Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Jan. 31, 2013
Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, all, and welcome to the weekly chat. For those who haven't seen the blog this morning, I'll be adding a couple items to my plate here at the Trib, but the chat won't be affected. Every Thursday at noon.
Away we go ...
Comment From Jaime: Dan Bylsma keeps touting his “shutdown pair” of Orpik/Martin. While Niskanen has been effective with Letang before his injury, Letang is now having to partner with a player who, while talented, is still barely NHL ready. is this a type of demotion for Letang?
Dejan Kovacevic: Letang isn't “having to” partner with Simon Despres as much as he's actively sought it out. He likes working with Despres, and the coaching staff, in turn, like what they've seen of those two interacting on and off the ice. I remain skeptical about Despres being in the NHL right now, but Niskanen's injury leaves a clear hole.
Comment From Dom: I find it odd that a number of fans are calling the Pens to split up Crosby and Malkin up on the power play. Could the coaching staff possibly consider this in the future?
Dejan Kovacevic: Anyone calling for that — and I haven't heard much of what you're describing — needs to be made aware that second power-play units exist in fantasy land only. The top unit is going to be out there for about 1:10, maybe longer if things are going well. If you can think of something dumber than having one of the world's two best players sitting on the bench for two-thirds of a power play, I'm all ears.
Comment From Karen22: Do you have clones? Seriously, congrats on your ever-expanding duties at the Trib. In a few lightning-round words, what is wrong with the Pens??
Dejan Kovacevic: I appreciate that, Karen. The simplest way to describe what's wrong with the Penguins, I think, is north-south. It's odd that this is the hockey Dan Bylsma preaches relentlessly, and yet we just witnessed six mostly failed games of a power play pointedly designed to generate east-west passes through the box for low-percentage back door plays. Shoot puck, pursue puck, shoot puck again.
Comment From Tim in KY: DK — the NFL seems (to me at least) to be essentially disinterested in pursuing the Ray Lewis PED case. No urgency at all. Is that your take?
Dejan Kovacevic: Say this much for Major League Baseball and its steroids problem: At least in the past decade, it hasn't pretended it doesn't exist. No, the NFL has barely breathed a syllable on the matter. And, given recent history, I'll be surprised if the league ever lifts a pinky to find out more about Antlergate. Which is a shame, if you think about it, for all concerned, including Lewis himself. If he really is as innocent as he claims, you'd think he'd want a full-bore investigation to clear his name, right?
Comment From AC: DK — maybe this has been addressed but why does Pitt basketball insist on having the TV cameras on the wrong side? Do they really mean to show sleepy suites instead of arguably one of the most raucous student sections in the country? Makes the Pete seem so dead on TV, which is too bad.
Dejan Kovacevic: Always follow the money. Pitt's long, horizontal advertising board is on the side you see on TV. That's where the money is. I share your view, but anytime you point out a problem like that, you're always best off proposing an equal solution. The university is trying to make money off its football and basketball programs. Besides, the Zoo gets pretty good airtime, anyway, from what I've seen.
Comment From Matt in Ann Arbor: BTW, nice job on the NHL Network interview, but how come Rob Rossi got to be on camera and you were on the phone?
Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Man, the things people notice. In the past week, I've been both on camera and over the phone with NHL Network. The camera spots are tricky because you've got to be in the arena so that you look up at the Kathryn-Tappen-in-the-sky camera that hangs from the scoreboard. The network asked me for a phone appearance yesterday, even though the Penguins weren't in any arena.
Comment From Rob: There has been talk that with the hiring of Bicknell the Steelers will change their blocking scheme. What are your thoughts and do you think the Steelers have the personnel to do it?
Dejan Kovacevic: Best thing I heard from Jack Bicknell in his initial interviews is that the top priority is to protect the QB, and all else comes second. No one could dispute it. As for actual blocking schemes, there's no way he wouldn't have input, but there's also no way you're going to see much change schematically, not just a year after a new offensive coordinator and new playbook. Bicknell will be fortunate to have a few exceptionally smart linemen in Maurkice Pouncey and, if the Steelers are smart and re-sign who they should, Max Starks and Ramon Foster. They'll figure it out.
Comment From Larry K.: Did the narrative of Paul Martin's demise get way ahead of the actual downfall of Paul Martin? If it were up to most Pens fans, he wouldn't have even been back this year.
Dejan Kovacevic: It wasn't a narrative, Larry. Martin really was that bad, just as he's really not right now. I hope you had a chance to hear my radio show Tuesday — you can find the podcast here — in which assistant coach Todd Reirden offered some strong words for what Martin did to change. Really candid stuff.
Comment From Jimmy D: Have teams figured out Bylsma's system? Pens defense does not seem to be pinching as much to keep the puck in the offensive zonas they did in the years the went to the finals. Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, they have. That's why you've already seen the puck retrieval system — something only the Penguins and Red Wings were known to be using last season — modified to bring a forward down low. It's also why you're now seeing opponents hang way, way back when the Penguins are breaking out. The D throws the puck to a forward all the way up at the red line. But because the other team is sitting back, the forward catches the pass flat-footed and goes nowhere. The Islanders did this all night long.
Comment From Know_Nothing: Dejan, How much time/leeway does Dan Bylsma have before the organization pulls the plug on him?
Dejan Kovacevic: Um, more than six games?
Comment From Frank: Hi Dejan — apparently the Pens just claimed Zach Boychuk from the Canes — any word on a corresponding move? How do you see him fitting in?
Dejan Kovacevic: Well, he's small, he doesn't score much, and he hasn't done much of anything to substantiate being the 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Sounds like a spare part, though maybe worth a look. It's not as if the Penguins are overloaded at wing at the moment.
Comment From Jim Souffrant: What is your opening day batting order for the pirates
Dejan Kovacevic: Marte 7, Walker 4, McCutchen 8, Alvarez 5, Jones 3, Martin 2, Snider 9, Barmes 6 ... understand, that's not my preference but rather more of a prediction based on hearing what some with the Pirates have had to say. Clint Hurdle also has floated the idea of having Russell Martin second to take advantage of his good eye in drawing walks.
Comment From Guest: Looks as if Tyler Boyd (star from Clairton) may be second guessing his verbal commitment to Pitt. In your opinion, why would a top WPIAL star go to Pitt at this time? They kinda stink, and they have for awhile. Also, they are just about the only BCS qualifying school that doesn't fill their stadium. Thoughts?
Dejan Kovacevic: You know, it's easy to get down on a kid when he waffles the way Boyd is, but I'll be blunt here: I didn't understand Boyd locking up with Pitt in the first place, given that Paul Chryst's offense isn't exactly pass-happy and that Chryst himself is looking to build up the Panthers as a big-up-front, physical running team. Moreover, there's no big shot at QB in the wings. Boyd's comments coming out of West Virginia sounded a lot more like a kid looking for the best offense rather than being with his best buds.
Comment From yinzer in va: Dejan, LC Greenwood is the last of the 70's dynasty team that should be in the HOF. Any chance he'll ever get there?
Dejan Kovacevic: It would be wonderful — and deserved — if he did, but even L.C. has admitted in recent months it won't be easy as a seniors candidate. Joe Greene told our paper two years ago that Greenwood is being “cheated” because he was part of a team that already has eight players enshrined, and he's right. But that's not an easy road. Here's the article I'm citing, and it's a good one.
Comment From Dave: Nice read on the ARoid/Ray Lewis situation
Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks!
Comment From Dom: Do you have a Super Bowl prediction?
Dejan Kovacevic: I do, Dom, but I'm saving it for tomorrow morning's blog entry.
Comment From Milo Hamilton: When does Ray Shero stop getting a free pass ?
Dejan Kovacevic: When he stops acquiring James Neal AND Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski.
Comment From Guest: In your experience, is John Harbaugh painted unfairly as a jerk?
Dejan Kovacevic: No, that would be accurate. Let's just say we've had our own encounters.
Comment From Know_Nothing: Dejan, this isn't just “six games” for Bylsma — it goes back to how they finished last year as well (and not just the Philly flameout). Is it possible Bylsma's being tuned out much like Therrien was when his end was nigh?
Dejan Kovacevic: The Flyers' series was a disaster, and nobody rode the coach harder — that I saw or heard — than I did. But the overall regular-season numbers, including special teams, were all very, very good, and that's what coaches can most control in the NHL. Moreover, trying to connect the Flyers series to these six games utterly ignores that the problem now is the polar opposite: The Penguins can't score.
Comment From John: Over the past few years while watching the Pens I always thought they were a fast team but this year they seem slow compared to other teams. Are they old, disinterested, a product of their system or what?
Dejan Kovacevic: They do look slower, but looks can deceive. See above for what I wrote regarding catching breakout passes flat-footed. Happens all the time with this team. You will look slow when teams figure you out because you've got nowhere to move. On the other hand, when you defend as poorly as the Rangers did back in the second game, the Penguins looked plenty fast.
Comment From Mookie: Does Bob Nutting have enough $$$ to run a competitive baseball team?
Dejan Kovacevic: He does not. But let's not allow that to get in the way of the unstoppable narrative.
Comment From Joey: Better TV show? Mad Men or Breaking Bad
Dejan Kovacevic: I'll take the latter by a hair. And I'll throw in as honorable mention Cartoon Network's incredible “Green Lantern” series running every Saturday morning. Best animated thing I've ever seen.
Comment From Joey: Pitt basketball: contender or pretender?
Dejan Kovacevic: They're a contender if they can ever get their layups, short Js and free throws to fall. But I'm not sure they can. It might behoove Jamie Dixon to find out by giving struggling Talib Zanna a breather and going with more of a slashing type like J.J. Moore or Trey Zeigler just to get more meaningful action at the basket. Right now, the offense looks so, so stagnant. It's either hit a 3, get it to Steven Adams and hope he's uncovered, or nothing. To answer your question, yes, they are. The talent's there. Just need to sort it out.
Comment From Napper: I have been echoing your comments of moving Kunitz back to the Malkin-Neal line. A speedy winger would better on Sid's line. Why are they waiting to give Bennett that chance?
Dejan Kovacevic: Those comments were made on the videotaped portion of the radio show, which you can find here. Beau Bennett lost about 20 pounds to a bout with the flu right around the time of camp. The Penguins want him to build that back up before he comes back, but they do very much expect him back. Crosby's line would be a fine fit. Sid himself went out of his way to praise Bennett during camp.
Comment From Sarah: Dejan — with opponents hanging back in far neutral the way they are, doesn't that beg an adjustment of bring the Fs further back, closer to their D? Shortens the passes, and enables the puck carriers and their Ws to come at the sitting-back opponents with speed and more space?
Dejan Kovacevic: Bingo. Think of the Flying V (which the Oilers sort of tried in a game the other night, for real). You move in a pack of five, and you attack with speed.
Comment From Bizrow: Dejan, is there any word out there on a new contract for Hurdle?
Dejan Kovacevic: The men who would issue such a contract aren't in any position to do so, given the way Nutting has described how tenuous their collective status is. But Hurdle is safer than most.
Comment From Ryan: Hey dk, love your articles. What's more concerning to you right now, the penguins inability to set up the most talented pp in the league, or their lack of emotion? Hard to imagine someone taking a hit like Lovejoy did with no reaction in a 4-0 game.
Dejan Kovacevic: I don't detect this lack of emotion when talking to these players off the ice, and I was with them wherever they went for the first five games. When we were in Ottawa, Sidney Crosby mentioned to me something along the lines of how energy comes from good play, rather than vice versa. It's a great point. When the Penguins were doing their thing at the Garden a couple weeks ago, the energy level was through the roof, and Brooks Orpik was clubbing Chris Kreider with a four-goal lead. When things aren't going well, frustration sets in. Don't over-read the effort thing. I'm not absolving, just trying to explain.
Comment From Andrew from Long Island: Will you be watching the Superbowl for the commercials or actual football?
Dejan Kovacevic: I've had enough of the funny animals. Unless the first couple hook me, I'll probably tune out the ads altogether. Besides, for as nauseating as it is to deal with multiple Harbaughs, Ray Lewis' multiple personas and a bunch of other stuff, this actually does look like it could be an interesting game.
Comment From RELENTLESS_FORECHECK: Alright, I suppose I'm dumb :) I think removing Sid from the top PP unit (at least temporarily) would help simplify the man advantage and allow Malkin and Neal to return to their strengths. How long does Bylsma keep adjusting positions and trying unconventional approaches just to keep both of his star players on the ice?
Dejan Kovacevic: It's fantasy land. Really is. You're taking the best player in the world off the power play and presuming they'll be able to split those two minutes right down the middle. Very rarely happens. Bottom line: If you've reached the point where you as a coach can't figure out how to best use the best player in the world with a man-advantage, it's probably a good time to hire a specialist.
Comment From You, me, and Dupuis: Who is going to be the pens powerplay set-up man / quarterback!?!?
Dejan Kovacevic: Kris Letang. Always. Including in this new arrangement. But here again, this is a name that seldom gets discussed. Watch the offense Erik Karlsson of the Senators creates from the same vantage point. He finds a way to get open, finds a way to get his shot through. All these years later, that's still not a strength for Letang.
Comment From Jimmy D: Bigger difference from last year. Loss of Jordan Staal from 3rd line, or Steve Sullivan from Sid's line and PP?
Dejan Kovacevic: Staal's presence has been missed, no question. That's one reason I'd strongly consider using Brandon Sutter as the net-front guy on the first power play, maybe get him going a bit. And, he just might be better at it than Chris Kunitz, who really hasn't gotten rolling at all.
Couple more today ...
Comment From Chris in DC: Do the Pens need more veteran leadership? Gritty guys like Guerin and Hal Gill were huge for the Pens previously. Just seems this team could use some more veteran “grit” to help steady the ship.
Dejan Kovacevic: I can't imagine there are many people who love the sport as much as I do, but honestly, why is it that hockey fans suffer the intangibles so much more than other fans? It's not about rah-rah or jinxes or curses or moving into a new arena or Jeff Jimerson vs. another anthem singer. It's about playing better, playing smarter.
Comment From Jandy: Who do you hire as your PP specialist for the Pens?
Dejan Kovacevic: For this week alone, I hire Eddie Johnston, and have him write up on a napkin the power play he designed that broke the NHL record in the early 1980s. And here's why: It was simple as can be. A few picks, a little planned interference, a whole lot of pucks to the net, and a whole lot of bodies pursuing it with bloodlust. Think that would work with all this talent and hockey savvy at hand right now?
Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. Again, hope you had a chance to see today's blog entry about a couple of additional hats I'll be wearing in my role beginning next week.
Thanks to all for participating!