Winter Classic cancelled, NHL's gothic hamster wheel turns unabated

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Winter Classic cancelled, NHL's gothic hamster wheel turns unabated

The National Hockey League announced today that because the children keep giving them sass, nobody can go to the fair in January, because there ain't gonna be no fair. And if nobody can go to the fair because the fairgrounds have been closed, you can probably figure spring break is canceled too, and so are all those end-of-school parties.

Which is the properly demeaning of way of saying the league trotted out Vice-Bettman Bill Daly Friday to announce the cancellation of the Winter Classic, the combination All-Star GameOpening Daytrade show that is really none of those things. It is for them merely a season premiere to a show that the owners now dont actually want to stage. And if you dont want to stage a play, you dont really need the actors, or the first act, do you?

By now, though, theres no longer any reason for you to get mad about this new development, or the cancellation of the season that will follow. You all saw it coming, even you blindly optimistic ones. Thats the beauty of a flawlessly executed plan even the collateral damage ends up whistling in admiration.

Because ultimately, thats what this is. A flawlessly executed plan by men who own hockey teams but dont really care all that much whether hockey is actually produced in their factories. And why should you, the collateral damage, care more about something than the people who allegedly are in charge of production? That is a level of insanity that makes even German philosophers blanch.

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And buy me no buts about how much you love the game. Everybody loves the game, or says they do, but when you, the average consumer, says it, it makes you sound like a mark to them. Theyre banking on you still loving it when this little dance is done this summer, because thats how its happened before.

Thats the amazing thing here. This has happened before, in 2004, with all the same steps that led to it. Its not a matter of nobody learning the lessons of 2004. Its a matter of them knowing the steps, enjoying their familiarity, and hitting every one of them in order.

You know what they are. The initial insulting offer, the counter-proposal dismissed out of hand, the exchange of We want to talk but they dont neener-neeners, the army of media policy wonks who haul out power point presentations and create ways that an equitable deal can be forged (while forgetting that an equitable deal is the last thing any of the principals wants), then the wringing of hands, the fake-regretful press releases, the boo-boo-kitty faces and then a resumption the next year to much signing and praise for reasonable men reaching reasonable solutions.

Which of course is just the manure train making its scheduled end-of-the-day stop.

We are here because the high-revenue owners want the players to cover the low-revenue owners shortfalls. We are here because the owners in the middle dont have the stones to organize and challenge the status quo in their own organizations. We are here because we were here before, and will be here again because we are here now. It is a gothic hamster wheel, and everybody spins until the dizziness overcomes them and they need to sit down.

This is how the whole CBA negotiation board game is meant to be played, with a mean-spirited sameness that the outside world should already recognize. This is not and never has been about two sides striking a deal that makes everyone happy, but one side striking the other side with blunt objects until victory through pay garnishment is achieved.

In 2005, when the last CBA was struck, the owners were very happy because the union was left in shards. Then individual owners started figuring out ways to circumvent their own deal, the wealthy and committed ones spent to their capacity by preying on the ones who had no capacity, and the deal collapsed under the added strain. And this deal will too, not long after it is forged this coming summer, for the very same reasons.

And thats the last thing to remember here. Deals fail because owners circumvent them, because greed and the competitive urges of the powerful are always mightier than a handshake and a signature. And well be doing this again in five years, or seven, or nine, depending on how long the principals want to rest up before the next go-round.

And you shouldnt get mad about that one, either, because you should know the book by now. After all, theyve made you read it three times in 18 years, and even you can digest Chaucer in Mandarin if immersed in it repeatedly.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

SAN JOSE – To borrow a phrase from Chuck Woolery, Todd McLellan was back in two and two.

Saturday’s Game 6 between the Sharks and Oilers marked exactly two years and two days since the Sharks-McLellan love connection was broken up, as the coach and his staff were all essentially fired on April 20, 2015. But McLellan and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft quickly resurfaced with the Oilers a few weeks later, and now they’re moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the expense of their former employer.

At what was his home for seven seasons, McLellan took the press conference podium at SAP Center as the victorious visiting coach after Edmonton’s 3-1 win clinched the series in six games. Asked what the moment meant to him, McLellan preferred not to focus on himself or his staff.

“It’s not about Todd, it’s not about Jay or Jimmy. It’s about the Oilers and the group of players there that are growing up in front of us,” McLellan said.

“We’re part of this team now. I obviously have a soft spot for a lot of the players that are here in San Jose. They gave us a hell of a series. They helped us grow up by pushing us, and we’re lucky to get through. That’s an important thing for us.”

Amazingly, the Oilers managed to prevail with just one even strength point from Connor McDavid, who led the league in scoring in the regular season. That point came with less than a second remaining on the clock on Sunday when McDavid converted on an empty net.

The focus from the outside, among many of the Edmonton and San Jose media, was that the Sharks were doing an admirable job of defending the 20-year-old, who had 30 goals and 100 points in the regular season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, in particular, were keeping McDavid frustrated.

While that may be the case, McLellan said after Game 6 that he had no problem with the McDavid vs. Vlasic showdown. In his view, the Oilers could win the series elsewhere.

“There was a lot of talk in this series about us trying to get Connor away from Vlasic and Braun. Obviously we don’t want to talk about it during the series, but we had an eye on [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] against [Joe Thornton’s] line, especially since they put them together. That was a match we were looking for.

“You can’t get everything. When you’re a coach, the media experts find something and they keep going to it. But coaches have different plans sometimes. Peter [DeBoer] had his plan, we had ours. Ours wasn’t about getting Connor away from Vlasic and Braun, ours was getting [Nugent-Hopkins] on the ice against [Joe] Pavelski and Jumbo and Patty Marleau. For the most part, it worked in our favor.”

It worked, because as the stars on both teams were essentially neutralized, the Oilers’ depth players contributed just a little bit more than the Sharks group did and at more opportune times.

Zack Kassian had a pair of game-winning goals in games two and three; David Desharnais was the Game 5 hero with a game-tying assist and game-winning goal; and Anton Slepyshev posted the game-winner with a breakaway in Game 6. Not exactly big names.

DeBoer was particularly disappointed with Game 3, a 1-0 loss on Kassian’s third period goal; and Game 5, in which the Sharks had a 3-1 lead that they couldn’t protect. That the Sharks only got one power play goal in 18 chances not counting the Game 4 blowout was also one of the reasons for their downfall.

“If you had told me before the series we would have held McDavid in check, we would have won the special teams battle on paper, I probably would have felt pretty good about our chances,” DeBoer said.

Instead, McLellan will take his up-and-coming team to the next round, where it will face off with the Anaheim Ducks.

“For our team, we’re watching them grow up right in front of us, which is a great thing,” he said.

 

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.