Ratto: Face it, Sharks no longer a special team


Ratto: Face it, Sharks no longer a special team


The Sharks, like the rest of the NHL, are at the All-Star Break, a natural time to stop and assess them.

Not unlike, say, when they hit the 41-game mark, when they had just been shut out by Buffalo at home and were tied for fifth. Yes, much has changed -- they went 4-4-0-1, dropped into a tie for eighth, and a tie for 15th overall.

And therein lies the real problem here. The Sharks are the worst thing a team can be other than the New York Islanders.

Just Like Everybody Else.

The third period and overtime of Wednesdays 3-2 shootout loss to Los Angeles were profoundly instructive. The Kings were the younger, faster team with the superior jump in their legs and the ability to harass San Jose for prolonged periods of time.

And yet, the Kings needed goalie Jonathan Quick to stand on his head to save them in a shootout -- or, if you prefer, the Kings hit two posts in the shootout to prolong the agony.

In short the Sharks and Kings are pretty much inseparable, and thats the real problem for San Jose. They are inseparable from Nashville, Anaheim, Phoenix, Chicago, Colorado, Los Angeles and even, all of a sudden, Calgary.

They are no longer a special team with special players playing special hockey. They are 18th in goals, 13 in goals allowed. 18th in home record, 12th in road record. They are middle of the road or worse in everything but faceoffs, shot differential and power plays, and in 5-on-5 situations, they are a dire 24th.

Indeed, for a team that is supposed to have stars on stars, they got only Dan Boyle to the All-Star Game and Logan Couture to the skills competition.

They have, in short, become an eighth-place team that could finish fifth or 12th. And at these prices for this roster, thats spectacularly insufficient.

The most notable things one gets from watching them are that they are no longer a fast team, or very good at getting the puck out of their own end. That means they have trouble getting into the offensive zone and staying there. That was one of their best attributes the past several years -- breaching the zone and controlling time, space and pace.

They have failed here despite still being second in faceoffs, though dramatically lower than they were a year ago. They simply dont dominate the puck.

You can cite toughness (hello, Ben Eager) or goaltending (where have you gone, Evgeni Nabokov, Long Island turns its lonely eyes to you) or Patrick Marleau (always a comfortable cottage industry for the hockey-disaffected), but it really shakes down to that.

They have players who need the puck, but arent as good at getting it and keeping it. Its not any more complicated.

Couture, Ryane Clowe, Kent Huskins, Benn Ferriero and Niclas Wallin are having better seasons that last year, and Boyle and Scott Nichol are having about the same ones as they always have. Everyone else is dropping off in one important metric or another, and the end result is a team that is faceless while having lots of faces.

Maybe they arent yet used to the grind of grinding for their wins. Maybe the aging process has been misjudged. Maybe they stopped getting better while Vancouver and Dallas and Anaheim and Nashville kept improving.

But those are guesses that, with the exception of Vancouver, could change in a month.

Right now, they are a puck-possession team that isnt very good at possessing the puck, and thats not coaching. Thats playing. They get shots, but theyre not normally great ones. Even with their power play, which accounts for 32 percent of their offense, they are a modest team offensively. At even strength, 5-on-5 or 4-on-4, they are outscoring only Toronto, Minnesota, Ottawa, the Islanders and New Jersey.

Thats teams 26, 27, 29 and 30 in your songbook. Makes you wonder how theyre in the race at all.

Can this be fixed? Sure, if Rob Blake wants to shave about six years off his age and play again. Or if the number of players operating at less than last years pace want to remember how much more fun it was not to be overmatched. A trade isnt likely to change it, and a coaching change is a ridiculous idea that alters nothing.

This, kids, may simply be who they are -- a team just like any other team. A little older, a little slower, and not at all like what they, or you, are used to seeing. They have a home-and-home with Phoenix at the end of the year that will almost certainly determine their fate. If you stick around for that, you will get to know how the other half lives for a change.

They havent been an eighth-place team in 11 years, after all, and havent had to sweat out the final day in 16. Who knows, maybe itll be fun.

Or really suck. With this team, you never really know.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.