Ratto: Sharks poised to finish what they started


Ratto: Sharks poised to finish what they started


Ray Ratto

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks are in great shape has often been code for The Sharks are preparing to emit an enormous egg. Thats what happens when your reputation as a skilled and deep team clashes with your reputation for postseason tracheotomies.

But as the San Joses prepare for Game 5 of this Western Conference quarterfinal series with the wobbling Los Angeles Kings, one gets a greater sense they can finish this series without too much fuss or muss because they have gotten so much production from the beneath-the-radar brigade.

Oh, sure there are the cheap amusements like, Is Dany Heatley really a dirty play like Terry Murray said he is? and Who was Joe Thornton blowing a kiss to after his goal in Game 4? But those are empty calories, not to be trusted, for entertainment purposes only.

RELATED: Kings' coach calls out Dany Heatley
What makes one think the Sharks will finish this off with a sonic stomp is the fact that so much of the game-changing is being done not by the big names, but by the small players.

Like Ian White, the former Carolina and Toronto defenseman who began his postseason career with an exquisite headache and is now the second leading scoring defenseman in the league.

Like Scott Nichol, the belt sander with feet who altered Game 4 by first submitting to King Drew Doughtys temper and then elevating it to such a point that he turned the game.

And like Kyle Wellwood, the right wing on the third line who has altered not only his linemates play but those of the Kings who have faced it.

Wellwoods contributions have been the most subtle; his forecheck in Game 4 led directly to the Thornton goal that crushed L.A.s one comeback, and his three assists and plus-4 stand out as numbers, but for the most part he has been simply a steady contributor to the overall health of the Joe Pavelski line.

Certainly this has been good for me, the stubbornly reserved winger said. I think I jelled well with Joe and Torrey (Mitchell), and theres always that feeling when youre fitting in, the game is much more comfortable. Its more fun when youre a contributor.

Wellwood has bounced about from Toronto to Vancouver to Atlant Moscow Oblast (no, not Atlanta) to St. Louis, but he has finally found a consistent place here, to the point where head coach Todd McLellan is probably underutilizing him by not giving him some power play time such is his passing and vision ability.

White, on the other hand, has seen this coming since he started playing. He just never got a chance to show it.

Oh, this is how Ive imagined it all along, he said. I knew I could play at a high level, contribute and help us win. Im kind of built for the postseason, I think. I can dig down deeper, give some extra, contribute where its needed. Ive been ready for this.

That said, five assists in seven periods is an exemplary bit of production.

RELATED: Sharks win despite getting outshot by Kings
Finally, there is Nichol, who engaged with Doughty (well, was engaged with Doughty, more like) enough to take him to the penalty box on coincidental minor penalties that resulted in two Sharks goals.

Nichol seemed a bit sheepish about his contribution for attribution, though he understands the value of the tradeoff between the fourth-line center and the top defenseman. So does Dan Boyle, the Sharks top defenseman, who said, Oh, thats a tradeoff that works in our favor. Its a very good trade, in fact.

He then broke into laughter as he struggled not to make it seem like Nichol was acceptable collateral damage. Make sure you write that I was laughing when I said that, he said. Then he laughed again.

These bricks in the wall have given San Jose a depth advantage that some people suspected wasnt there, or that could be exploited later in the postseason. And maybe it can. But so far, not now, not here, not by the Kings. And when the not-quite-big-names are owning their space, its easier for the dreadnoughts to own theirs as well.

In short, the Sharks may turn this back into a series with a lackluster performance Saturday night, but theyre going to work very hard to do so, because theyve shown all the signs and all the numbers required to be a team that finishes what it starts rather than being finished by what it starts.

WATCH: Game 4 highlights

Heatley explained his trip on Kings defenseman Alec Martinez that so irritated Murray as a simple case of, He tried to get out of my way, and I just didnt move. Whatever. To the surprise of no people, there was no interest from the league in convening a disciplinary hearing.

The Sharks lead the league in the postseason with a 57.4 percent faceoff conversion rate, and Thornton is third at 64.6, behind only Boyd Gordon of Washington and Chris Drury of New York.

No lineup or line changes are expected, and all players are healthy. Friday was mostly a mentalphysicalmaintenance day, so there was no organized practice. The Kings worked out in Los Angeles and arrived later Friday.

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.