Ratto: Sharks-Blackhawks Will be Telling


Ratto: Sharks-Blackhawks Will be Telling


SAN JOSE -- Twenty games is a handy breaking-off point to check on any NHL team, given that it is 24.390243902439024390243902439024 percent of the season is done and most teams pretty much are what they are going to be, barring trades, catastrophic injuries, owner plea bargains or other hockey staples.

In other words, if everything stays the same for all 30 teams, you may now begin to panic about the San Jose Sharks.

Of course, they don't stay the same, ever. But off the evidence we know as the Sharks prepare for Game 20 against their newest archrivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sharks are producing the kind of results an average team should produce. Average. And given that they haven't been below average in eight seasons, this season looks particularly malignant.

That's what expectations will do for you. And there's still -76.82926829268292682926829268292776 percent of the season still to play.

But today, they miss the playoffs. Today, they are mediocre, with their best players being their oldest ones and their younger ones barely carrying a quarter of the weight. Today they have two lines, one exceptional defenseman, an odd goaltending tandem and a coach who probably would like to put his head in a desk drawer and ask one of the stick boys to slam the drawer shut 35 or 40 times.

The Sharks are 9-6-4, which means they're really 9-10. Except that if you factored the old way, with ties, they'd actually be 8-6-5. In short, they're as middle of the pack of as you can get. Sixteenth in goals for, 15th in goals against, 10th on the power play, 14th shorthanded.

But they are a lopsided 9-10, and an inefficient 9-10. They are second in faceoffs, but 23rd when they score first. They are 26th in giveaways, 26th in blocked shots, and 28th in hits. And since after a quarter of the season you can pretty much figure that every team's propensity to bend the stats essentially evens out, you have here a picture of a team that:

- Knows how to win draws, but doesn't do a very good of doing anything once they get the puck.
- Doesn't make it difficult for the other team when on defense, and lets shots go unimpeded toward either the net or close to it.

Pretty much a recipe for being the Atlanta Thrashers, that.

But then you get down to individuals, and average is probably putting it charitably. Their top line, Patrick MarleauJoe ThorntonDany Heatley, is performing decently, but the second line, which is normally Joe PavelskiRyane CloweDevin Setoguchi isn't. The third- and fourth-line centers, Logan Couture and Scott Nichol, have been superb, but the wings have been ineffectual. And defenseman Dan Boyle is on pace to weigh 143 by the end of the year.

Much has been made of San Jose's inability to get any points from its defensemen, and this is fairly clear. They rank 26th in defenseman goals (tied with the very defensive Boston Bruins), 26th in assists, and 26th overall. Of the teams behind them, Columbus is better, Dallas is the same, and New Jersey and the New York Islanders are considerably worse.

Boyle has done his bit, as you might guess, and Kent Huskins has been what he is, a fifth defenseman who stays at home well. But Marc-Edouard Vlasic, whom the Sharks needed to have a breakout year or close to it, has provided minimal help as the logical inheritor to Rob Blake's role, Jason Demers is overbilled as a third defenseman, Douglas Murray has been either hurt or below average, and Niclas Wallin's tread is getting thin.

On the other hand, Antero Niittymaki seems to have won the trust of the staff in goal, and his raw numbers bear that out. He hasn't stood on his head to close games, but much of that is due to San Jose's inability to keep the puck late in games and its defense's shortcomings both physically and blocking shots.

And if it helps at all, Evgeni Nabokov ranks 25th in goals against average and 31st in save percentage in the Kontinental (cq) Hockey League, behind such industry giants as the 100-year-old Dominik Hasek, Robert Esche and Steve Valiquette.

In sum, this is a team that has lost the gift of puck possession, is vulnerable at the back and not so hot moving forward, and with some but not enough exceptions doesn't consistently do the rotten jobs well. If that doesn't scream 10th place and a very annoyed fan base, then your hearing aid needs a new 2032, because the old battery has gone to silicon heaven.

Chicago isn't dramatically better, but they figured to drop off after having the franchise semi-gutted by self-made cap problems. The Hawks sold their futures for a glorious recent past, and haven't landed hard enough yet to say that it wasn't worth it. They, after all, have those hubcap-sized rings.

The Sharks don't have such an excuse, so the nerves are a bit more taut and exposed. Wednesday's game with the Hawks won't necessarily tell you anything you don't already know, but the Sharks will need to have repaired their failings in the next 24.390243902439024390243902439024 percent of the season, or panic, anger and recriminations will be fully justified.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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.