Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

| Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings all, and welcome to another great big chat ...

JaMain Stephens: Why do many Pittsburgh fans think that every Steeler/Penguin/Pirate legend that retires can come back as a coach?

Dejan Kovacevic: Pretty sure that isn't unique to Pittsburgh.

What most fans everywhere probably don't realize -- but I heard not that long ago from a baseball executive -- is that it's gotten harder and harder over the years to keep some of the best former players involved in the game for the simple reason that the drop in pay is beyond dramatic. They were used to making more in a day than they did all year in some cases.

Jack: Any thoughts on Hines Ward's "team" posting that extremely unprofessional rant on his facebook and twitter accounts last week?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sure: People need to control those things. Not for us. For themselves. It's their names and faces on them.

That said, I don't think for a second Ward had anything to do with wanting to ask people to cry out that he was released.

Devin: Everyone is excited about Crosby coming back but I'm very concerned about our defensive core without Letang in the postseason. How is his recovery• When do you think we see him again this season, if at all?

Dejan Kovacevic: Given that this was Letang's second concussion and that it didn't look good at all when Eric Nystrom flattened him, if you'd have told the Penguins he'd already be exercising with a chance of doing light skating soon, they'd have leaped at that. It's early, but that's highly encouraging.

Zach: I know you are a proponent of putting Staal with Sid upon his return, however, given Staal's re-acquaintance with his scoring touch, wouldn't 3 strong lines be more dangerous than 2 loaded ones• Good teams may be able to juggle their stud D-men enough to match up with 2 strong lines but I'd think it would be impossible to get your shut down guys out there enough to negate 3 of them...

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't think there's an NHL team anywhere defensively strong enough to ward off two powerful lines over a best-of-seven series. Not the Rangers. Not the Devils. Not anyone. It's what could make the Penguins a unique threat. They should embrace it.

Besides, let's not act like we're sending the JV out there for the third line. No matter who you have been Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy -- yes, even Joe Vitale -- that's OK.

Cecil Espy: Starling Marte is having a big spring so far. Could we be seeing a Marte-McCutchen-Tabata outfield sooner than we thought, or is the team still dedicated to giving him at least part of the year in Indy no matter what he does this spring?

Dejan Kovacevic: Here's how I've long felt about Marte: You can rush him, and you'll get yourself an exciting hitter and defender who can slap the ball all over the field. Or you can be a little more patient and hope that he finds a little more selectivity at the plate, and hope for someone who can drive the ball.

The alleged missing tool with Marte is the power, but not in the eyes of the people who know him best. There's no harm in seeing if that still can't be found. He still hasn't taken an at-bat above Altoona.

Barry Bonds: Every other city has a curse they blame for consistant sports failure (Bambino, Chicago goat, Philly's William Penn)...when do we point 19 seasons of failure by the Pirates on my departure• For further evidence see: AJ Burnett.

Dejan Kovacevic: Why is it that every major negative event that happens to the Pirates needs to attached to something mystic?

Bunting accidents happen.

What DOESN'T happen is the level of bad decision-making and lack of commitment that's marked most of those 19 losing seasons. Turning that into voodoo is to not find fault in the right direction.

(Ah, never mind. It was Cecil Espy's fear of fences!)

Zach: Do you ever get tired of people, including several members of the local media, constantly feeling the need to spin every move the Pirates make into a negative?

Dejan Kovacevic: I write three columns a week, five full blog entries a week and tweet so much I'm being considered a candidate for Twitter spokesmodel for 2013. I have plenty enough to keep me busy right there.

Lee: Dejan, as I understand it, if a team signs Mike Wallace to an offer sheet and the Steelers decline to match it, the Steelers receive the other team's 1st round pick. Does that preclude Oakland, New Orleans, and Atlanta from trying to sign Wallace since they have no 1st round pick• And also, if NE,Cincy, or Cleve sign him, since they have multiple 1st round picks, do the Steelers get the higher or lower of the picks?

Dejan Kovacevic: Art Rooney and Kevin Colbert have both made abundantly clear they plan to match whatever anyone puts out there. But my understanding is that it's the highest pick out of your first-rounders.

Adam: I realize with all of the recent cuts that the Steelers made that is looking more likely that they will be able to keep Mike Wallace, but if he were serious about staying in Pittsburgh, why not just come out and say that he wouldn't be fielding offers from other teams• The Steelers have historically shown that they take care of their own, and before the season started they were going to have to have their cap situation in place one way or the other. It obviously costs the player some bargaining power, but whatever happened to good faith?

Dejan Kovacevic: How would that help Wallace's bargaining position toward a long-term contract with as much guaranteed money as possible?

NFL careers are short. This is his biggest payday right here.

Stan: Dejan, PLEASE never stop writing. My question is, of course, in regards to Crosby. Something I don't quite understand is the history of the neck injury. Is it fair to say this was nagging when he came back in November• Does he actually feel better now than he did then• Do you (or anyone) know• Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: The neck injury arose from the David Krejci elbow in Crosby's last go-round. He was asked seven different ways the other morning if he's feeling better -- at least a couple of those came from me -- and he confirmed that he's fully symptom-free.

Zarley Zalapshot: A great image, does not necessarily translate into a great 3 dimensional statue. Agree• I like the idea of showing Mario embarassing 2 defensemen, but the end result doesnt do the idea justice. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: I have four ...

1. Nothing summarizes 66's career like a struggle.

2. Far too many fans who signed up after the Sid lottery -- that's not an age thing, just anyone who's new -- think of 66 as some guy in a suit who pours water onto rinks. Action is just right.

3. Susan Wagner isn't going to sculpt every Pittsburgh statue from now until the end of time. The Clemente, Stargell and Maz statues had their own style. This is different, just like Mister Rogers and Mayor Swamp Thing are different.

4. 66 didn't just beat his opponents. He embarrassed them. If you were building a statue in your own honor, wouldn't you want some embarrassed Islanders in it?

It's terrific.

steelerzsnut: It seems to me that our BIGGEST need is on the O-line. So with that said do you forsee the Steelers picking O-linemen early and often in the upcomming draft. I think this would be the most beneficial not only to help keep Ben upright, but to help Mendenhal out with some holes so he is not turning his back when someone is going to hit him, instead of delivering the hit he takes it. Or do we need a true Running Back in our line up one that gives out the punishment instead of taking it.

Dejan Kovacevic: I've listed before the Steelers' needs as middle linebacker, nose tackle and guard, so I guess we at least partially agree. They've got the center they want in Maurkice Pouncey, and they're going to go with Marcus Gilbert and Willie Colon at tackle. That limits the need you describe to guard, I'd think, without offering some tacit endorsement of Gilbert and Colon.

Bottom line: We can talk about needs all we want, and they're still going to take another defensive end!

Guest: DK, are you feeling any better YET??• Since we run your blog, so also this chat, we want to make sure you're up to everything, you know• ;)

Dejan Kovacevic: Gradually getting better, thanks! I don't often look forward to Bradenton, but a consistent 85 degrees won't hurt the process next week.

Ryan: If ILB Hightower AND NT Poe are both on the board when the Steelers pick who do you take• Personally I take Poe but I saw a mock draftwhere they chose Hightower

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm just not a fan of using a pick that high on a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. There just have to be lesser investments to be made to find a clogger, compared to a middle linebacker who's asked not only to dominate the run but also drop regularly into pass coverage. If talent's even, I'll take Hightower.

Pitt Fan1: Do you think no practice today will affect Sid's timeline?

Dejan Kovacevic: No. If today's a day Crosby was expected to take some bumps, that could be arranged rather easily with some side session. I'm sure we'll hear tomorrow if that was the case.

Alex Coles Rec Specs: Should I get tinted rec specs in fear of the Solar Flare today?

Dejan Kovacevic: Dude, take a look outside right now. The sun could explode, and we wouldn't be able to tell.

Ryan Wilson: What is more prudent, bumping Staal up to play with Crosby given his elevated prowess offensively, or sticking with 3 center approach?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sounds like you missed this column from last week, Ryan.

Sonic: Why is Karstens considered to the frontrunner out of the rotation when Burnett returns• Seems he is pretty solid as a starter.

Dejan Kovacevic: To my knowledge, Karstens is not seen that way. If he were seen that way ... well, let's cross that bridge if it ever arrives.

Dallion: Has Brent Johnson played his last game in Pittsburgh• (Barring an injury to Fleury)

Dejan Kovacevic: Totally valid question, isn't it• Was wondering the same thing last night after Brad Thiessen won again. The Leafs are awful, but they CAN score and did mount some pressure in what stayed a tight game until the end. The kid played well.

There are all kinds of reasons not to switch back, especially the time of year.

Ryan: I know your stance on Tangradi, but I thought he played pretty well the last few weeks before being a healthy scratch when TK returned. Protected the puck well in the offensive zone, good hands, forchecking hard, and his defensive play seemed to me much improved. Why, oh why, are guys like Richard Park and Aaron Asham playing ahead of him• Neither one really ever plays on the PK, and they're usually getting less than 10 minutes a game. I don't see the advantage of playing them over Tangradi. Pair him with some speed and good things will happen. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Why is Tangradi so beloved by so many in these parts?

I get that he was the prospect in the Whitney trade, and people immediately had visions of Kevin Stevens II and that it's never easy to let stuff like that go. There are probably still fans pulling for Robert Dome and Konstantin Koltsov somewhere. But at some point or other, a young player has to make an impact. It can be just a shift, a play, something, anything.

Tangradi screened a goalie on a teammate's goal in the playoffs last spring, and you'd think he suddenly was a young John LeClair.

I don't dislike Tangradi. But neither have I seen much of anything.

Pongo: Any news on 1b Derek Lee• If a contender waits till July to sign him, does the PBC still get a #1 comp pick• Hope so

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not aware of an expiration on that. The Pirates risked a $7.5M tender, so they're due their compensation if Lee signs.

Which will not be with Pittsburgh, by the way.

Hanks Dad: Any other Pens from the past that deserve immortality with a statue?

Dejan Kovacevic: Mike Lange. Someday, and in its own smaller scale. The man's been the voice of the franchise for nearly all of its existence, the single great constant.

But a player• No. Jaromir Jagr blew that one this summer.

VIN: What were some of the ridiculous offers other teams were making to Eddie Johnston so they could draft Mario back in 1984?

Dejan Kovacevic: The two EJ cites most often were the Nordiques offering all three Stastny brothers and possibly Michel Goulet, and the North Stars offering all 12 draft picks.

It's easy to laugh at that now, but I was a kid back then and was just blown away that a team as sorry as Pittsburgh's could instantly become great with that Quebec package. It had to be tempting at least one some level.

Pongo: Based on your experience with Cutch, do you think he can mentally handle the pressure that comes with all that loot• Will he press too much?

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, wow, yes. I wouldn't worry about Andrew McCutchen and his ability to handle anything. He's built of a special kind of confidence, and he works with his own inner peace. I don't know if that describes it really well, but I hope it does.

ChrisH: DK, as far as which 1st round pick a team gives up: I'm pretty sure it's the one assigned to them by the NFL based on their record, NOT any 1st rounders acquired via trade.

Dejan Kovacevic: The player's compensation is a factor, too, I believe?

Milo: If another team signs Mike Wallace they must surrender their own 1st round pick that was earned through their record. Not any pick acquired from another team.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's right. But the player's pay?

Joey: Recently, I was watching Gary Bettman on Costas Tonight. Bob Costas asked him if he was the man who was going to take fighting and head shots out of the game. Bettman danced around the question. My question is, do you think that we will see the elimination of fighting and very strict head shot rules in the summers new CBA?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, what Bettman wasn't going to say in that interview is that he can't be that guy. The GMs change the rules, and the owners approve or reject them. Bettman can guide the way, and I'm sure he could be vocal about it. But how red-faced would he look for trying to lead something like that only to have his owners shoot him down?

That's not to say he wouldn't be right to do so. Just that it won't happen.

Keyser Soze: Does PITT rebound next year and make the big dance?

Dejan Kovacevic: If everything that's been heard about incoming Steven Adams and James Robinson is true, then yes. But I don't write that as much about them as what they'd be joining. It overall looks like a good mix now. Put a big man and true guard in the mix with Tray Woodall, Lamar Patterson, J.J. Moore and anyone else who wants to step up -- I'm pretty close to giving up on Dante Taylor -- and the positional skill sets add up well.

The team could be a lot of fun.

Derek Smith: Dejan, how much merit will the Pirates place on Pedro's defense• We all know offense is the big thing for him, but with this pitch-to-contact staff, do you think his status as the Pirates starting 3B will be based on his defense at least close to as much as his bat?

Dejan Kovacevic: Pedro needs to hit, plain and simple. As the Pirates' and other teams' evaluators are fond of saying, the bat will play.

Matt in Chicago: I like the Mario statue, though if I'm Jeff Norton, not sure I'm happy that my butt is immortalized by that. Bob MacKenzie at had a great interview with Rich Pilon about the statute - he was proud to be there.

Dejan Kovacevic: Norton should have had better gap control, if only to respect Bob Errey's playmaking skills.

Here's the Lightning round ...

Anthony: I thought the press conferance for Payton was the proper way to release a vet player. What do you think about the way the Steelers released Farrior and Ward?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd only raise a topic like that regarding Ward, and I'd agree it would have been welcome. But it might have felt like more of a retirement thing in Ward's case, which wouldn't help his value if he's serious about still playing.

Polka: 28 days until opening day. Come Hungry. Think McCutchen can crack 30-30 this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: If he does, he and the Pirates are in trouble. He needs to stop swinging for the fences and keep that average and on-base up. I'll take 20 home runs, thanks.

FreeTankCarter: After yesterday, who is the most deserving figure in Pittsburgh history -- sports or otherwise -- without a statue?

Dejan Kovacevic: Easy. Jonas Salk. Not even close. What he did remains Pittsburgh's greatest gift to the world, maybe forever.

Joe G: Is it normal for Gerrit Cole to get sent to minor league camp this quickly, or is it a sign that he will be babied ala Jameson Taillon?

Dejan Kovacevic: Means nothing. Cole went into camp with a preordained amount of time he'd spend under the major-league instructors. Those guys now have different schedules with the games underway, and his time is best spent over at Pirate City.

Napper: Since it is pretty dry in the region if WVU doesn't get an at large bid, do you have any sleeper teams to keep an eye on in this year's NCAA tournament?

Dejan Kovacevic: Long Beach State. Most intriguing non-conference team I saw at the Pete this year. Lights-out shooters.

But if they face WVU, then Deniz Kilicli will eat them.

LoneStarsFanatic: Dejan, seconding what I read above, please never stop writing. You're great at what you do. My question: Everyone across the NHL seems to be in agreement that the officiating has seen a significant dropoff in penalties called (perhaps more so than in recent years for this late in the season). Do you think it's possible the NHL is sending a not-so-subtle message to the players that they want the NHLPA to get onboard with the re-alignment or "somethin bad gonna happen to 'em"?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yikes. You don't really think things like that, do you?

Guest: Who finishes the year with more wins - Maholm or Bedard?

Dejan Kovacevic: For a stat as hollow as wins, almost always go with the more durable guy. I'll take Maholm.

PirateApologist: You answer that Karstens question every week• Where are people hearing this?

Dejan Kovacevic: No idea.

Guest: whats the chance of 87 returning sunday

Dejan Kovacevic: Pretty good. He sure has his sights on it.

RI Bucco: Dejan, will you consider bringing back Thing #.....that is great about PIttsburgh at some point down the line• One of my favorite side bar works that I have read...some real gems that we could revisit often and never get bored...especially for those of us re-located to less desirables locales across the globe.

Dejan Kovacevic: It will be back as part of our new web site in the very near future.

Joe G: Do you miss covering the Pirates' beat?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be with the team on the beat for 10 days beginning in the middle of next week. Ask me after that!

Milo: There is no sliding scale when a player's current team places the 1st round tender. Someone could sign Wallace for $50 million a year, and all they surrender is their 1st round pick.

Dejan Kovacevic: Check's in the mail, Milo. One more ...

tk: Will James Neal score more than 5 goals in the remaining 16 games?

Dejan Kovacevic: Neal is going to be fine. I wouldn't mind seeing him get a bit of a break soon, maybe reset himself a little, but there are those three days next week.

Derek Smith: Sneak peak of your collumn tommorow?

Dejan Kovacevic: Duquesne basketball! For real.

That's it for now. The column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The blog is like the rain outside right now: Hard, merciless and neverending.

Thanks to all!

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