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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Jan. 17, 2013

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 6:05 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, all, just a couple days from the puck dropping in Philly and all the mirth and merriment to follow. Off we go ...

Comment From Charlie: Which Sid will we see: the 2011 pre-Winter Classic Sid, or the Sid from last spring? I firmly believe there is a difference.

Dejan Kovacevic: Can't imagine what your reasoning is for believing that. Crosby returned and resumed scoring at a ridiculous rate. He then had his conditioning interrupted with the second return and clearly wasn't himself.

Your firm belief will be altered very soon, I think.

Comment From Sam: Hi Dejan, do you think Ike Taylor will strongly urge Lamar Woodley to join him this year to train with Tom Shaw in Florida? If so, do you think Woodley will accept?

Dejan Kovacevic: That might be a good thing, and you're not the only reader to send that this way. As you might have seen in the blog yesterday, I brought up the Woodley question with Kevin Colbert in our meeting over on the South Side, and the GM dismissed “effort” as a factor. Notable or not, he didn't dismiss conditioning.

That's an important distinction. You can try really, really hard in working out and stretching, but if you're doing the wrong things, you're still not going to be in peak shape.

I have never known Woodley as some sort of laggard. Just needs to be more applied, more focused, I'm guessing, on the right things.

Comment From Bernard: Would you rank the Steelers biggest needs for the draft? Should Colbert consider using an early round pick on a RB? If so, a big back like Bell out of MSU or more of an every down back like Clay at UW (just examples).

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll repeat that I like a middle linebacker, but listening to Colbert yesterday ... no, he didn't drop ANY hints about the draft, but he almost went out of his way to make it clear the current running backs aren't good enough and that the running game must be upgraded.

Thing is, who ever hears of legit quality at the position in this draft?

Comment From Golden Domer: Manti Te'o victim or caught in a huge lie?

Dejan Kovacevic: Earliest accounts so far powerfully suggest there won't be an easy answer. But my own earliest impressions are extremely skeptical of some of the explanations from Te'o and Notre Dame.

What a mess. Advice to all concerned: Figure it out and step forward.

If you don't, someone else will.

Comment From Kyle: With the Astros move to the American League, and interleague play taking place throughout the season, how long until MLB does something with the DH? It seems like it either needs to be taken out or put into both leagues. Personally, I want to see it taken out of the game, but I doubt the MLBPA would allow it.

Dejan Kovacevic: No, you won't see the union want it because it keeps old, no-glove hitters employed. And since Bud Selig is commissioner for life — and perhaps beyond — I don't think you'll see it on the league side, either. The lines have been drawn, and that's apparently where they'll stay.

I'm born and raised in this here National League city, so I have no use for it. But I've talked to people on the other side of that fence who think we're nuts for wanting to watch pitchers hit.

Comment From Kyle: Based on your experience, how many professional athletes you covered openly smoked? Obviously many baseball players use smokeless tobacco, but I'm curious about how many still smoke. Not looking for names, just always wondered.

Dejan Kovacevic: The last time I'd ever even heard of a player smoking — much less seen it — was Aki Iwamura. You really don't even see it with managers and coaches hardly anymore.

Now the chewing stuff is different. Still everywhere.

Comment From Bernard: I might be alone on this, but I think its vital the Steelers resign Wallace. Ben obviously loves the guy and he stretches the field like no other receiver in the NFL. He had a poor season but how much of the responsibility for that falls on Haley's shoulders? And can anyone really argue they would be better served spending $$$ on Foote, Starks, Colon or Mendenhall rather than Wallace given age, injury history, behavior issues, etc?

Dejan Kovacevic: Really don't see it. Wallace is going to hit the open market, and some team is going to value him — right or wrong — for more than what you listed there regarding stretching the field. They're going to pay him — right or wrong — like a No. 1.

Notice you didn't mention Keenan Lewis. That's where the money will be going.

Comment From Sam: Good Afternoon Dejan, which Steeler veteran under contract should be worried about the “changes” coming other than Colon and Harrison? And, which do you think will have his contract extended?

Dejan Kovacevic: I really believe Lewis will get done. There's a lot to gain there. Ike is 33. With Lewis and Cortez Allen, you'll know what you've got in the secondary — to some extent — for a long time.

To your first part: If I'm a running back, I'm renting, not buying.

Comment From Sam: Dejan, I like your suggestion in the Wednesday column for the roles on the Penguins power play... can you think of a time or two when a team followed your advice (directly or indirectly)?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Well, I'm sure it's happened, but I'm equally sure that what I wrote wouldn't have been what moved the needle. I write things like that to share my views with you, the readers, not because I'm imagining Dan Bylsma having some eureka moment over coffee while reading it himself.

Comment From bjm: Hi Dk, are pens tough/gritty enough to be a team that is tough to play against again?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's going to depend somewhat on Tanner Glass, who my Winnipeg friends tell me that Pittsburghers will really like. He hits, he's tough, he's in people's faces.

I think it'll also depend on Matt Cooke coming back around to at least a little bit of the old Matt Cooke. He and I talked about this the other day. He knows, as he put it, “I'll always have that spotlight on me,” so he has to be more careful than most. But that shouldn't keep him from being physical at all, which happened quite a bit last season.

Comment From Andrew from Long Island: Simon Despres did not look great last night... WIth such a short camp, does that performance have any impact on starting the season with the team?

Dejan Kovacevic: One scrimmage normally wouldn't, obviously. But Despres has been down for nearly a month with his performance in Wilkes-Barre, so this really only continued the trend. No, he didn't play well.

And to repeat what I wrote Monday, no, he shouldn't open this season with the parent club. Not nearly enough time to tinker.

On that note, anyone notice Eric Tangradi last night?

I noticed Beau Bennett, but not Tangradi.

Comment From Kyle: The Pirates play in Altoona on March 30 before the start of the regular season. It is typical to play an exhibition game in colder weather to get acclimated to the cooler temps after spending weeks in Florida, but usually games are not played at a minor league affiliate. Do you think the front office will get bad press for sending the team to Altoona?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure why. Altoona is a first-rate minor league franchise, thanks largely to the longtime stewardship of Chuck Greenberg when he was there. The field is good, the marketing great, and the relationship between the community and players one of the best at any level of professional sports.

I'd be proud to be associated with the Curve.

Comment From Kyle: Clearly this is a make or break year for the front office of the Pirates. Do you see Clint Hurdle's fate being lumped in with the rest of that group?

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely not.

Comment From c-man: Hi Dejan. After watching this Pitt team's last few games, are they a Jekyll & Hyde team that seems to come out with different effort

Dejan Kovacevic: You know, I haven't yet had a chance to watch the DVR of last night's win in Villanova, though I'm informed it's R-rated.

The Panthers are young, and they're confusing. Been talking about this a lot with friends lately. They've got legit talent, legit depth, but it still looks like they're searching for an identity. They look more comfortable when running with the ball than in a half-court, but Jamie Dixon doesn't have them running much. They've got a 7-footer with athleticism they still aren't using much. They've got a fine freshman point guard, but he and the rest aren't hitting shots.

It's a weird situation right now.

Bottom line is that this team must eventually work around Steven Adams and James Robinson. Might as well get there sooner rather than later.

Comment From identifli: DK thoughts on Steelers trying to trade with Philly(rebuilding) for Shady McCoy ala Bettis years ago. I know cap would be involved.

Dejan Kovacevic: A la Bettis years ago, indeed. Football trades are so rare they're barely worth the speculation. Steven Jackson's name will come up, and Maurice Jones-Drew. But solutions are infinitely more likely to come through the draft or even free agency than a trade.

Then again, the Rams did it once, so ...

Comment From Bernard: My biggest fear regarding the Steelers is that Haley (Rooney?) might be trying to implement an offensive system that does not fit the current talent on the roster (despite all of the early reports on Haley that cited how flexible he was playing to his talent in AZ & KC). Meanwhile, the teams still alive in teh playoffs are scoring a lot of points by playing to their respective QB's strengths (and I would argue that none of the remaining teams have offensive talent notably superior to that of the Steelers).

Dejan Kovacevic: All concerned are adamant that isn't happening. But I can't help but wonder when seeing small running backs repeatedly pounded between the tackles. Never mind the QB strength. That's what really stands out.

Comment From Andrew from Long Island: Will you traveling down to spring training this year? Still a fan of Mixon's?

Dejan Kovacevic: I will be in Bradenton this spring, yes, for about a week. Always look forward to the visits to Mixon's Fruit Farms, an absolute must for those of you who make that trek. No place like it on the planet.

Expecting to be there for the first week of March.

Comment From Comment from Duke: How many years do we as Pitt fans have to put up with Dixon. All that matters is March. Is he ever going to be on a short leash? He doesn't get the stud recruits! Adams might be the best he ever got?? Mediocrity in March seems to be for Pitt... not for Sry, Kan, Uconn, etc....

Dejan Kovacevic: Is this real, or this an Onion spoof of an angry Pitt basketball fan?

My goodness. “Put up with Dixon?”

I prefer being respectful to my readers, so I'll respectfully move to the next Q ...

Comment From Mike from New Mexico: What happened to the buyout clause as part of the lockout? I was thinking Paul Martin was going to be prime candidate for that rule...

Dejan Kovacevic: Kicks into effect AFTER this season.

Comment From Napper: Do you really think Vokoun will push Fleury to make him better? Not buying the fact that Vokoun was brought in tho keep Fleury fresh. Fleury seems to be inconsistent and lets in too many easy goals.

Dejan Kovacevic: Vokoun was brought in by Ray Shero to do exactly what you're not buying. That's the goal. If it goes beyond that, it goes beyond that. But that's the goal.

I believe in Marc-Andre Fleury, and I'll make that case part of my Friday season-preview column. Hope you can check it out.

Comment From Matt in Ann Arbor: Will Malkin and/or Crosby kill penalties this year? Were the on the PK at all last night?

Dejan Kovacevic: Crosby actually was on the kill once that I saw. But no, I've heard nothing beyond Sid's expressed eagerness to suggest firmly that he'll be on PK.

We'll see, but I'll reiterate that it sure would offer a different twist to have Crosby and Malkin come out for the final 30 seconds or so and back off those point men.

Comment From Andrew: Have you ever gotten a sense into whether other teams were willing to pay what the Pirates ultimated did to sign Josh Bell, or whether it was a case of the Pirates being the only team willing to fork over $5m to sign him?

Dejan Kovacevic: Mike Leuzinger, the excellent scout who recently quit the Pirates to go work for the Yankees — same role, just wanted to win — was instrumental in working with Bell and family to gather all the right info and know that Bell would, in fact, sign, no matter what he was publicly telling everyone.

That's part of what makes an excellent scout. It's not just talent recognition. It's finishing the deal.

There's much, much more to the Leuzinger story, by the way. It'll be in the book.

Comment From Eric: Dan, does it bother you as a sports writer by the lack of fact checking done by almost all the news outlets and writers involved in the Te'o story and his girlfriend. And that none of the writers will own up to it?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sports has nothing to do with it. Journalism is journalism, and we're held to the same standard of reporting in one department as the next.

Mistakes are made in this business. I've made them. Some are my fault outright. Some are the result of people changing minds or stories to suit their own needs. I'm guessing it happens to pretty much everyone. But that doesn't bother you as much as when there's a whole faulty process exposed. That tells you that maybe you didn't even try all that you could to get it right.

Those are the questions that I'm sure — or hope — are getting asked anywhere something like this happens.

But I'd also caution against the plane-crash mentality here. Planes don't go down often, to say the least. But when they do, people freak and talk about trends and things like that, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (I once read that you're safer in an airplane than sitting on the toilet. No kidding.) Let's remember that some very good, editor-led professional journalism also led to the uncovering of this story.

Dejan Kovacevic: I do believe we're well past Tampa Bay Lightning time, so ...

Comment From Dave: True or False: Biggest improvement to the running game is improved play by the offensive line.

Dejan Kovacevic: According to Colbert, that's false. I'll go with Kevin on this one. He's the one watching film around the clock.

Comment From Matt in Ann Arbor: Steeler season is over!!! Looks like Despres is making the team, Strait has been put on waivers.

Dejan Kovacevic: The Steelers' season is never over, Matt. Rule No. 1 in our business.

Don't rule out that a D-man could be traded still.

Comment From Pete: Paul Martin, is there actually a chance he could have a worse season this year than last?

Dejan Kovacevic: It would be quite the achievemenent.

Comment From PirateApologist: What position did you play when you played hockey? Baseball? I see you as a left winger with a right handed shot and a second baseman.

Dejan Kovacevic: For real? That's exactly it. How on earth did you know both of those?

No, really. Fess up!

Comment From Mark: Dejan, was that REALLY your wife in those instagram pictures?!?! Heard Deadpsin might be looking into you next....

Dejan Kovacevic: She's real! Trust me. Though I have to pinch myself at times to be reminded.

Comment From Ravenna, Ohio: I just wanna say you do a good job on keeping us out of towners updated. I enjoy reading! thank you

Dejan Kovacevic: Thank you for reading!

Comment From Huey: Where do you see Pedro Alvarez's ceiling? Can he get much better than he was in 2012?

Dejan Kovacevic: Pedro absolutely can be better. I know everyone's tired of hearing this particular line, but it still holds true that no single player can swing more dramatically toward the upside than he can. Just needs consistency.

Comment From Jimmy D: Who will lead the Pens in scoring this year? Evgeni or Sidney?

Dejan Kovacevic: Answer in tomorrow's column. Sorry.

Comment From Matt in Ann Arbor: Pens ‘newcomer' of the year = ?

Dejan Kovacevic: I asked Crosby this. He said Matt Niskanen. I'll go with Sid on this.

See how easy this job is?

Comment From Matt in Ann Arbor: As a Pitt Alumna who remembers Fred Willard, I'll gladly put up with Dixon for 20 more years

Dejan Kovacevic: Now, if it really was the marginally legendary comic actor Fred Willard coaching the Panthers, you'd have quite some tolerance. (As opposed to Ralph Willard. Sorry. Too easy.)

Comment From Pucks: What are the actual odds of us bringing back Sergei Gonchar? I for one would love to see that. He was such a force on the power play.

Dejan Kovacevic: He's still terrific on the power play, even if other skills have diminished. Given his cap hit, if something like that were to happen, it should be expected closer to the deadline than now.

Comment From Gary Z: Do you think the steelers would try using a later draft pick on someone who should be picked higher but has a risk factor? Such examples would include marcus lattimore and micheal mauti.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm a Mauti fan, in particular, but that season-ending injury will leave him with an awful lot to show NFL teams.

Comment From Pucks: 87 or 71

Dejan Kovacevic: 66

Comment From PirateApologist: That is scary. I am not stalking you.

Dejan Kovacevic: Good to hear! Yeah, right-handed left winger and second baseman. Still very creepy on your part.

Comment From dillonerd: Do you have a favorite bridge in the city?

Dejan Kovacevic: Three-way tie among the Three Sisters. Built in 1925-27, they're the only side-by-side-by-side identical bridges in the entire world.

Don't get me started. One more today ...

Comment From Al: On a scale of 1-10: defensive prospects= 27; forward prospects = ??

Dejan Kovacevic: Let's not go all wild about these defensive prospects until some of them start coming through. Takes time, as Despres, Joe Morrow and others show us on a regular basis.

Candid talk with Morrow on the blog right now, by the way, in video form.

The columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday, though I'll be doing a few more than usual in the next couple of weeks because of the pucks. The TribLIVE Radio show is Tuesday, this here chat Thursday, and the blog is the omnipresent beacon in the mix.

Heading out to Philly and New York this weekend, back for the home opener, then it's off to the serious business elsewhere.

Thanks for participating!

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