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

Sharks have bevy of young defensemen to replace Schlemko

Sharks have bevy of young defensemen to replace Schlemko

CHICAGO – If there were a best-case scenario for the Sharks regarding the expansion draft, it probably would have been the Vegas Golden Knights selecting Mikkel Boedker, and the three years and $12 million remaining on his contract.

Instead, the Golden Knights swiped David Schlemko. While the 30-year-old was a nice third pair defenseman in his only year with the Sharks, it was probably the second-best case from San Jose’s perspective. The team should be able to fill the vacancy internally without too much difficulty. Schlemko had two goals and 18 points in 62 games last season, and has three years left on his contract at $2.1 million annually.

“I think it’s worked out well for all parties involved,” said general manager Doug Wilson. “You go into expansion, you know you’re going to lose a player. David came in and played well for us. We signed him as a free agent, so we didn’t have to give up an asset to get him. So, we think we moved through the expansion phase with the good young players coming in that are ready to play and compete for that spot. That’s probably as good as we could have expected to come out of expansion, in that position.”

If there are no other major moves on the Sharks’ blue line this offseason, the spot to play alongside Brenden Dillon will be there for the taking in training camp. There’s no reason, of course, to break up the top four of Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun, and Brent Burns-Paul Martin.

Dylan DeMelo would figure to have the inside track on the job, but there are others like Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan, each of whom signed two-year contract extensions on June 17. They served as the AHL Barracuda’s top defense pair for most of the season.

The 24-year-old Ryan, a sixth round pick in 2012, posted 10 goals and 49 points in 65 games last season in the AHL. He was recalled once by the Sharks but did not play. Heed, 26, is an offensive defenseman that tallied 14 goals and 56 points in 55 games with the Barracuda and played in one game with the Sharks on Jan. 11 in Calgary. Ryan is a left-handed shot; Heed, like Schlemko and DeMelo, shoots right.

Regarding Ryan, Wilson said: “He’s right on track. He’s the type of guy that – if you look around the league at the number of young defensemen that are making an impact – he thinks and plays the game the right way.”

“Watching [Ryan and Heed] play together, I would say they were arguably the best defense pair in the AHL last year.”

There are other defensemen to monitor, too. The Sharks signed soon-to-be 25-year-old Czech Radim Simek to a one-year contract on May 23, beating out several of other NHL teams to acquire his services. 

“He’s a puck-moving guy,” Wilson said. “He’s got a little bite to him, too. Not tall, but thick and strong. We think he’s a guy that has the skill set to step right in and play. We’ll see how much time it takes him to adjust to the smaller rink.”

And don’t forget about Jeremy Roy, either. The first pick of the second round in the deep 2015 draft (31st overall), Roy is expected to join the organization next season, likely starting his pro career with the Barracuda after recovering from a significant knee injury that ended his junior season in late October.

“He had a major repair, but he’s back healthy,” Wilson said. “We’ll see him this summer, and he’s a puck-moving guy. … Injuries you can’t control, but we have high expectations for Jeremy.”

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Vegas shipped Schlemko to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday for a fifth round pick in the 2019 draft.

Sharks prepare for 2017 NHL Draft with eight picks in hand

Sharks prepare for 2017 NHL Draft with eight picks in hand

CHICAGO – The glass-half-full observer looks at Sharks’ recent draft record and sees some late round picks that could be on the cusp of making the NHL on a full time basis. 

Defenseman Joakim Ryan (7th round, 2012), center Danny O’Regan (5th round, 2012) and forward Kevin Labanc (6th round, 2014) have all exceeded expectations so far. Dylan DeMelo (6th round, 2011) could also be included in that group.

The glass-half-empty observer, though, sees that the Sharks have traded away a pair of recent first rounders that didn’t pan out. Nikolay Goldobin (27th overall, 2014) was dealt to Vancouver in late February for Jannik Hansen and a fourth round pick, while Mirco Mueller (18th overall, 2013) is off to New Jersey for a pair of picks in this year’s draft.

It’s all part of the uncertainty of selecting what are mostly teenagers in the annual NHL Entry Draft, which takes place at Chicago’s United Center this weekend. The Sharks’ first pick during Friday night’s first round sits at 19th overall, and they have seven more selections on Saturday when rounds two-through-seven take place.

Doug Wilson is used to picking in the mid-to-late first round, as the Sharks have missed the playoffs just once under his 14-year watch.

“I think we always take the best player available,” he said. “I think it’s a good draft. … We feel pretty comfortable at 19 we’ll get a pretty good player.”

The Sharks have never selected 19th, and Wilson left open the possibility that they could move up or down.

“People move up and down all the time. We’ve got a history of doing that so teams do reach out to us,” he said.

The Sharks moved up to pick Mueller in 2013, sending a second round pick to Detroit to jump ahead two places in a deal that now looks regrettable. The next year, they moved down seven spots before selecting Goldobin.

Less than a week ago, the Sharks didn’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds. But in dealing Mueller (and a fifth rounder this year) to the Devils, they acquired second and fourth round picks from New Jersey (49 and 123 overall). They also have a pair of sixth round picks and three in the seventh round.

While this year’s draft isn’t thought to be especially strong, Wilson still expects there to be some good players available after the first round. Getting some assets in exchange for Mueller, who had been passed over in the organization, was critical.

“I think it was important for us to fill in the grid like we did. I think it’s a good draft,” Wilson said. “Realistically, it’s probably not a Connor McDavid-Auston Matthews type draft, but there are some very good players in this draft that will go on and have very good careers.”

As for losing Mueller and Goldobin recently, the general manager seemed to say that that those are the breaks when you’re a team doesn’t make one of the first few selections.

“First of all, you’ve got to clarify where we pick and have picked. You’re not talking about top five picks or lottery picks, so often – and this is not to take away from Mirco and Goldie, because they’re really good players and good kids – you move players when you’re trying to win or trying to make things happen,” he said. 

“Historically, our scouts have done an outstanding job, one of the best records for a scouting staff in the league, since 2003 in particular. But, you can’t be afraid to be bold and move things.”

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Although the Sharks have never made a pick in the 19th overall spot, they’ve been around it. Players include Tomas Hertl (17th overall, 2012), Marcel Goc (20th overall, 2001) and Marco Sturm (21st overall, 1996). 

Some notable players around the league taken 19th overall include Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay, 2012), Oscar Klefbom (Edmonton, 2011), Nick Bjugstad (Florida, 2010), Chris Kreider (Rangers, 2009), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim, 2003) and Keith Tkachuk (Winnipeg, 1990).

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The Sharks will hold their annual development camp from July 3-7 at their practice facility. It includes a scrimmage at SAP Center on Thursday, July 6.