Sharks

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

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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AP

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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.

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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.