Ratto: Prescription for what ails Sharks


Ratto: Prescription for what ails Sharks


VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- We know what youre thinking. We always know what youre thinking, because you always think the same thing.

Fire the general manager. No, fire the coach. No, trade the following players who have offended me.

See? I told you.

But in plowing through the Sharks remains after another playoff expiration, the true frustration reveals itself in the following truths:

1. The Vancouver Canucks were a better team.
2. This was, give or take a game, as good as the Sharks could do. Again.
3. All the players you hate cant be moved.

Now theres something to make hope spring eternal for you.

Vancouver had all the known Sedins, which was a sufficient problem in and of itself. But if truth be told (and frankly, why start now?), it was the extra parts the Canucks had that truly explained the reason why the series lasted only five games.

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What the Sharks didnt have, and what ultimately got them on the wrong side of the Canucks, was defenseman Alexander Edler, and left wing Chris Higgins, and defenseman Christopher Tanev, and center Maxim Lapierre, and winger Raffi Torres. A smooth puck-handling defenseman who could spring an attack ... a grungy corner man who never lost a battle when he really needed to win one, an extra defenseman who was more asset than detriment, an agitating centerman, and an ultra-agitating, well, agitator.

The Sharks could come close to recreating Henrik Sedin as long as Joe Thornton was healthy. When Patrick Marleau was scoring, which he was in the conference final, he was Alexandre Burrows. When Dan Boyle was the Dan Boyle of old, he was Kevin Bieksa -- except, of course, for the skillful adaptation to the presentation of good fortune in the second overtime Tuesday.

But Ryane Clowe didnt win the battles Higgins did, and Jason Demers didnt play so he could learn a few tricks from watch Edler, and Scott Nichol and Joe Pavelski werent close to being as usefully annoying as Lapierre, and Kent Huskins didnt fit in for Demers as well as Tanev did for Aaron Rome, and no Sharks did what Torres did, though Ben Eager certainly tried the best he could.

In short, San Jose was short. In getting less than full measure from Clowe (injured), Joe Pavelski (save that great dive and flick to Devin Setoguchi in Game 5), Setoguchi (save taking that flick and scoring the tying goal in Game 5), Dany Heatley (who had looked sharp against Los Angeles but faded with every passing game after that), Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood (who went as Pavelski went), they didnt have the cards to play a full hand against a team that did, and did.

Some may suggest that a healthy Thornton might have changed all that, but the Sharks lost Games 1 and 2 with him at full pace, and thats not to say he didnt play a full captains games. He was as good as he has ever been, and won over most of his long-running Canadian skeptics.

RELATED: Sharks fall short, Canucks claim series with 2OT triumph

In addition, Marleau, who had been largely inert through most of the first two series, earned his pay packet against Vancouver as he had a year ago against Chicago in the Sharks last conference final finale. Clowe and Pavelski will probably given passes, and Logan Couture, whose own series was less than exemplary, was asked to perform one of two unfair tasks for a rookie -- deal with the Sedins or deal with the Ryan Kesler line.

As for what comes next, that will be handled during Thursdays post mortem. Doug Wilson, whose job is safe, will speak of the season (probably in glowing terms), Todd McLellan (who job is just about as safe as Wilsons) will be a bit more measured, and the players themselves will lament another lost opportunity while praising each other for going as far as they did.

All the safe routes. Vancouver was better. San Jose wasnt going any further. But substantive changes will be hard to come by. Heatley has three years and 19 million left on his deal, and would be hard to deal even if he would accept a trade, which he doesnt have to. He'll need to gear up for an arduous summer if he plans to be more of a factor next spring than he was in this one. Setoguchi could be moved, but the return might not be sufficient. Wellwood and Ian White are also restricted free agents, and the Sharks dont have the cap room to absorb them all, even if they wanted to.

The Sharks need some change in their room, but the central core of seven players (Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, Heatley, Couture, Pavelski and Clowe) seem inviolable. Tinkering at the edges is the most that can be expected here, while they wait and watch Vancouver do with the springboard the Sharks gave them what Chicago did a year ago.

San Jose? Just the 27th to fall, again. They are right to feel vaguely unsatisfied.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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.