Ratto: Only Sharks can grant Wings power to win


Ratto: Only Sharks can grant Wings power to win

May 5, 2011


Ray Ratto

The San Jose Sharks are always on the verge of scaring the hell out of their fans. Its what makes them, them.Even when they have a series by the delicates, as they do this one against the Detroit Red Wings, theres always something. Like the 7-1 Red Wings win in Game 4 a year ago that prevented the Sharks from closing out their series in four games.
But it is a false panic this time; the Wings have only the benefit of desperation to fuel their further efforts. Even if they are still the prideful team that went to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, and have been the sports version of Manchester United for the past decade and a half, this cycle is coming to a slow close, and whether it happens Friday in Joe Louis Arena or Sunday at Le Pavillion du HP matters not.RELATED: Sharks-Wings Round 2 schedule
Only if the Sharks decide to let them back into this series do they find new life; such has been the subtle but telling difference between the two teams.Joe Thornton is the best Joe Thornton he has been since coming west from Boston in Doug Wilsons first distressed items raid; Hes not Offensive Jumbo any more, hes Complete Jumbo now, according to Todd McLellan.Goaltender Antti Niemi has silenced through pistol-whipping the legions who demanded that he become Antero Niittymaki.The cheeky Devin Setoguchi, who so wants to be a star on par with the Big Four (Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle) and The Biggish Three (Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture), is on the verge of joining the second group. Hes still growing up in the hockey world, McLellan said. Hes had very good parts of seasons where hes on a top of the world, and others where hes struggled.RATTO: Setoguchi helps Sharks cheat the reaper
And then there are the slightly under-the-radar types who have greased the tank treads just as well as if they had been the big-money boys. Kyle Wellwood has benefited from, and provided benefit for, the Pavelski line (with the undersung Torrey Mitchell) by being the guy who, once he acquires the puck, never seems to lose it until he is prepared to do so. His time in Toronto and Vancouver and Russia is now barely visible in his rear-view mirror, and if he can maintain his present fitness through the summer, he will become an indispensable part of the nucleus. Ian White is perhaps the best third-pair defenseman left in the postseason, the skill that meshes with Niclas Wallins more rudimentary defensive work and gives San Jose depth in a place where it has traditionally had none. Wallin. See above, with the added benefit of delivering the blocked shots element that has been missing in the San Jose fabric through most of the decade. Jason Demers has grown into the intrepid offensive defenseman that allows Marc-Edouard Vlasic to be the defense-first guy he has always wanted to be. Vlasic has the gift to be a force in attack, but seems far more comfortable in his own end initiating rather than joining rushes, and Demers has a bit of the hit-on-17 about his game.We know all these things because Todd McLellan has gone longer without tweaking his top three lines than he ever has before. He has hit on the combinations that make the most sense and do the most damage, and for someone who is as tinker-happy as he is, the stability on the top three lines is both shocking and ingenious. A coach who can go away from his instincts is to be prized, and McLellan is showing the combinations of flexibility and spine that he either learned from Mike Babcock or stole from him outright.
And yet, for all that, the Sharks may still lose Game 4, because they are also whom we always thought they were a team that historically handles bounty the way most teams handle adversity. With butter-coated oven mitts.
They still have not proven that they can be the bullies of the conference their standings positions suggest they ought to be. They still turn out the biggest howlers at the least contextually sensical times. They still believe they are who they once were, the guys who can run with anyone.
But this series has shown that they are better when they are the guys who can prevent you from running. They dont neutral ice trap or do the actuarial grind-the-game-down things that made New Jersey or elevated Tampa Bay. But they use their size more effectively than they ever have before, because they have stopped trying to be all teams for all people.
They are this team, and they get into trouble only when they forget who they are and what they do.
And yet, for all that as well, they may still lose Game 4 because the Red Wings arent dead yet. The three San Jose wins have not been overwhelming, though the better team has won Games 1 and 2. The Wings have not won many of the important battles, but they have lost by one, one and one goal.
But despite McLellans entreaties that the Sharks should forget about last years series victory over Detroit, this series is last years, almost to a T. I think its natural to reflect upon it a little, Mitchell said. The similarities are all over it. Game 4, though . . . (Johan) Franzen got that hat trick in the first period, they were up like what, 5-0? It was almost like we all said, Okay, lets get to Game 5.
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That, though, is in the hands of the gods, or Eric Nesterenko, whichever comes first. There is Friday night, and the Sharks in position to either finish the unfathomable deed or string out the proceedings awhile longer. Indeed, they might become the first team to win successive series against the same team with the same order of victories since Montreal swept St. Louis in back-to-back Finals in 1968 and 1969.
The Red Wings do not have the power to win this series, unless the Sharks grant it to them. But they do have the power to discomfit the Sharks into thinking about who they are instead of simply being who they are. In sum, this series is over, and it isnt.

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.