Ratto: Sharks pulling out all the stops


Ratto: Sharks pulling out all the stops


MONTREAL, QC -- A quiet morning in Montreal, and things are afoot with the Sharks. Not big things, mind you, and not permanent ones, either. In fact, what we saw might have only been operative for the morning skate at CentreBell after San Jose's 3-1 loss Saturday to the Canadiens.
REWIND: Sharks stifled in Montreal
But there it was anyway - Patrick Marleau, wearing the teal practice jersey of a third liner and spending the pre-practice talking with (well, listening to, mostly) heads coach Todd McLellan about the difference between his performance Saturday and what will be required of him Monday in Detroit. "We talk all the time, so the only real difference is that you saw us," McLellan said. "We might just do this today and see how it goes, but mostly we talked about we want to see him get a little closer to the blue paint (the crease in front of the net), to try and get some rebounds, create some more chances." Marleau wasn't the only culprit, although he has come to wear that tag often in his career. But there is logic in breaking up the Joe Thornton-Marleau-Dany Heatley line to see if Marleau can invigorate not only himself but also the equally struggling Joe Pavelski-Jamie McGinn-Torrey Mitchell line. Mitchell looks like the choice to take Marleau's place on the Thornton line based on Sunday's skate, but nothing is set in, well, anything, really. The more material change comes on defense, where Mike Moore was reassigned to Worcester in the American Hockey League, the firmest indication that Jason Demers is back and available. McLellan, though, said that both he and Niclas Wallin were options for Monday night against the Wings, who are coming back home after a 3-2 overtime loss in Los Angeles. McLellan also picked out the fourth line of Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers and John McCarthy for increased energy against the Wings after being outplayed by Montreal's group of Mathieu Darche, Benoit Pouliot and Lars Eller. "We need the same tenacity we saw in Ottawa (Thursday night)," McLellan said. "They have to play to that standard. They can't play to a different level. They were reminded of that the way, and they played better in Ottawa. I'd like to see that same investment every day." Right now, the scholarship line is Logan CoutureRyane CloweBenn Ferriero, which continued to be a clear difference-maker against the Canadiens. But perhaps this tweakage will shrink the difference between their performance as a unit and those of the other three groups. San Jose is tied for 10th with St. Louis (same record, slightly better goal difference), and other than a stretch in early November have not really put a roll together, as they have in past seasons. They are currently on a seven-game run of alternating results, but could, with a win on Monday and the right other results go from 11th to fifth, and from last in the Pacific Division to tied for first. That, though, is not relevant to the point McLellan tried to make of and with Marleau Sunday morning. The Sharks are in one of those stretches they occasionally have in which they play to the level of exertion they want to expend rather than the level they must, and as a result are off to what can only be considered a profoundly disappointing start. Moving Marleau is not an answer, nor is it even good scapegoating. It is a measure of the fact that the Sharks do not have the same margins they had even last year. Maybe they lose that game to the Canadiens anyway; Carey Price was very good in goal, and Tomas Plekanec had the run of the rink. But they rarely play so horribly that you think they stink. Their problems come when it's hard to differentiate one player from the next, because when they are indistinguishable, they are beatable. And it gets no easier tomorrow or Wednesday in Philadelphia.What's on your mind? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

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.

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

The Super Bowl is today, which means the best day of the year is fast approaching.

Namely, the day after the Super Bowl.

At that point, we as a nation can complete the inventory of gastric damage we did to ourselves on what shall be known to future generations as Fried Festivus.

At that point, the people who bombard us daily with news of the game – the least important part of the week-long trade show, as we have come to learn it – will all be on planes and too tired to re-explain what we already saw 37 times on game day.

At that point, nobody will care that Terrell Owens was apparently one of the first of the 15 Hall of Fame finalists to be rejected for induction because of crimes against the NFL state. The Hall of Fame is one of the sneaky ways in which the NFL never lets us escape its obnoxiously shouty profile, and the fact that Owens is right about the flawed process doesn’t change the fact that he’ll be just fine with the process when it allows him passage.

At that point, we’ll know whether Tom Brady is to be deemed a god, or merely maintain his demigod status. At least we’ll hear more about it, because it is easily the most tiresome debate in the football diaspora, engaged in by idiots with no better idea about how to kill time. A note: If you think Tom Brady is a greater quarterback because his team won a fifth ring, or a lesser one because he didn’t, your head is now officially empty enough to be reclassified a dance hall, and you are of no more value to normal society than a papier-mache goose.

And at that point, we can return to the two things we in these parts care to know – where the Raiders are going, and how the 49ers are going to present their new football brain trust.

We needn’t explain the Raiders again to you, first because you’ve heard it all if you’re paying any attention at all. Mark Davis has been trying to cobble deals at a frantic pace in hopes that one will stick, and his 31 fellow owners still have to decide how much longer they want to endure him, while faced with the painful fact that the East Bay is getting out of the exploitative license-to-be-stolen-from stadium business. They also get to know as they go to the meeting in Houston that will ostensibly decide Davis’ fate that they have ruined California as a market by their excessive greed-laced stupidity and deserve every lousy market the state can give them.

Which brings us to the 49ers, and the latest round of Judge Them By Their Press Conferences.

If there is anything worse than this team’s on-field profile, which is why Jed York hired Kyle Shanahan, it is the way it explains itself to the outside world, which is why Jed York hired John Lynch. Both Shanahan and Lynch will be paraded before a braying mobs, probably Tuesday, and York will be there as well for the cheesy photo array and a few unconvincing words of praise about each of them (as a note, Paraag Marathe will be present but only in hologrammatic form).

They will then promise – well, something or other – and Lynch will be hailed as the face of the glorious future because the man he replaced, Trent Baalke, had the public persona of a meth-tweaked hyena. Hard to find, and not worth it when you did.

Then we’ll all remember that the job Shanalynch (or Lynchahan, depending on what part of Ireland you’re from) are being asked to do is a three-year reclamation at the very least, and that the only useful question either can be asked is “Can you fix this before Jed gets embarrassed and angry and cans you both?”

And on Wednesday, there’s the start of pre-draft prep (in order words, The Eighty-Day Slave Market), and the hamster wheel to hell gears up again toward Super Bowl LII.

Only next year, the chances of relocation hysteria and a front office upheaval are that much less, and we haven’t sufficient distractions to make the year go faster.

But enjoy Fried Festivus. We can always look forward to that, even if we change the name back in December to the more traditional "Christmas."