Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks get their top-class defenseman


Ratto: Sharks get their top-class defenseman

June 24, 2011


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Lets put it this way: Brent Burns, who is a good defenseman, better be really good now.

Burns, one of the Minnesota Wilds best backliners, now creates a seismic shift in the Sharks defense, coming west in exchange for Devin Setoguchi, who had just been signed to a three-year extension Thursday, and prized 2010 draft choice Charlie Coyle.

The money was not quite a wash, as Burns is due 4 million in 2012, the last year of his contract, with a 3.55M cap hit, while Setoguchi will make 2.75M with a cap hit of 3M.

But lets ignore the money now that its been committed, and get to the real point. A day after giving every indication that the team was holding firm with its core forwards, the Sharks peeled off one of them to address the more persistent and pressing need.

NEWS: Sharks trade Setoguchi, 28th pick to Wild

Burns, who played in the NHL All-Star Game this year, actually outscored Setoguchi last year, 46-41, which either makes him the new Dan Boyle or the new offensive option on the second pairing with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. At 6-5, 220, he provides a level of size the Sharks really havent had at the blue line since Mike Rathje.

Thus, the obvious question of why the Wild would do what seems to be a meh deal for them, and the answer would seem to be Coyle, who played at Boston University and the U.S. team at the world junior championships. At 6-2, 205 and the rookie of the year in Hockey East, Coyle has the ubiquitous up-side for a team in Minnesota that needs to get younger and better offensively.

As for Setoguchi, the signing Thursday was played by general manager Doug Wilson as a further cementing of the offensive core of the team. Now that his real intent has been revealed, it leaves one to wonder if Joe Pavelski might also be in play for the right offer. That seems daft, but so did moving Setoguchi after giving him what amounted to a 66 percent raise after a streaky but problematic year.

The assumption will linger that the Sharks overpaid here, but their forward depth (Setoguchi is not an indispensable winger on this team) and their need for the kind of defense help Burns should provide made whatever overpayment seem prudent. In addition, the Sharks dont normally move forwards who bloom in other situations, so what seems like a get for Minnesota may not turn out to be so unless the Wild are prepared to make a quantum leap offensively.

NEWS: NHL Draft preview: Sharks' focus is defense

They have been above average in goals scored only once in their 11-year history, and perhaps Setoguchi is their ticket (Martin Havlat led them in goals last year with 22, one more than Setoguchi had in what was considered an off-year).

For San Jose, though, Burns opens up vistas that the playoffs revealed were a problem last year. Burns will be on the power play (he had eight last year), and presumably will serve on the penalty kill as well, although many penalties the Sharks need to kill may well be his (he had 98 penalty minutes a year ago).

Plus, he looks a bit like Zdeno Chara in the right light, if that matters to you.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

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.