Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks pulling out all the stops


Ratto: Sharks pulling out all the stops


MONTREAL, QC -- A quiet morning in Montreal, and things are afoot with the Sharks. Not big things, mind you, and not permanent ones, either. In fact, what we saw might have only been operative for the morning skate at CentreBell after San Jose's 3-1 loss Saturday to the Canadiens.
REWIND: Sharks stifled in Montreal
But there it was anyway - Patrick Marleau, wearing the teal practice jersey of a third liner and spending the pre-practice talking with (well, listening to, mostly) heads coach Todd McLellan about the difference between his performance Saturday and what will be required of him Monday in Detroit. "We talk all the time, so the only real difference is that you saw us," McLellan said. "We might just do this today and see how it goes, but mostly we talked about we want to see him get a little closer to the blue paint (the crease in front of the net), to try and get some rebounds, create some more chances." Marleau wasn't the only culprit, although he has come to wear that tag often in his career. But there is logic in breaking up the Joe Thornton-Marleau-Dany Heatley line to see if Marleau can invigorate not only himself but also the equally struggling Joe Pavelski-Jamie McGinn-Torrey Mitchell line. Mitchell looks like the choice to take Marleau's place on the Thornton line based on Sunday's skate, but nothing is set in, well, anything, really. The more material change comes on defense, where Mike Moore was reassigned to Worcester in the American Hockey League, the firmest indication that Jason Demers is back and available. McLellan, though, said that both he and Niclas Wallin were options for Monday night against the Wings, who are coming back home after a 3-2 overtime loss in Los Angeles. McLellan also picked out the fourth line of Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers and John McCarthy for increased energy against the Wings after being outplayed by Montreal's group of Mathieu Darche, Benoit Pouliot and Lars Eller. "We need the same tenacity we saw in Ottawa (Thursday night)," McLellan said. "They have to play to that standard. They can't play to a different level. They were reminded of that the way, and they played better in Ottawa. I'd like to see that same investment every day." Right now, the scholarship line is Logan CoutureRyane CloweBenn Ferriero, which continued to be a clear difference-maker against the Canadiens. But perhaps this tweakage will shrink the difference between their performance as a unit and those of the other three groups. San Jose is tied for 10th with St. Louis (same record, slightly better goal difference), and other than a stretch in early November have not really put a roll together, as they have in past seasons. They are currently on a seven-game run of alternating results, but could, with a win on Monday and the right other results go from 11th to fifth, and from last in the Pacific Division to tied for first. That, though, is not relevant to the point McLellan tried to make of and with Marleau Sunday morning. The Sharks are in one of those stretches they occasionally have in which they play to the level of exertion they want to expend rather than the level they must, and as a result are off to what can only be considered a profoundly disappointing start. Moving Marleau is not an answer, nor is it even good scapegoating. It is a measure of the fact that the Sharks do not have the same margins they had even last year. Maybe they lose that game to the Canadiens anyway; Carey Price was very good in goal, and Tomas Plekanec had the run of the rink. But they rarely play so horribly that you think they stink. Their problems come when it's hard to differentiate one player from the next, because when they are indistinguishable, they are beatable. And it gets no easier tomorrow or Wednesday in Philadelphia.What's on your mind? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

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.