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.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.