Ratto: Sharks set to face familiar foe in first-round


Ratto: Sharks set to face familiar foe in first-round

Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

Once again, its time forKiss Of Death Theatre, with your host, me. Todays episode How The SharksGot Two Breaks, And Only One Of Them Bad.In a remarkable confluenceof constricted windpipes, the Chicago Blackhawks nearly played themselves rightout of the playoffs Sunday, providing the Sharks with what should be anadvantageous first-round matchup in Los Angeles and a slightly heightenedlikelihood of avoiding the Vancouver Canucks at some point during the postseason.As the final brick in a triangle of must-wins-that-were-losses, Dallaslost, 5-3, to a patently inferior Minnesota team to blow its chance to pip theBlackhawks for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs, which meansthat the Sharks (a) have one more team in the field that could beat them in atight series, but (b) have one more team in the field that could take outVancouver.

Ahh well. Bettman giveth, and Bettman taketh away. That,though, was the chess part of the playoff equation for San Jose. Chicagovs. Vancouvermeans one tough out goes down right away, but it also means that the survivormight still haunt the Sharks down the road if the road goes that far for theSan Joses. The checkers part the linear this-is-whats-in-front-of-us-nowpart remains Los Angeles, the seventh-place finisher with a depleted lineupbut a counter-punchers chance to make some real mischief if the Sharks arentdevoted to their game.
RELATED: Sharks will face Kings in first round of playoffs
And lets be frank, this is Sharks series towin based on the perfectly reasonable truth that L.A. is short two of its best players. Saywhat you want about upsets always being possible, but their likelihooddiminishes when the underdog doesnt have its full complement. TheKings problem in a nutshell is that Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, theteams two best scorers, are injured Kopitar, the Kings version of PatrickMarleau, with torn ligaments in his right ankle that ended his season, andWilliams, more of a Joe Pavelski type, a dislocated right shoulder that maycost him the early part of the series. Head coach Terry Murray stilltermed him questionable, but a strength test may help speed his clearance, ifnot for the opener, then maybe by Game 3 in Los Angeles. Injury, you seem, isthe one thing that separates the teams in the congealed mass that is theWestern Conference. The Sharks have managed to survive their injuries, and willbe back at full strength (save defenseman Kent Huskins) after winger RyaneClowe (wonky hip) was cleared to go.
RELATED: Sharks notebook: Nichol could play this week
But the Kings are a thin groupoffensively without Kopitar and Williams, below average both in even-strengthand power play goal-scoring. They are also not a dominant face-off team, withonly second-line center Jarret Stoll a top-quality draw-taker. Whatthey have, though, is youth, and strength on defense. Goaltender Jonathan Quickis considered an up-and-coming star, though he has been less of a puzzle forthe Sharks of late, and defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are among thegames best. In that way, they are something akin to Nashville, whichhas Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in front of Pekka Rinne as the core of adefense-first team that can make it hard for indiscriminate snipers to enjoythe freedom of time and space they often need. They are puck-carriers, though,rather than stay-at-homes, and the Kings rank 27th in blocked shots, whichmeans that quick puck movement ought to get the Sharks enough good looks atQuick and the target behind him. San Jose has also tightened its own game through thesecond half, and while it may find the goal-scoring difficult, it has a betterchance of shutting down the Kings entirely without Kopitar to fret upon.
REWIND: Sharks clinch Pacific with 6-1 killing of Kings
Foretellingthe future of the playoffs ahead of time is a way to mock the gods and bemocked tenfold in return, of course, but it is hard to see this as a seriesthat causes either Quick or San Joses Antti Niemi to worry unduly. And whilethere is always a high upset quotient, this doesnt figure on its face to beone of those. It is, in short, a series the Sharks ought to win, andought to win without being extended. The goaltending is equivalent, the Kingshave a better defense but the Sharks have a much better attack, especially ifWilliams cannot return or is rushed back and ineffective. The Sharkshave never done well in postseason series with their California brethren (seeAnaheim 2009; see small sample size; see radically different teams), but thisis a series they should be able to deal with in five games, so that they can berested for the second round.

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.