Ray Ratto

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nothing is done until it’s done, the fourth win is the hardest, and blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah. I’m still going to say this – the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Embryos are second-round opponents, and that’s the deal.
 
This means that for perhaps the first time since the Philadelphia Flyers’ terror cell known as the Broad Street Bullies of the mid-70s, there will be a clear, unambiguous and almost universal interest on one side of this equation.
 
And it isn’t going to be San Jose.
 
Vegas is Turbo-Cinderella, the expansion team that can’t be killed, a heartwarming tale of the meek kicking Earth’s ass. By winning more games by themselves than most full expansion classes in either hockey or basketball, the Knights have enveloped themselves in the admiration of the industry and even casual fans who know that expansion teams are required by federal and dominion law to stink. They are the perfect antidote to the inherent cynicism in any system. They are love in a world that runs on hate.
 
There, I think we’ve made the point.
 
On the other side is San Jose, a team who has succeeded on the periphery of the NHL diaspora. They have never been darlings outside the 408, and have been criticized more for losing consistently to the hump they should have gotten over by now. But essentially, they are good but inoffensive, and their fan base is loud but neither deep nor truly rabid. They have taken good and made it their base camp without venturing too far from it.
 
None of which matters in these circumstances, though. Everybody with an opinion wants Vegas because The Narrative, which means that nobody with an interest wants the Sharks. And when we say “nobody,” we mean “nobody except Sharks fans and the Vegas books,” which will be taking more bets on Vegas than they have taken on the last 15 Cup Finals combined.
 
But you get the point. Everyone wants Vegas. Vegas wants Vegas, the other 29 teams wants Vegas, the league office wants Vegas, television wants Vegas, radio wants Vegas, web sites and newspapers want Vegas. People who hate hockey want Vegas. The only entity with this kind of popular unanimity is Beyonce.
 
That means San Jose is the villain, and worse, a bland villain. They don’t play dirty, they don’t cheat, they don’t talk smack, they don’t have a great player anyone truly hates they haven’t inflated pucks or illegally filmed opponents’ practices, their coach isn’t a contemptuous jerk, their owner isn’t a notoriously financial predator, none of it. They will be hated simply for existing in the path of the Vegas Goodwill Train over the next two weeks. And fair has nothing to do with it.
 
So if you say “Go Sharks!” do it with a smile, and prepare to duck. You are swimming against a massive tide, and the only way to survive it is to ride the wave.
 
And if you cannot hold your temper and simply must get yours back, then just snarl, “I hope you get a Columbus-Winnipeg Cup Final,” and then walk away. It may not be much of a retort, but let’s face it, you’re not playing a strong hand. North America hates you. Deal with it.

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.