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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Feb. 14, 2013

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Morning, all, and thanks for showing up an hour early. I've got an early-afternoon flight to Winnipeg, and moving this forward seemed a better option than not having it at all.

Off we go ...

Greg: What can be done to save wrestling? So many from WPIAL and local college coaches have been on the Olympic wrestling team.

Dejan Kovacevic: For those who don't know of Greg's reference, check Monday's column.

To help the cause, visit ... that's USA Wrestling's official site. It's all there.

VINCE: Hello Dejan and thanks for hosting the chat. What do you feel is the main reason Eric Tangradi didn't fit in here? Is Pittsburgh really that different from other clubs?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm trying to recall the last time the local hockey fan base pushed so hard for someone who's achieved so little, shown so little. Not being mean here, I swear. But Tangradi was never considered an elite prospect, wasn't really even painted as the top acquisition in the Ryan Whitney trade. Where this notion arose that this is some budding power forward, I'll never know.

He's a wonderful kid. I'm sure there are many here hoping he does well in Winnipeg (though perhaps not tomorrow night). But I'm a long, long way off from wondering why he or the Penguins might not have meshed styles or whether anyone made a mistake.

Ryan: Can you briefly give your thoughts on the PP when Martin is running it, compared to Letang? Which do you prefer?

Dejan Kovacevic: This might sound a little nuts, but Paul Martin actually looks more mobile at the point. No, he isn't more mobile than Kris Letang. Few are. But he's got the confidence and the presence to move when needed rather than staying as static as Letang does. It's always been a bit odd that Letang shows more instinct, more daring in even-strength than on the power play, but it still applies.

Really wouldn't mind seeing both Martin and Letang out there on the points, maybe lifting Chris Kunitz depending on the opponent.

Zack: Every team has shown they are vulnerable, how great of a run can Pitt make? With Steven Adams developing the way he is, seems like anything is possible.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll agree that Pitt's improving, Zack, but I want to see more of either a) a go-to scorer in the way we've begun to see at times with LaMarr Patterson or b) generally more consistency under the hoop. Adams can go a long way toward resolving the latter. Not only was he finishing in Cincinnati, but he and the rest of the team were finding a way to make plays for Talib Zanna, as well. That opens up room for everyone else.

But the Panthers aren't there yet. And they don't have that great pure shooter to make up for having neither of the above.

Derek: Dejan, between RB, ILB, OLB, WR, S, and would you list these in priority for the Steeles this draft/offseason? I think I would go OLB, ILB, RB, WR, S, QB.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, the draft and the offseason are two different questions, really, because the draft itself comes with other variables, including, for example, whether it's a good idea to invest a first-round pick in a running back.

But sticking to your question that doesn't separate the two, I'd go ILB, RB, WR, S, QB, OLB ... but the last of those is predicated on having James Harrison back. If he isn't, that slides up.

mcpitt88: Who do you think could potentially have a breakout year for the Pirates?

Dejan Kovacevic: The reflexive answer for a while now has been Pedro Alvarez, but he just put a 30-homer season on his resume. He might still be that guy, though, because if he can cut down on Ks and raise his average — both of those, even modestly — his natural power makes him a candidate to crazy things. But I don't know if that's there.Otherwise, the roster's makeup really doesn't lend itself to the type of player you're describing. Go around the diamond or through the pitchers, and there really aren't guys in that position.

Alan Gifford: What should our expectations be for Beau Bennett now that he is here and which line do you think he will go on (Id like to see him on Sid's).

Dejan Kovacevic: Bennett is a finesse guy. He can handle the puck, he can finish plays, and he's got good quickness. I'm skeptical of that style on the wings -- almost by default -- unless someone has way-above-average speed or skill, so I'd still want to see him spend more time in traffic, get a little dirtier. Eddie Johnston told me a couple weeks ago that won't be an issue with Bennett. I trust E.J., but this will be Bennett's first NHL experience, so we'll all be seeing for the first time.

As for lines, yeah, moving Kunitz back to the second and inserting Bennett with Crosby makes sense. It was hard not to like how the Crosby line played last night, as well as how Matt Cooke instantly worked out with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. But that was a tired, injured Ottawa team, so I wouldn't have a problem with going away from that.

Matt in Ann Arbor: Did you see the Jagr interview with Ray Ferraro on TSN? It is a good watch, but seems like he was a great humatarian in wanting Straka, Lang and Kovalev get money and faking the whole 'dying inside' thing! PS I'd love to see Ray Ferraro more on US NHL telecasts, very good!

Dejan Kovacevic: That's not the first time Jagr has used that excuse for his behavior, that he wanted his buddies to get the payday here. I didn't buy it then, not buying it now.

Jagr's a phenomenal talent. He still looks good in the Dallas games I've seen. But he remains a child in so many ways, including a few good ways.

Dave: How do we now log in or create an account so that we can view your blog?

Dejan Kovacevic: No login, registration or anything are needed to read the blog. Point and click.

Guest: Is Bryan Murray for real? Does he realize how difficult it would have been for Cooke to target Karlsson's achilles at that speed?

Dejan Kovacevic: Like I wrote on the blog early this morning, all you have to do is watch Cooke's head. Watch how he turns to the right. He isn't even looking at Karlsson, much less spying the location of his ankle for some specific wickedness.

The Senators were upset. They lost the most dynamic defenseman in the league for the season. That had to be tough to take.

Outlaw Pete: Any thoughts on the Jim Boeheim press conference regarding Andy Katz reporting things he thought were off the record? Have you ever been in a similar situation?

Dejan Kovacevic: Going on or off the record is something every reporter faces, on an almost daily basis. To me, those things get honored, and they get honored forever. Even when someone is fired or dies and you're no longer covering them, you still don't give up that information. It kills your credibility with people who might want to talk to you in the future.

But there's a difference between off-the-record and background info. Last summer, for example, I asked the local baseball team AFTER THE DEADLINE about their various trade possibilities that had been passed up. They gave me that information under the condition that no names would be divulged as to who told me. That was respected, even as I was free to give you all those scenarios, including Chase Headley and a few others.

That's also how I was told by Bob Nutting shortly after the season that the Pirates will no longer be doing the more intense military-type drills in future training. We didn't have a tape recorder running, so there isn't a direct quote (still), but he said it and had no problem with my relaying it.

Hope that answers your question. Happens all the time, and yes, it's a gray area.

Matt in Ann Arbor: A month ago, I was worried about the Pitt @ Marquette game being a must win for a struggling bubble team. Now I'm glad I going to Milwaukee to see a battle for the top of the Big East. I think the big reason is Pitt's zone defense, which helps hide some of the team's speed deficiencies. Do you sense that Jamie Dixon calls out zone defenses through gritted teeth?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Well, not nearly as much as if he did so with full-court presses. Defensively, Pitt's coming up with a much stronger identity than offensively. That's not a bad thing. Defense is far less likely to go into a slump, and it'll serve you best in a tournament grind. Especially on the boards right now, Adams has just become a machine.

The Real Honest Abe: There is something wrong with the blog. It is calling for a login and it won't accept a username or password. Says "World Press" on the top.

Dejan Kovacevic: Just tested it myself. No problem here. But I'll relay your issue. Thanks!

Matt in Ann Arbor: RE: Sens/Karlsson, Bryan Murray is the biggest whiner in the NHL, imho. Who's the biggest whiner that you've covered.

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean non-Harbaugh?

I'd have to go with Ron Wilson, the former coach of the Caps, Ducks, Leafs and U.S. Olympic hockey team. Just relentless. Something new every day.

TiminKY: DK — Is Simon Despres really working harder now, or is he one of those guys that just isn't a good "practice player"?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've neither seen nor heard of any issues related to Despres' work habits. When I wrote about Despres during camp, the concern that had been expressed by some was mostly related to nutrition and how it wasn't allowing him to stay strong over a full game. Not hearing that anymore. Pascal Dupuis worked him hard during the lockout up in Quebec.

Josh: What's the next step if Bennett doesn't work out? I assume its a trade b/c this team is built to win now. Curious if you have any thoughts on who Shero may target.

Dejan Kovacevic: The firm answer to that is that Shero isn't targeting anyone right now. They want to give Bennett a shot. They're not looking that far ahead. Not guessing on this. I asked just this week.

PCW: was putting Tangradi in #25 (stevens) a bit of the weight on his shoulders — assuming normal levels of hockey player superstitions, of course.

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow, not it's his uniform number?

Guys, Tangradi just flat-out never showed much on the ice at the NHL level. Not even for a shift or two. No point in lamenting something that no one ever witnessed.

Bernard: Is Harrison wearing the black and gold next season?

Dejan Kovacevic: I believe he is. The Steelers have never seen Jason Worilds stop the run. They're going to feel immensely uncomfortable with him starting. Harrison's shown he's healthy and still can play.

mcpitt88: Do the Pirates keep Aj after this year if he performs well again?

Dejan Kovacevic: Long, long way off from knowing. Burnett is 36, and it might well be an entirely new group of people making the decision. I know that the owner likes and trusts Burnett, though, and another strong summer would at least get him confidence from the very top.

Dejan Kovacevic: Time for Tampa Bay Lightning, then I've got to ... ahem, Bolt ...

James_Indiana: Do you think that the Pitt Panthers can make a run in the NCAA tournament? I see their lack of a player that can take over the game offensively as a major problem.

Dejan Kovacevic: They can do well in both of the tournaments because of their defense. But you're right: Someone needs to step up on offense. Tray Woodall is that guy at guard. Now who will do it up front?

SPuleio3: What can the Pirates do with Tabata? He's out of options and while he's only owed $1M this year, there's $12.25M guaranteed over the remainder of the contract. The sooner we can get rid of him the better.

Dejan Kovacevic: I would imagine that length — and potential burden — of Tabata's contract aren't exactly an industry contract. He'll have to perform one way or another.

Dave: How many games will the Pirates win this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not there yet, sorry. I'll spend a full week in Bradenton at the beginning of March, and even after that, I'll want to learn more.

Dave: I've heard people say the Pens need a top 4 defenseman more then a top 6 forward at this point, what are your thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd say you're thinking along the lines the Penguins are, even if it's not top four but simply a 5 or 6 to provide additional depth. The top four aren't spectacular, but they've been very good.

Harold: Dejan: Still not sure what the coaching staff sees in Boychuk. Now that he's been dropped to the third line, how much longer will this experiment go on? He's not exactly the most responsible defensive player to be filling a third-line role. I would much rather see Jeffrey playing in that position.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not wild about Boychuk, either, but my goodness, the Penguins do NOT share that view. They're backing him up pretty good these days. We'll see.

Seabass: Hey Dejan, love the hockey talk. Do you have a problem with the Pens having Malkin, Crosby, Neal, etc...on the ice for the powerplay at the end of the game? Up by 2, less than 2 mins to play, right after the other team lost their top player in a play they clearly perceived as cheap. Seemed like a very unnecessary risk for some stat-padding.

Dejan Kovacevic: The score was 4-2. You play your power play. And Chris Neil had already gotten the boot. The Senators aren't exactly overflowing with thugs.

Patrick: Pitt has been applauded for much of the season for its depth and ten-man rotation. Do you think it stays that way once the tournaments come along or does it shrink down a bit?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's not a strict five-guys-in-five-guys-out rotation, so yes, it'll stay intact. But you'll also see Dixon mix and match to keep his better guys on the court more often. I'll be very interested, in that context, to see how much more he leans toward Woodall than James Robinson as the games get bigger.

The Bee: CBC's Elliotte Friedman confirmed that Karlsson was not wearing Kevlar protective socks. Wearing this type of protective equipment should be a no brainer, especially at the NHL level. Could you see teams mandating players wear this type of protection going forward? Do you know where the Pens stand on this?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins don't mandate equipment of any kind for any player. I can tell you that players are extremely sensitive to any equipment change, but especially those that affect skating. I asked Crosby during the lockout if he'd consider wearing skate guards if he got time on penalty-killing -- which he does now, obviously -- and he flatly dismissed it. Every stride counts.

Sammich: Can we look forward to any more science experiments from Winnipeg?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes! If you've got any ideas to add to those I tried on my last visit (a full cup of boiling water instantly evaporates upon being tossed into the air when it's minus-27!), I'm all ears. I'll be filming and sharing on the blog, as always.

The Real Honest Abe: Is Dali going with you?

Dejan Kovacevic: She and the daughter both are. First time up there. They think I'm nuts and want to see for themselves. I think we'll go curling. Seriously.

Kevin: WVU or Pitt....5 years from now, who made the better move / is in the better conference?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hard not to think right now that West Virginia has found itself in a more stable conference, not to mention one with more money.

Dave: Which vets do you see the Steelers letting go of this offseason so they can get under the cap?

Dejan Kovacevic: Casey Hampton. But that's it.

Tim: Why is Tyler Kennedy still on the Penguins?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thought he played pretty well last night. Need more of that.

Tim: Any chance the Steelers draft Manti Te'o?

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, a columnist can only dream!

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. Packing up, heading out. Thanks to all for participating. We'll fix the blog thing, and I'll begin random experiments at some point tonight. Supposed to be about minus-19, so should be perfect.

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