Ray Ratto

Goalie situation unsettled for Sharks

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Goalie situation unsettled for Sharks

Todd McLellan has replayed 2010-11 all he can; he has reviewed what happened and didnt, what he could have done and what he shouldnt have, and why the Sharks ultimately ended where they did, and how they got to here.

And he neither smiles nor frowns much, so it is correctly assumed that he is punched out on last year.

This year, though, he is fervently noncommittal. Even on his starting goaltender, who looks more and more like Thomas Greiss rather than Antti Niemi due to Niemi's still-cranky knee.

On paper, we ought to be better, the Sharks coach said as he leaned back in his chair mentally surveying the locker room directly ahead and separated by dry wall. Not on paper, well found out quick enough.

He likes this team a tick better than the one he left last training camp with. I think weve had a better camp. Weve worked a little harder, weve done things a little differently, and were deeper, he said. I think guys get it. I mean, you dont know until youve played some games, so Im not trying to assume too much, but were pretty much where we ought to be right now.

Well, not entirely. He already has a hole in goal, where Antero Niittymaki is still months away from playing, and Niemis knee (cyst, surgery) is still not behaving as a proper knee should, so although nothing has been announced, the increasingly heavy betting is for Greiss to start Saturdays season opener against Phoenix.

This does not suggest Niemis knee will still be balky a week from Friday in Anaheim, or Saturday at home against St. Louis. But it is a noteworthy development in a camp that has really only had three: Niemis knee, Martin Havlats vexing shoulder, which has not yet been cleared for full-contact fun, and Brett Burns, the upright freezer-sized defenseman whose principal duty has been to hear McLellan tell him not to worry about the expectations of a hungry world.

Ive told him he needs to do the simple things, that he doesnt need to be extraordinary, McLellan said. He doesnt have to make any impression with us except that he knows what he want him to do.

The rest of it has been standard camp whatnot, with only the occasional tweak to the routine, like using two rinks in practice so that resurfacing doesnt eat up 10 minutes of practice time. It seems moderately anal behavior, but McLellans focus is simply to break routine. He starts practices earlier, they go longer, and meetings are moved up and back almost at whim. Except with McLellan, whim is pretty much going to the odd ballgame in mid-summer. Once the job beckons, he is there for the duration.

It was a very quick summer, he said. Barely time to collect yourself. The draft, the trades, camp. It just sort of flew by. We wanted to be fully focused and ready as we could be so that we didnt have to do what we had to last year.

That is, to fritter away three months and change looking like the Ottawa Senators.

I cant really quantify how much that did or didnt hurt us, though you sort of know that it wasnt the way we wanted to do things, he said. It leaves too much to chance, and forced to do a lot of things we didnt want to do -- play the goaltender (Niemi) too many games in a row, play some guys too many minutes for too many games, things like that.

The whole idea is not to have to do that again, he said, leaning forward. I mean , look at the playoffs. The teams that built up the cushions and knew where they were going to be wended up in the Finals.

That wasnt San Jose. And this might not be San Jose, either. There is still the nagging sense that until they show they can start fast, they should be expected not to do so. Then again, they have started fast in other years, and still limped into the playoffs.

Well, there are things you can control, and things you cant, McLellan said. Theres paper, and theres not paper.

Paperwork is due Saturday morning. Not paper is way harder. And nothing reminds a fellow of the capricious nature of the no paper season quite like not having your goalie for the opener.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

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MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

The San Jose Earthquakes cheated the reaper Sunday, which is news in and of itself. I mean, they’re a playoff team so rarely that getting to a 35th game is quite the achievement, and they should not begin the arduous process of sobering up until Tuesday morning.

I mean, their playoff game with Vancouver is Wednesday night, so slapping themselves back into form is probably a priority.

They got an improbable stoppage time goal from Marco Urena Sunday against Minnesota to sneak through the back door into the final Western Conference playoff spot Sunday, their first appearance in the postseason in five years. It was as electrifying a moment as Avaya Stadium has seen since it opened, and one of the best goals in franchise history if only for its importance.

That said, the Quakes also enter the postseason with a losing record (13-14-7) and the worst goal difference (minus-21) for any playoff team in league history. They are the most cinder-based of the league’s Cinderella stories, and are dismissed with prejudice by most observers as being as one-and-done as one-and-done can be without being none-and-done.

This is a league, though, that has respected timing more than dominance. In 2016, the Montreal Impact finished last in the East and got to the conference final; in 2012, Houston (which was a relocated Quakes team) just snuck in to the postseason and reached the final; in 2005 and 2009, the worst (Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake) ended up first.

In other words, the Quakes’ pedigree, modest though it is, still allows it a counterpuncher’s chance. Its attack, which is third-worst in the league, playoffs or no, is matched by its defense, which is fourth-worst in the league. Their years as a de facto vehicle for Chris Wondolowski are coming to a close, sooner rather than later. They are in no way an elegant team. They are working on their second coach of the year (Chris Leitch).

But therein lies their mutating charm. Their postseason pedigree stinks, but there is a no compelling reason why they cannot cheat a result or two. After all, the lower scoring a sport is, the greater chance for an upset, and the Quakes’ history screams that no franchise could use one more.

So they head for Vancouver, a raucous crowd and a difficult side, carrying with them only their humble resume and the indomitable cheek demanded of the upstart. I mean, anybody in their right mind would much prefer the Whitecaps’ chances, but you gotta be who you gotta be.

Plus, the Quakes are getting a 35th game, which is more than they had a right to expect, all things considered.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

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Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.