Ray Ratto

Sharks slowly sneaking onto the list of off-brand teams that could make a deep run

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AP

Sharks slowly sneaking onto the list of off-brand teams that could make a deep run

We put a lot of stock in “being under the radar,” as though the defining metric for anything is whether or not we pay attention to them.

This, of course, is insane, but it is a tribute to our ability to define all things based on the narcissism that comes with believing the galactic central point. It’s a lot like “he or she is the best player I ever saw,” as though you’re the one who defines such things.

That said, I give you the San Jose Sharks, who are slowly sneaking onto the list of off-brand teams that could make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not deep enough to get them a parade or even a reprise of their 2016 Finals run, in all likelihood, but deeper than you thought when Joe Thornton crumpled two months ago.

It wasn’t just their 2-1 overtime win against Vegas, the NHL’s version of America’s Sweethearts, though that didn’t hurt. It wasn’t just their secondary metrics, which put them smack dab in the middle of the league, if not slightly below. And it isn’t as though they are radically different with Evander Kane, their trade deadline rental-with-an-option-to-buy.

No, San Jose has readjusted on the fly to deal with its changed circumstances, at least enough to establish one noteworthy advantage over its competitors.

They own their division more completely than any other team (20-4-3, and given the NHL’s playoff format they wouldn’t have to play outside their division until the Western Conference Final. And since their first two opponents will be Pacific Division opponents, the Sharks have a way to establish their mode of play that they would not have were they playing a team from the Central.

They match up best against Los Angeles, against which they are currently matched, with a convincing 3-1 record; against Anaheim, the other first-round alternative, they are also 3-1, though two of the wins and the loss occurred in a shootout.

Then if they get around that hurdle, they would draw Vegas, which is essentially The Team The Entire Hockey World Is Rooting For. Vegas has won two of the three matches with one to go, but each team has won an overtime game.

In other words, the Sharks’ first two opponents would likely be some combination of teams they have beaten seven times in eight regulation games, and are 3-2 in coin-flip games.

You’d take those odds, a hell of a lot sooner than a first-rounder against Nashville, Winnipeg or Minnesota, and maybe even Colorado. It is therefore helpful that the Sharks play each of them once before the regular season ends, to provide a bit more input for our pending miscalculations.

Series are not macro, after all, and matchups against individual teams matter more than records against whole divisions. Moreover, the Stanley Cup Playoffs do not necessarily go to the team with the best record but to the healthiest team with the goaltender playing the best. In that way, they more routinely represent your 2018 NCAA bracket than your NBA Playoff bracket, where the chalk prevails an inordinate amount of time.

Point is, the Sharks haven’t really inspired the outside world much – that under-the-radar thing again – but they represent the solid counterpuncher who ought to at the bare minimum punish the team that beats them sufficiently to make that team’s passage through the subsequent rounds considerably more difficult. That is more than anyone thought they would do once Thornton went down, but less than the level of notoriety of about eight other teams. They are not invisible, but they are hard to find.

But maybe if they hired a nonagenarian member of the clergy to hang around and offer scouting reports to Peter DeBoer, they could become media darlings, for what that may be worth. And let’s face it, you mock Sister Jean at your peril.

No matter how much Steve Kerr makes in his next contract, he will be undercompensated

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AP

No matter how much Steve Kerr makes in his next contract, he will be undercompensated

Steve Kerr either has completed or is about to complete negotiations on his new contract as the head coach of The Team That Ruined Everything, and we know one thing already.

He is still sadly undercompensated at any price.

Only this isn’t because his boss is a cheapskate. Joe Lacob does not squeeze the wallets of those to whom he owes a debt, and Kerr is owed a massive one. Three rings say so.

But Lacob’s climb in the national consciousness is tied to the work of many others, and Kerr is one of those, so if his new contract pays him twice his current $5 million per annum or even more, it’s still less than it ought to be.

[LISTEN: Warriors Outsiders Podcast -- Will Steve Kerr get $10 million annually?]

And yet Kerr is fortunate that he didn’t win the Stanley Cup. There, the prize is only $300,000, take it or leave it. And Barry Trotz, the head coach of the Washington Capitals who no longer is, decided to leave it.

It does bring us to an interesting conundrum, namely finding the answer to the question, “What’s the love of a city worth to you?” Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Capitals who decided to lowball the only coach who ever gave him a parade, decided that the principle of not overcompensating a coach is worth more than the best moment he has ever had as a sports owner. Lacob, on the other hand, pays for his parades and the people who make them possible.

There is a measurable but also quantifiable difference between those two positions, and the word “gratitude” comes immediately to mind.

But the words Caps general manager Brian McLellan used were “high character and integrity,” and he used them to describe Trotz while he explained how the further care and grooming of the Cupholders could no longer use such a man in their employ.

No, this was about a plan to fire Trotz if he didn’t win the Cup (or, in the parlance of the day, “choose not to renew his contract,” or the even newer one, “choose to part ways”) that backfired because he got his players to do just that. It’s almost as if he screwed the organization by giving it a championship.

Oh, there will be other explanations offered in the next day or two as to why this had to be done for the good of the franchise, and how Trotz was surely losing the team while guiding it eagerly to the thing hockey players crave most.

But mostly, this was about valuing a once-in-a-lifetime moment at 20 percent of a man’s annual salary because, well, damn it, a deal’s a deal, and it’s just a coach and you can find them anywhere.

Of course you can. Cup-winning coaches are a dime a dozen – 52 total, or 14 percent of all the men who ever coached in the NHL. It’s a job so easy that most baristas could do it while foaming your latte.

Except that it isn’t, and never has been. Steve Kerr, who allegedly has the easiest job in NBA history, can vouch for how hard the Warriors’ third championship was, with the best team of its era. Joe Lacob can vouch for it, too, and is.

Oh, there will be a time when Kerr might be called overpaid, after the championship window has closed and the Warriors flail to repeat what it is doing now with such facility. But he will know he was treated well for those three Larry O’Briens, and that they now have a value of their own.

Specifically, about 10 Stanley Cups worth. Weird, because I always was told the Cup is the greatest trophy in sports. Now, it’s worth $300K, because Ted Leonsis said so. How lucky Kerr is to work for a guy who thinks about the long game, and the many millions more he made by going pocketward when it was the right time to do so.

 

Winning bid for 2026 World Cup highlights America’s ability to throw massive party, not grow the sport

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AP

Winning bid for 2026 World Cup highlights America’s ability to throw massive party, not grow the sport

The United States’ pre-eminent role in world soccer was reaffirmed Wednesday when the 2026 World Cup bid it shared with Canada and Mexico was approved by FIFA.

And when we say “pre-eminent role,” yes, we mean money – the official language of FIFA. I mean, the United bid threw so much promised money at FIFA that it didn’t even have to spend a lot of time apologizing for the current U.S. administration, which is a great deal of money indeed.

But the bid, which crushed one from Morocco, was also described by U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro as a likely catalyst for greater expansion of the sport in the U.S., to perhaps as many as 10 million registered soccer players from a current level of four million.

But we had been led to believe by soccer people that the expansion fight had already been won. And which, we were assured, was the reason for the 1994 World Cup, the last one held in the U.S.

In fact, linking the World Cup to soccer growth in America has always been a tenuous one. The sport grows at its own pace, and even after that World Cup and the creation and multiple expansions of Major League Soccer, the game’s hold in America is still fungible. Those four million registered players in America are out of 330 million, 1.2 percent, a similar percentage to 1994, and the 2026 World Cup is somehow supposed to fix that.

Well, that isn’t how these things work. The World Cup will generate billions in revenue (though the bid’s estimate of $14 billion seems wildly high), and rich folks will get richer. But this is more an acknowledgement of America’s ability to throw a massive party than its ability to grow the sport.

You see, the spectacle, and the money it churns, is still America’s most enduring link to the sport. Winning the 2026 bid is largely being framed as a grand consolation prize for the U.S. team throwing up all over itself and failing to qualify for the 2018 Mundial, which begins Thursday morning.

But it doesn’t truly affect “the growth of the game” because most of the money that will come in, estimate or no, will be great for the business of the sport. That’s where it traditionally stops. It will not create, and is not designed to create, the kind of fundamental changes that will make the U.S. more than a third-tier nation in terms of talent spotted and developed.

That will take more and more purposeful work, and the financial windfall of a World Cup is not the same as growing the sport. Period.

So yes, by all means hail the United bid (as it is called) is a triumph for North American soccer. But it’s mostly a triumph for money . . . as these things typically are.