Ray Ratto

Ratto: Despite run, no separation for Sharks


Ratto: Despite run, no separation for Sharks

Feb. 16, 2011


Ray Ratto

In the last month, the Sharks have cured themselves of their most pernicious impulses the ones that whisper in their heads, Youre fine right here at the blue line. Someone else can backcheck this shift, and Youre a skill team first, youre a skill team first.

We know this because in that month, theyve gone 10-2-0-1, averaging almost three goals and allowing fewer than two per game. Next to Vancouver, which is the best team in the West, Minnesota, which plays nothing but defense, and Calgary, which was dead and now is anything but, it is the best goal differential in the conference over that span.

RELATED: NHL Conference standings
But you know why the games played early the ones that the Sharks gave away while they were having their crises of identity -- matter? Because other teams are hot now, too, and there are too many teams still in play for them to feel anything but the adrenalized panic of knowing there are no more days off. This morning, only two teams can be safely pronounced as dead, Colorado and Edmonton, and a third, St. Louis, has never really enjoyed a stretch where one could say, Theyre about ready to break out. In fact, here are the standings since January 15, and make of these what you will: TEAM W L OTL SOL PTS GF GA
CALGARY 10 2 2 1 23 57 42
SAN JOSE 10 2 0 1 21 37 25
VANCOUVER 8 3 2 2 20 47 32
MINNESOTA 9 3 18 38 22
LOS ANGELES 8 3 1 1 18 29 21
NASHVILLE 7 5 2 1 17 38 34
ANAHEIM 8 3 16 35 30
COLUMBUS 7 3 1 1 16 39 32
PHOENIX 8 6 16 39 38
DETROIT 7 5 14 36 37
DALLAS 5 7 1 11 33 34
CHICAGO 4 4 3 11 35 34
ST. LOUIS 4 5 2 1 11 31 40
EDMONTON 3 11 1 7 33 48
COLORADO 2 10 4 23 52
What they tell me is this: The Sharks have discovered what they are truly good at, have played their tails to the coccyx, have had as good a run as theyve had in some time, and havent really separated themselves from any part of the field not called Edmonton, Colorado or St. Louis.
You cannot reasonably argue that they have been the best team in the West because that is Calgary, which was 14th and only eight points of Edmonton at the time. Nor can you envy them over Vancouver, even though Vancouver goes through defensemen they way you go through socks. But Calgary gave up a lot more ground early than San Jose did, and Vancouver wins all the time. But everyone else? Detroit: Showing a bit of wear despite a light schedule. Phoenix: The epitome of the average team, except that they stink at home. Anaheim: Not many games, but won most of them. Dallas: Running out of steam, and now without Brad Richards, whom they are thinking of trading anyway. Nashville: The best goalie and the best defense pairs overcome a dreadful attack. Minnesota: Todd Richards had no problem getting his team to understand its identity, unlike his mentor, Todd McLellan. Los Angeles: Like Nashville, is defense first. Has the best goal differential of any Pacific Division team, and still sits last. Chicago: Stuck in the mud all year long. Comes from knowing your best days are in the rear-view mirror. Columbus: 7-3-1-1 is a decent record. Going from 13th to 12th isnt that impressive. In summation, the Sharks were 11th but in the race a month ago. Now, after playing their best hockey their best way and without having any injuries to speak of, theyre seventh and in the race. What theyve done, then, is enjoy the benefits of Dallas coming back to the pack and play just slightly better than Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix. But out of the woods they clearly are not. Theyve learned who they are, which certainly beats continuing to delude themselves, but the conference hasnt gotten any easier to solve. Lesson: November, December and January may not seem like much to you, but it makes an enormous difference. In this case, the difference between home safe and dry and worrying about first-round matchups, and in the middle of a thicket that shows no signs of getting any less thorny.

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


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.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.