Ratto: Sharks set to face familiar foe in first-round


Ratto: Sharks set to face familiar foe in first-round

Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

Once again, its time forKiss Of Death Theatre, with your host, me. Todays episode How The SharksGot Two Breaks, And Only One Of Them Bad.In a remarkable confluenceof constricted windpipes, the Chicago Blackhawks nearly played themselves rightout of the playoffs Sunday, providing the Sharks with what should be anadvantageous first-round matchup in Los Angeles and a slightly heightenedlikelihood of avoiding the Vancouver Canucks at some point during the postseason.As the final brick in a triangle of must-wins-that-were-losses, Dallaslost, 5-3, to a patently inferior Minnesota team to blow its chance to pip theBlackhawks for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs, which meansthat the Sharks (a) have one more team in the field that could beat them in atight series, but (b) have one more team in the field that could take outVancouver.

Ahh well. Bettman giveth, and Bettman taketh away. That,though, was the chess part of the playoff equation for San Jose. Chicagovs. Vancouvermeans one tough out goes down right away, but it also means that the survivormight still haunt the Sharks down the road if the road goes that far for theSan Joses. The checkers part the linear this-is-whats-in-front-of-us-nowpart remains Los Angeles, the seventh-place finisher with a depleted lineupbut a counter-punchers chance to make some real mischief if the Sharks arentdevoted to their game.
RELATED: Sharks will face Kings in first round of playoffs
And lets be frank, this is Sharks series towin based on the perfectly reasonable truth that L.A. is short two of its best players. Saywhat you want about upsets always being possible, but their likelihooddiminishes when the underdog doesnt have its full complement. TheKings problem in a nutshell is that Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, theteams two best scorers, are injured Kopitar, the Kings version of PatrickMarleau, with torn ligaments in his right ankle that ended his season, andWilliams, more of a Joe Pavelski type, a dislocated right shoulder that maycost him the early part of the series. Head coach Terry Murray stilltermed him questionable, but a strength test may help speed his clearance, ifnot for the opener, then maybe by Game 3 in Los Angeles. Injury, you seem, isthe one thing that separates the teams in the congealed mass that is theWestern Conference. The Sharks have managed to survive their injuries, and willbe back at full strength (save defenseman Kent Huskins) after winger RyaneClowe (wonky hip) was cleared to go.
RELATED: Sharks notebook: Nichol could play this week
But the Kings are a thin groupoffensively without Kopitar and Williams, below average both in even-strengthand power play goal-scoring. They are also not a dominant face-off team, withonly second-line center Jarret Stoll a top-quality draw-taker. Whatthey have, though, is youth, and strength on defense. Goaltender Jonathan Quickis considered an up-and-coming star, though he has been less of a puzzle forthe Sharks of late, and defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are among thegames best. In that way, they are something akin to Nashville, whichhas Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in front of Pekka Rinne as the core of adefense-first team that can make it hard for indiscriminate snipers to enjoythe freedom of time and space they often need. They are puck-carriers, though,rather than stay-at-homes, and the Kings rank 27th in blocked shots, whichmeans that quick puck movement ought to get the Sharks enough good looks atQuick and the target behind him. San Jose has also tightened its own game through thesecond half, and while it may find the goal-scoring difficult, it has a betterchance of shutting down the Kings entirely without Kopitar to fret upon.
REWIND: Sharks clinch Pacific with 6-1 killing of Kings
Foretellingthe future of the playoffs ahead of time is a way to mock the gods and bemocked tenfold in return, of course, but it is hard to see this as a seriesthat causes either Quick or San Joses Antti Niemi to worry unduly. And whilethere is always a high upset quotient, this doesnt figure on its face to beone of those. It is, in short, a series the Sharks ought to win, andought to win without being extended. The goaltending is equivalent, the Kingshave a better defense but the Sharks have a much better attack, especially ifWilliams cannot return or is rushed back and ineffective. The Sharkshave never done well in postseason series with their California brethren (seeAnaheim 2009; see small sample size; see radically different teams), but thisis a series they should be able to deal with in five games, so that they can berested for the second round.

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.

Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman


Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman

Officials are a pet cause of mine, since they are uniquely hired and set up for daily failure as a condition of having the job at all. They are given a supervisory role against a group of mesomorphs running, jumping, colliding and athletick-ing all over the place, only so that they can interpret a rulebook written in Cambodian script in such a way that he or she angers everyone involved, and is supported by none of the people who gave him the rulebook to defend.

But sometimes, despite all this, officials need to be left alone to apply common sense in direct defiance of the dictates of the bloated swine who made the rulebook a tool of the socially ignorant.

And no, I am not talking about Doc Rivers snapping like a stretched bobblehead the other night after Ken Mauer tossed him from the Los Angeles Clippers-Brooklyn Nets game for being geographically inappropriate with fellow official Lauren Holtkamp (he crossed the midcourt line, and curb your dirty minds). Screw him. He had it coming.

No, this is about Frank Schneider, who refereed the otherwise unremarkable Paris Saint Germain-Angers match in Ligue 1, the top division of French soccer, and felt compelled to yellow-card PSG goalscorer Edinson Cavani for doing this.

For you link-averse weenies, Cavani scored a goal and then took off his shirt to reveal an undershirt that read “ACE FUERZA” in support of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, the team involved in the plane wreck that killed 77 of 81 passengers, including all but a few of the team’s players and staff en route to the championship match of the Copa Sudamericana in Colombia against Atletico Nacional.

It was a thoughtful gesture, one we want our athletes to produce to show that they are not just mercenaries with expensively shod feet. It was a credit to Cavani, who is Uruguayan and who knew none of the players involved. He did it to be a human being.

And Schneider knew that. But the rules say he had to give Cavani a yellow card for removing his shirt as an act of celebration or in this case, sympathy, and if Schneider had ignored it, his supervisors would have punished him knowing full well that ignoring it was exactly the correct and decent thing to do.

This right here is one more reason why people hate officials, even more than they used to. They are not allowed to apply their own common sense to a situation that demands it, and if honoring fellow athletes who died in an accident doesn’t demand the common sense of saying, “Heartwarming thought there, Scooter. You’re a good lad. Run and frolic with the other woodland creatures, unconcerned with any notion of punitive action.”

Maybe Schneider walked up to him as he presented the card and said, “Listen, this is crap. You know it and I know it, and I will back your play in the game report, but I have to do this. Please find it in your heart to forgive my bureaucratic obligations.”

That’s not the zenith of understanding as we would wish it, but it would be a way to try and shield Cavani from the withered arm of the law.

Or maybe Schneider said, “I give this card to you in my role as a strident and iron-willed defender of mindless regulations. I spurn you as I would spurn a rabid wolf.”

I don’t know. All I know is, Schneider ends up looking stupid for carding Cavani for supporting his soccer-playing brethren, and officials across the globe cry out as one, “You put him in a ridiculous position, you suit-wearing filth. Where is your compassion? Where is your dignity? Why can’t we line up in an orderly fashion and kick you squarely in the groin 30 to 70 times?”

And a decent human instinct is stamped out as though it were caught stealing office supplies.

You can extend this lesson as far as you wish, including the No Fun League’s old-white-guys fetishistic ban on post-touchdown self-expression, but right here is where that sort of mockable nonsense starts. People died, some of them soccer players. A fellow soccer player honored them on the field of play without disrupting the game itself. He was sanctioned. This is idiocy.

But Doc Rivers getting flipped in Brooklyn? Sorry. There’s only so far we can go with this, and in this case, well, to quote the old philosopher, “Nice tantrum, Glenn.”