Ratto: Playoffs are 'players' time' to Sharks' Wilson


Ratto: Playoffs are 'players' time' to Sharks' Wilson

Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- This is the time of year when Doug Wilson likes to run silent and run deep. He likes to say, This is the players time, but he would also like to add under his breath, and I have better things to do than talk on the record about our historical profile for the 355th time.Which, as we all know from frequent retellings, is both very good, agonizing and cringe-worthy, depending on where your calendar opens after you throw it.
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It is then fortunate that their foes in this Western Conference final are the Vancouver Canucks, who have as much history with postseason windpipery as the Sharks, and a far greater distrust of the customer base that lives the history out loud every day.Put another way, if Wilson thinks being the general manager in San Jose can be claustrophobic, hed look like Alec Guiness in Bridge On The River Kwai after a few months in Vancouver.As it is, as he and the Sharks arrived in Vancouver for Sundays start of the Western Conference Finals, he is fine. Wary, maybe even weary, but fine. He, head coach Todd McLellan and six players held a pregame media slap-and-tickle at Rogers Arena Saturday, with the usual subject (Which team underachieves better?) front and center.
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I wouldnt think about that at all, he said, and I dont think Todd would bring it up to the players, either. Why would he have to?Whats underachieving anyway, head coach Todd McLellan said. Weve been in eight series in three years, so I wouldnt bring it up even if I thought it had any validity.This is also the time of year when Wilson, if pressed, will most aggressively defend his players, one and all. No hedging, no qualifiers, no quiet pensive moments seeking out the right phrase, and no accepting when the premises of questions even inch toward criticism.For lack of a better phrase, weve come to think of it as the Marleau Gambit, or the Thornton Defense to name the two biggest crit-magnets of the era.Some of this, of course, goes back to Wilsons own career in Chicago, where the constant bristlings of the Wirtz ownership and the creative tensions it liked to brook in the dressing room formed Wilsons own philosophy of what not to do and how not to do it.
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He also sees the criticisms of exceptional players as the brayings of philistines. He is like Al Davis in that he believes that in the end, talent must be honored and talent plus work will win out. That means that the coach at any given time is at least partially responsible for finding those buttons hit in those combinations to get consistent excellence from that talent as Todd McLellan has done with Thornton despite asking him to change his game yet again, and as he still struggles to do with Marleau.And the circle will whirl again with the next generation of Sharks the Ryane CloweJoe PavelskiLogan CoutureJason Demers group of homegrowns. Its just how the hockey world works, has worked, and always will work. Yes, even in the Bay Area, where the game is in bloom for only two months a year.In that way, Wilson has it ridiculously easy. The media following his team is small, fairly malleable, and in some cases out-and-out fanboyesque.But his players come from Canada, and their families read the Globe and Mail and Sun Papers and National Post and Province and Star and Le Devoir, so there is always some blowback to make Wilson grind down some tooth enamel.He never says so out loud, of course. He gets downright adamant when he says he doesnt pay attention to the media horde.But you dont get adamant by not paying attention, no matter how much he may protest. One way or another, he knows what is said and written, he knows who says and writes it, and he knows in many cases how those in question got the information that spurred them to say and write it.So in a series that will be defined by the masses in two ways by who wins, and who remains a group of choking, gagging, retching failing curs he grits his teeth. He is right when he says it is about the players, but thats only in the result sense. The bigger picture is about pride of identification between two cities whose hockey teams have nudged greatness without actually seizing it.RELATED: Canucks had edge over Sharks in regular season
Add to that being on the West Coast, which is the wrong coast for continental attention, and not being part of the Original Snob . . . er, Six, and you get inferiority complexes that Wilson, as someone who likes it to be about the players, can find silently vexing. He likes the cocoon of playoff hockey, but he knows it isnt air tight. Hell, hes always one curious investor with time to kill and an urge to chat from brushing up against the public.So well put it this way. Whatever may happen in this series, the players are their own and only salvations. If the Sharks are better than the Canucks, they should win. If they arent, they wont. Thats the only math that works, because over a series, the better team gets what it deserves almost every time.In other words, winning cures everything, and winning 16 times saves all souls and polishes all reputations. Everyone says and writes lovely things, everyone sings a happy tune, and Doug Wilson aw-shucks his way through the howdjadoit interviews with a definite afterglow that he never got to enjoy as a player or executive.Until then, its a skull-crushing nightmare in which too little can be controlled and too much is in the hands of fate. Both for San Jose, which is 0-for-20, and Vancouver, which is 0-for-40.With all the civic scars to prove it.

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.