Where Sharks fit in NHL labor fight


Where Sharks fit in NHL labor fight

With the NHL owners meetings scheduled for next month in Pebble Beach (and why is it never in Iqaluit, Nunavut, I ask), one of the topics will be conference realignment, which barely concerns you, since the Sharks are about as west as it gets and ain't getting any westier.

But it is reasonable to assume that next years CBA negotiations will come up as a topic as well, and there the Sharks will be in the middle of it, and heres how.

The people at Forbes Magazine, who apparently have copyrighted the concept of The List, have just issued its list of National Hockey League billionaires, doubtless in anticipation of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations with the NHL Players Association.

The 10 they listed, though, omitted two, including one that could buy Nos. 2 through 10. And because the upcoming CBA fight is not just about owner vs. player but owner vs. owner, this is fairly vital stuff. Because the true throw weight of owner power is not market size, but money that can be brought to bear to an argument.

The fight will be not just over reducing the players share of HRI (hockey related income) but over closing all the loopholes in a system that is a hard cap with plenty of holes in it.

And the reason why it should matter to you is because the third name on the list that should be, rather than the one that is, is the biggest player in the Sharks.

And no, we dont mean Kevin Compton, the front man. We mean Hasso Plattner, the retired 67-year-old German software magnate who is worth, by Forbes latest valuation, 6.9 billion. He has a serious piece of the action, but like anyone with that kind of jack, he can speak up when he wants and be confident that the only other noise in the room will be the air conditioner.

But the other omitted billionaire, Canadian David Thomson, who just bought and brought the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, beats em all, with a net worth of 23 billion. And when he sits down to make the case for the semi-disenfranchised 22 teams, he will be heard.

Of the men on the list, only Ilitch and Jacobs can be considered part of the sports traditional power base -- with Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal, Chicago, Vancouver and Washington. Burkle could be, though he has Mario Lemieux for the nuts and bolts work.

But the Sharks, who have been get-along-go-long types unwilling to buck the status quo, likely intend to be dung disturbers when the next rich-on-rich crime is discussed, and even if Plattner wont be in the room when the issues are hassled out, his wallet will be.

And lets be frank here -- the room is defined only partly by who shows up. It is defined far more clearly by who can buy whom.

The NBA has been contentious because the richest owners are outnumbered by the hardliners, and the hardliners want more than just an amicable agreement. They want the players under their thumbs again, or as much as they can in a multi-billion industry. This is not about money but about the more nebulous but more important matter of control.

In the NHL, its about changing the balance of power. The players union was dealt a two-hander across the wrist in 2004, but the economy has been kinder to the league because of the increased strength of the Canadian dollar. And with the money rising, some of the teams with thinner margins have been taking more of a squeezing while the big-money clubs dance cheerfully around the leagues hard cap.

Thus, the presence of Thomson, Anschutz and Plattner becomes compelling -- as long as the rest of the franchises adhere to their stance that the system has to change. This becomes a matter of having an important majority whip to keep the membership in line, something the owners never before thought was important because they routinely acquiesced to the powers that were.

How this impacts the negotiations with the players is anyones guess, but without a firm position the owners will be reduced to splitting into disgruntled groups and signing a deal theyll love for about 15 minutes until teams start figuring how to work around it and rendering it useless.

Toward that end, Don Fehr too will be paying close attention to the owners meeting. As the head of the NHLPA, hell want to know if hes dealing with smart people who like the doors open with people coming through them holding fistfuls of cash, or whether hes dealing with the ideologues, greedfaces and dullards who have turned the NBA into the Missouri Valley Conference.

For the moment, though, there are games. But if I were a Sharks fan, Id come to want to know a little more about the second-line veteran Plattner. He looks like the type you dont want to go into a corner with unless you have a helmet, a visor, a mouthguard and a well-buckled chinstrap.

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.