Chris Higgins, and defenseman Christopher Tanev, and center Maxim Lapierre, and winger Raffi Torres. A smooth puck-handling defenseman who could spring an attack ... a grungy corner man who never lost a battle when he really needed to win one, an extra defenseman who was more asset than detriment, an agitating centerman, and an ultra-agitating, well, agitator.

The Sharks could come close to recreating Henrik Sedin as long as Joe Thornton was healthy. When Patrick Marleau was scoring, which he was in the conference final, he was Alexandre Burrows. When Dan Boyle was the Dan Boyle of old, he was Kevin Bieksa -- except, of course, for the skillful adaptation to the presentation of good fortune in the second overtime Tuesday.

But Ryane Clowe didnt win the battles Higgins did, and Jason Demers didnt play so he could learn a few tricks from watch Edler, and Scott Nichol and Joe Pavelski werent close to being as usefully annoying as Lapierre, and Kent Huskins didnt fit in for Demers as well as Tanev did for Aaron Rome, and no Sharks did what Torres did, though Ben Eager certainly tried the best he could.

In short, San Jose was short. In getting less than full measure from Clowe (injured), Joe Pavelski (save that great dive and flick to Devin Setoguchi in Game 5), Setoguchi (save taking that flick and scoring the tying goal in Game 5), Dany Heatley (who had looked sharp against Los Angeles but faded with every passing game after that), Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood (who went as Pavelski went), they didnt have the cards to play a full hand against a team that did, and did.

Some may suggest that a healthy Thornton might have changed all that, but the Sharks lost Games 1 and 2 with him at full pace, and thats not to say he didnt play a full captains games. He was as good as he has ever been, and won over most of his long-running Canadian skeptics.

RELATED: Sharks fall short, Canucks claim series with 2OT triumph

In addition, Marleau, who had been largely inert through most of the first two series, earned his pay packet against Vancouver as he had a year ago against Chicago in the Sharks last conference final finale. Clowe and Pavelski will probably given passes, and Logan Couture, whose own series was less than exemplary, was asked to perform one of two unfair tasks for a rookie -- deal with the Sedins or deal with the Ryan Kesler line.

As for what comes next, that will be handled during Thursdays post mortem. Doug Wilson, whose job is safe, will speak of the season (probably in glowing terms), Todd McLellan (who job is just about as safe as Wilsons) will be a bit more measured, and the players themselves will lament another lost opportunity while praising each other for going as far as they did.

All the safe routes. Vancouver was better. San Jose wasnt going any further. But substantive changes will be hard to come by. Heatley has three years and 19 million left on his deal, and would be hard to deal even if he would accept a trade, which he doesnt have to. He'll need to gear up for an arduous summer if he plans to be more of a factor next spring than he was in this one. Setoguchi could be moved, but the return might not be sufficient. Wellwood and Ian White are also restricted free agents, and the Sharks dont have the cap room to absorb them all, even if they wanted to.

The Sharks need some change in their room, but the central core of seven players (Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, Heatley, Couture, Pavelski and Clowe) seem inviolable. Tinkering at the edges is the most that can be expected here, while they wait and watch Vancouver do with the springboard the Sharks gave them what Chicago did a year ago.

San Jose? Just the 27th to fall, again. They are right to feel vaguely unsatisfied.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

So the Oakland Raiders are good, but not magical, let alone soaked in destiny. So they can make every game a hard slog for the opponent, but they are not invulnerable. So they can be inefficient, and too sure of themselves, and terribly wasteful when they’re cold.

In other words, they are part of the National Football League – no longer too good to be true.

Their performance against the Chiefs in Kansas City was a pyramid of blown opportunities, opportunities made necessary by a terrible start. A week ago, against a borderline playoff team, they could get away with it. Thursday, on hostile ground, against a team that has lost three of its previous 23 regular season games and has a defense that specializes in standing on your chest until you whistle Yankee Doodle through your navel, they couldn’t.

The result of the 21-13 loss in a game with 12 more points than degrees of temperature is that the Raiders are now the fifth-best team in the American Football Conference rather than the first-best team with four more chances to change that position.

In other words, Thursday’s defeat only provided this much wisdom: The Raiders are a good team vulnerable to other good teams with an iron-plated sense of purpose, stubborn defenses that can apply and maintain a chokehold for hours on end, and offenses that don’t feel compelled to imitate Oakland’s offense by getting into a shootout.

And also this: There is nothing that would necessarily prevent them from beating the Chiefs in case of a third match, even though Kansas City held them to fewer points in two games than they scored in every other game save one. They are still, as the pedants say, “in the argument.”

But they have flaws to be exposed against the right team in the right situation. Kansas City has been that team twice, and New England probably is, but there the list probably stops. Nobody in the AFC North or South seems terribly capable of matching them in neutral conditions, but here’s the other bone spur:

The playoffs are not about neutral conditions.

The Raiders have come a long way in what most people think is a long time, but in fact in terms of team construction, you can throw out everything before 2013, and almost everything before 2015. They are just now getting a full understanding of the hardest part of becoming a Super Bowl contender – the other Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, Kansas City has an indifferent playoff history under Andy Reid, but it is clear that under current conditions the Chiefs are serious players. And while we have no link to how the Raiders would fare against new England, we are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to play the second weekend of January arse-deep in snow in Foxborough.

The point? Now they get how hard this contender stuff really is. They could not have learned that lesson any other way – not anyone they’ve played yet save Kansas City.

Their next lessons come in Weeks 16 and 17, when they face the frantically desperate Indianapolis Colts in Oakland and then the Broncos in Denver the week after. Desperate teams can be very difficult indeed, especially to teams that are safe and dry and home, playoff-wise.

And then there are the actual playoffs, which if they were played today would have the Raiders traveling to Houston for a very winnable game against the stultifying Texans. The week after, they could be either in Kansas City again or in New England, getting a gut full of visiting field disadvantage.

But as a learning experience, the Raiders may have come out very well indeed. They now know in very real and personal ways the real difference between where they think they should be and where they are, as well as how many ways this can go terribly wrong between now and then.

And also how well it can go, if they learn what the Chiefs taught them again Thursday.

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

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

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 ordnance, 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.