Ray Ratto

Where Sharks fit in NHL labor fight


Where Sharks fit in NHL labor fight

With the NHL owners meetings scheduled for next month in Pebble Beach (and why is it never in Iqaluit, Nunavut, I ask), one of the topics will be conference realignment, which barely concerns you, since the Sharks are about as west as it gets and ain't getting any westier.

But it is reasonable to assume that next years CBA negotiations will come up as a topic as well, and there the Sharks will be in the middle of it, and heres how.

The people at Forbes Magazine, who apparently have copyrighted the concept of The List, have just issued its list of National Hockey League billionaires, doubtless in anticipation of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations with the NHL Players Association.

The 10 they listed, though, omitted two, including one that could buy Nos. 2 through 10. And because the upcoming CBA fight is not just about owner vs. player but owner vs. owner, this is fairly vital stuff. Because the true throw weight of owner power is not market size, but money that can be brought to bear to an argument.

The fight will be not just over reducing the players share of HRI (hockey related income) but over closing all the loopholes in a system that is a hard cap with plenty of holes in it.

And the reason why it should matter to you is because the third name on the list that should be, rather than the one that is, is the biggest player in the Sharks.

And no, we dont mean Kevin Compton, the front man. We mean Hasso Plattner, the retired 67-year-old German software magnate who is worth, by Forbes latest valuation, 6.9 billion. He has a serious piece of the action, but like anyone with that kind of jack, he can speak up when he wants and be confident that the only other noise in the room will be the air conditioner.

But the other omitted billionaire, Canadian David Thomson, who just bought and brought the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, beats em all, with a net worth of 23 billion. And when he sits down to make the case for the semi-disenfranchised 22 teams, he will be heard.

Of the men on the list, only Ilitch and Jacobs can be considered part of the sports traditional power base -- with Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal, Chicago, Vancouver and Washington. Burkle could be, though he has Mario Lemieux for the nuts and bolts work.

But the Sharks, who have been get-along-go-long types unwilling to buck the status quo, likely intend to be dung disturbers when the next rich-on-rich crime is discussed, and even if Plattner wont be in the room when the issues are hassled out, his wallet will be.

And lets be frank here -- the room is defined only partly by who shows up. It is defined far more clearly by who can buy whom.

The NBA has been contentious because the richest owners are outnumbered by the hardliners, and the hardliners want more than just an amicable agreement. They want the players under their thumbs again, or as much as they can in a multi-billion industry. This is not about money but about the more nebulous but more important matter of control.

In the NHL, its about changing the balance of power. The players union was dealt a two-hander across the wrist in 2004, but the economy has been kinder to the league because of the increased strength of the Canadian dollar. And with the money rising, some of the teams with thinner margins have been taking more of a squeezing while the big-money clubs dance cheerfully around the leagues hard cap.

Thus, the presence of Thomson, Anschutz and Plattner becomes compelling -- as long as the rest of the franchises adhere to their stance that the system has to change. This becomes a matter of having an important majority whip to keep the membership in line, something the owners never before thought was important because they routinely acquiesced to the powers that were.

How this impacts the negotiations with the players is anyones guess, but without a firm position the owners will be reduced to splitting into disgruntled groups and signing a deal theyll love for about 15 minutes until teams start figuring how to work around it and rendering it useless.

Toward that end, Don Fehr too will be paying close attention to the owners meeting. As the head of the NHLPA, hell want to know if hes dealing with smart people who like the doors open with people coming through them holding fistfuls of cash, or whether hes dealing with the ideologues, greedfaces and dullards who have turned the NBA into the Missouri Valley Conference.

For the moment, though, there are games. But if I were a Sharks fan, Id come to want to know a little more about the second-line veteran Plattner. He looks like the type you dont want to go into a corner with unless you have a helmet, a visor, a mouthguard and a well-buckled chinstrap.

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.