With the world thinking this morning of Barack Obama and the local, national and global ramifications of the election, its nice to know that some things remain unchanged.Like Gary Bettman and Don Fehr in a room arguing about make-whole provisions.True, conflating the events of Tuesday and the non-events of the past several months is probably stretching the points well past its elasticity level, but the NHL lockout has already sped into comedy gridlock. A change of atmosphere seems impossible in the same room with the same players, so maybe changing the air outside will help.And if that doesnt do it, and the owners decide that no games at all are still the optimal solution, then thats how it has to be. If the hockey world cannot bend when the rest of the nation is showing its collective flexibility, then maybe a lost season is all that will save these guys from themselves.RELATED:End in sight? NHL, players bargain deep into nightPut another way, the owners already put two shotgun holes in the Winter Classic, and they dont have any more scheduling threats to run. Only an acknowledgement that this strategy isnt working, a full concession, or a moment of mad atmospheric inspiration saves this season.And of all the things on Obamas to-do list, putting up new sheet rock at the Romneys guest house master bathroom ranks higher than involving himself with the idiocies of the National Hockey League.Hence, the atmospheric inspiration theory. In the few days window after an election, when adrenaline is highest and the job of dashing ones hopes has not yet begun in earnest, one can sense a feeling that even the most intractable problems can be solved, even if they really cant.RELATED:Sharks hopeful talks lead to CBA progress; Boyle mumAnd in a world of stark reality, any illusion can serve as an icebreaker. No pun intended.You see, the NHL and its various minions have passed the point where victory can reasonably be declared by either side. The owners clearly didnt get their main goal, which was Fehr face down in a puddle. The players didnt win their core issue, which was the preservation of their four-sevenths of the revenue pie. And the philosophical argument who has to pay when franchises are run badly, their fellow owners or the players through salary concessions remains unanswered.And so it will be if this deal is ever to be made. It will be a cobbled-together settlement that makes both sides throw up in their mouths, and to date, that has been insufficiently appealing to either side, sure as they are in ultimate victory.Not unlike the country, to be frank. Obamas mandate is smaller, the House of Representatives remains proudly Republican and as such unrepentantly obstructionist. Without getting deeper into the morass of political analogy, the next four years will be four more years of hoisting a pipe organ up the side of a building by hand. Change is coming, but at an annoyingly incremental rate.Thus it will be with whatever the NHL decides to do with its business. It can do a deal just to do a deal and give Gary Bettman and the hardline owners a break from universal revulsion, and the union can agree while holding its nose, proclaiming that getting a point in the other guys building works just as well in the conference room as in the arena.But the longer this weeks negotiations grind on, the more likely that neither side will find such an agreement palatable, and weve pretty well reached the point where there is no more turning radius room before the abyss.So youre left to root for atmospherics, a sense that springs forth in the room of what the hell, if the country can figure out a way not to blow itself up, why dont we give it a go?Or maybe the NHL and NHLPA just needs to introduce a woman with a flag stuck in her hair into the room, just to stand behind whoever happens to be talking at any given moment. That seemed to work last night, and its not like these yobbos have any better ideas.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com
Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.
Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.
“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.
“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”
Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.
After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.
Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.
It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.
Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.
From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.
The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.
Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.
What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.
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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.
The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).
Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.
The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.
Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.
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Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.
Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.
In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.
The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.
It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.
The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.