Ray Ratto

Sharks forced to test youth in net


Sharks forced to test youth in net

Imagine your panic if you replaced the name goaltender Antero Niittymaki with goaltender Evgeni Nabokov two years ago. Youd be biting the heads off whippets.

Or you wouldnt be a Sharks fan. There is also that possibility.

But Niittymakis injury, which is expected to take him out until the new year or close to it, merely means that the Sharks are going to have to finally see what they have in Thomas Greiss. And if they dont like the answers they get there, maybe Alex Stalock.

Either way, losing Niittymaki and not being sure that starting goalie Antti Niemi will be ready for the opening bell puts San Jose and head coach Todd McLellan in their first real pickle of the new season, and it also solves a problem at the same time.

Namely, how to prioritize their young goalies.

Greiss was the next hot thing until he wasnt, and then it was Stalock, and then it was Harri Sateri. Only none of them really fit the bill for Doug Wilson, and we know that because the Sharks signed Niittymaki to a two-year deal and then Niemi to a four-year not exactly proof that they love the stable.

Now they have to make decisions, and use the overflow as bait for another wing, perhaps, or depth on defense. And they will have make them the old-fashioned way by seeing them against the best talent in the world.

If this sounds like proclaiming the glass half-full, it isnt. They could all bomb, for example, and learning you have no goalie depth is no more heartwarming than wondering how much you have.

But we saw how bad San Jose could be in net, and all through the roster for that matter, last winter. They needed three months to scare themselves into thinking they werent a bad team, so having depth problems in net isnt nearly the disaster in October that it would be in February.

I mean, there is that.

But it is a discovery McLellan would rather not have had to make, and the first reminder to the faithful that no matter how many people liked the Sharks offseason, the antes and blinds get higher now. Much much higher.

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


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


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.