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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: May 20, 2014

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 2:19 p.m.

Mo Wanchuk: Dejan thanks for the intriguing interview with Mario and Burkle. It was refreshing to see Burkle sound like an informed fan. Talking about the same concerns we have seen all year

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks. No doubt in my mind that Ron Burkle, while hardly a hockey guy, is fully invested in knowing as much as he can about the team on and off the ice. We're on our way ...

Brenann, Charlotte NC: Pens leadership mentioned “character” as a missing element. Can you expand on what that means?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sure. Turn on the playoffs that are still going on. Any night, either conference. That's character. There's a pace to the game, there's a toughness, there's a willingness to go hard to the net, there's sacrifice. You can't fill one hand with the number of Penguins who displayed that against Columbus or New York.

Napper: Has anyone heard from Ray Shero? Did he release any tyoe of statement?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ray's been heard from, yes, but he's chosen not to speak publicly. It would be immensely out of character — not to mention self-defeating for his own future — to get into some sort of chirping exchange.

Yatch from Wind Gap: Do you think the new management will stress providing more opportunities to younger players; Depres, Pouliot, Harrington, Zlobin, Sill etc?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't think that. I know it now. Go back and look at the transcript of the Lemieux/Burkle interview when I asked about Simon Despres and other youngsters being stifled. It won't be tolerated. And if Mr. Prospective New GM is smart, he'll make that his second priority when being interviewed.

Right after how much he wants to fire Dan Bylsma.

Yatch from Wind Gap: Is Rob Scuderi a candidate for a buyout? I think since his contract was signed after the new CBA the Pens cant recoup all of the cap space. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you mean the amnesty buyout, no. Scuderi's contract was signed after the new labor agreement was struck. Mentioned this a couple days ago.

Mitchell: Did the Penguins intenionally lie to the media when everyone from local to US/Canadian hockey writers had Bylsma fired?

Dejan Kovacevic: I can't speak for anyone else. We all have our own conversations with different people. My own information was laid out in the three columns leading up to that day, and that was that Bylsma was as good as gone and that Shero was in big trouble. I wouldn't change a syllable of it.

Bill: With all the Polanco talk I keep hearing from people I'm still trying to wrap my head around how no one is talking about our closer situation. Nine blown saves away from a winning record. The Pirates need to figure this out soon. And no one on this roster is fit to hold that role.

Dejan Kovacevic: Hey, no need to be delving into reality here!

Saw this amazing number today in reviewing the Pirates' media game notes for the Orioles game tonight: The Pirates are now 13-4 when leading after eight innings. Last year, they finished 80-3.

Stop and think about that for a moment. If you take those four losses — not to mention the overall major-league-leading nine blown saves (which include leads blown by relievers in innings earlier than the ninth) — this team has a winning record.

But hey, sorry, we were talking about right field, right?

Brian: Anze Kopitar.

Dejan Kovacevic: Indeed!

Dan B: what are you true feelings about the Steelers draft class this year. I know you can't really say because they are just “in shorts”, but what are your first impressions on the positions they selected.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's funny, but the Monday column actually got a couple of snarly responses for the ending in which I wrote that football in shorts isn't worth evaluating. Because I actually proceeded to do exactly that on the accompanying Monday blog. Check it out.

When I wrote it wasn't worth evaluating, I was referring to Mike Tomlin's stance on it.


Ben in MS: Can Gregory Polanco close games and start?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. And in between he can part the Red Sea with one hand, hit majestic homers with the other.

Sean: What are the chances of the Pirates offering Polanco a big enough contract to get him up to the majors a few weeks early? Have the made a new offer recently?

Dejan Kovacevic: There was the one reported offer in spring training that was rejected. If there's been another, it isn't known.

We're probably about three weeks away from Polanco being called up regardless of all this. That's when he'll be up.

This notion that the Polanco narrative somehow changes or gains or loses steam based on the 2014 team or injuries just isn't warranted. He always was going to stay in the minors until Super 2 passed, and it was always going to be money-motivated, as I've written all along.

And, as I've also written all along, that's exactly the right approach. Wrote that when it was Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, then Gerrit Cole. Nothing's changed. Nothing at all. If anything, the urgency was greater with Alvarez and Cole because those two teams had gotten off to much stronger starts.

It's a stupid, irresponsible waste of money. And the closer we get to the Super 2 deadline, the more ill-advised it would be.

Richard: Dejan, I'm concerned about the David Morehouse situation. Shero didn't report to anyone but the owners. Now the new GM will report to Morehouse. Isn't it reasonable to expect Morehouse will now be involved on the “Hockey” side of the business? Is anyone else extremely uncomfortable with a former political official who seems to have no tangible hockey background now being in a position to oversee a GM?

Dejan Kovacevic: I, too, get the sense Morehouse is positioning himself for at least some sort of final-say authority in hockey operations. I don't like it. I haven't liked it with Frank Coonelly on the Pirates' end, and I've been openly critical of some of Art Rooney II's meddling in the Steelers' football matters. I want sports people making sports decisions, as well as the business decisions related to sports.

And getting back to Polanco, if you think Neal Huntington isn't 100 percent on board with keeping Polanco right where he is for business reasons, you don't know Huntington at all.

Transplant in MD: Which of the three teams in town relies the most on advanced data analytics in their operations. My guess is the Pirates but that's just because baseball does it more than others. Are any of the Pittsburgh franchises considered leaders in this area? Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates are ahead, the Penguins do OK with it, and the Steelers are light-years behind. That said, the Pirates get spoken of in some quarters as if they invented modern baseball or created the defensive shift or were the first in baseball history to recognize that — gasp — a catcher tries to frame pitches! It goes ridiculously overboard.

The Steelers have tons and tons of work to do to catch up. But Tomlin at least acknowledged an openness to it during one interview session earlier this year.

Jason: Any tips on pursuing a career like yours?

Dejan Kovacevic: Run the other direction! No, seriously, I did a blog entry on this a few months ago. I'm pretty sure you'll hate it.

Prestige Worldwid: Not here to argue the Polanco dollars, but at some point you have to stop sending the message to your current roster that we're going to do everything we can to win, so long as it never includes calling up a high end talent before the middle of June, no?

Dejan Kovacevic: Generally speaking, once an argument has been reduced to ‘sending messages,' it's been lost. This is silly.

It's a bad system, a terrible system. Like everything else about baseball, it favors the teams with the most money.

Some like to complain about symptoms. I don't mind complaining, but I prefer to do so about causes. Baseball needs a salary cap. No team should have an edge with Super-2 or arbitration any more than it should in signing Japanese or Cuban players or general free agency or the draft or anything else monetarily.

Three out of four sports agree.

Justin: Rob Biertempfel recently described the downside of calling Polanco up as “a one-time, few million dollar” payment or something like that in an article when ESPN was in town. This isn't exactly the case, right? It's why Neil Walker is outearning Pedro Alvarez this year, right? It accumulates.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not going to comment on anyone else's work, certainly not that of a colleague. My own answer to you is that, yes, arbitration is cumulative. One salary has a direct impact on the next in the eyes of the arbitrator.

So when a true Super-2 guy — your Walker example is a good one — gets $4 million in year 3, and the usual system would have had him around $500,000, then yes, there's a cumulative effect. Because year 4 is then an increase on year 3 and so forth.

Best figure I've seen so far estimating Polanco's total cost to the Pirates as a Super-2 is around $15 million, and that was one of the lower ones. Because if Polanco is genuinely a superstar, it could actually be much higher.

And if Polanco isn't a superstar, then why have this discussion in the first place?

Question: Do people actually still watch the games or just sit around and dream about Polanco while throwing darts at pics of Bob Nutting?

DB: I just want to complement you on your writing. I sent the scathing article you wrote about the Pens before Game 7 to a huge Bruin fan....just to prove that Pittsburgh sportwriters can be objective and totally right in calling it like it is! Thank you.

Dejan Kovacevic: No, thank you. For dealing with a Boston fan. Can't be fun. Miserable lot. :)

espo: Regarding the Riverhounds...what can interim manager Nikola Katic do, in your opinion, to turn around this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Niko's a tough guy. Likes to talk about soldiers and military and stuff. Not sure that's such a bad thing in this context. The Hounds are on the road this weekend — Wilmington and Charleston — and that's not such a bad thing. What they lack most right now is passion. I don't know if these mercenary hires have it (to continue the military theme), but this would be a good place and time to find out.

That said, I'm told to expect a full-time hire on this front before long. Katic will simply be ... oh, manning the fort.

Victor: DK, I think you should be the new baseball commissioner. But if not you, who do you think it will be? Or who do you think would make alot of sense?

Dejan Kovacevic: I nominate Gary Bettman. He doesn't know anything about sports, but he sure can impose his will to get a salary cap.

Plus, it would get him out of the NHL.


Anthony: The national consensus seems to be that the Steelers are “more than a few” pieces away from competing for a title. Is it homer optimism to disagree with this? I just think that when you factor in the injuries (Pouncey, Bell, Foote, Ike, Cortez) throughout last season and realize the likely upgrades at multiple positions for this year (Mitchell for Clark, Shazier/Spence for Williams, Wheaton for Sanders, etc.) that team that closed so strongly last year looks a lot more dangerous. Agree?

Dejan Kovacevic: You've got to be legitimately a glass-full type to see any leaps and bounds coming from this group, in large part because of the defense. You'll have two rookies out there in Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt, a nose tackle by committee and a secondary with one meaningful change in Mike Mitchell. That's it. That's scary.

You'll also have Markus Wheaton as a default starting wide receiver. That's really scary. The offense has its ominous elements, too.

I don't know if you've got to be a homer to believe. There are other factors, not least of which is the AFC North again not looking all that powerful. The rest of the schedule doesn't overwhelm, either. But it'll take a lot more than that.

Adam: After all of your articles, and interview with Burkle and Mario (great by the way), I still can't understand by Bylsma is still in Pittsburgh. What nuance am I missing? To me, still reads as a disservice to Bylsma, and more importantly the franchise. Talk to me like I'm 5.

Dejan Kovacevic: If Bylsma is being prevented from interviewing for another team, I'll agree. He isn't. At least that's what Lemieux and Burkle stated — quite emphatically — when I raised the point last week. I even mentioned Tony Granato, who I hear could be a candidate for the Washington vacancy. They gave the same answer.

Burkle believes in running a sports franchise kind of like a business. In his businesses, he lets his new man at the top make all of the personnel calls. He doesn't see this as different.

Joseph: I was speaking to a knowledgable hockey guy who works for hockey night in Canada. He mentioned how he thinks Jonathan toews is the best player in the world right now. He has more cups a conn smythe etc. watching these playoffs it's kind of hard not to agree. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Toews vs. Kopitar?

Ask me after the series. :)

Josh: Thank you for bringing attention to the floods in Serbia. My family is Croatian and the only place I had heard about this tragedy is your twitter. I've donated to the Novak Djokovic Foundation and hope you keep spreading the word.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thank you for that. It's a horrible human disaster, no matter anyone's background. I have a post up on my Facebook page about this today, and I'll call special attention here to Burkle's involvement in Djokovic's charity work. It's legit, and they will get the money where it's supposed to.

Mitchell: Dejan, I can't get enough of the outstanding coverage of the Pens by you and the Trib hockey guys. Listening to the DVE morning show on Thursday, I heard the Trib's Rob Rossi talk of a “relationship problem” Sidney Crosby has been having that he couldn't 100% confirm yet. Have you heard of any of that?

Dejan Kovacevic: If I had — and I haven't heard that or Rob's radio report you cite — I wouldn't, generally speaking, attach any personal element in evaluating a player's performance without very hard knowledge. Say, for example, Marty St. Louis' mom passing. That's personal, but it's also public, and the link between the personal side and the performance was — and still is — very much obvious.

Nick: Have you ever seen a GM go from hailed like a Civic hero (What would Ray Shero do?) and one the other GMs in town were always compared to in reaching the high standard to all of a sudden fired? I know hockey teams change coaches like underwear but that seems harsh for a GM, doesn't it?

Dejan Kovacevic: I love this question because it offers a chance to make this point: People love trades. Fans love trades. For some, trades are a bigger deal than the games they're supposed to influence.

Shero's folk-hero status came, no doubt in my mind, from having some really, really big moments at trade deadlines. Never mind that you could rewind the public reaction today to that Brenden Morrow/Joe Morrow trade — it was close to joyful at the time — and much more easily see that everything about drafting and dealing Joe Morrow was a disaster. But that joy that's felt with the initial moment doesn't easily dissipate.

Hey, who celebrates great sixth-round draft picks?

If Kevin Colbert could have done an end-zone dance and create a civic stir when he drafted Antonio Brown in the sixth round, he might be viewed a lot differently. But it's a hell of a lot more important than a lot of the higher-profile moves that get made.

The Capital of Greenland: How angry would Letang be if the Pens traded him before his no trade kicked in?

Dejan Kovacevic: He signed the contract, right?

Victor: DK, is the Penguins' sell out streak a sham?

Dejan Kovacevic: Did they sell all the tickets?

Justin: More irritating group: the “Pirates can do no right” group or the “Pirates can do no wrong” group?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm increasingly convinced that each of them can fit into a bus, and that social media gives each way, way too much of a representative voice. Idiots on both ends.

Nutting Hostage: DK, after 2012 you, along with many others at the Trib, were leading the mob to have this front office run out of town. Now you're seemingly Nutting's bigger supporter. Why the change?

Dejan Kovacevic: See? Case in point.

Anyone who actually read the material back then — and it's easy to Google — will recall that Nutting was the only voice I trusted all through that process, including his investigation of the front office and all baseball ops after Epic Collapse II.

I still trust Nutting, and it's got nothing to do with being a ‘supporter.' That sort of term only applies to miserable people with nothing else to do with their lives but take one side or the other of one issue, then obsess.

Find something more important. Click that link up there for flood relief. Obsess over that. Make a difference.

Transplant in Indi: DK, Just want to thank you for putting this up. My new employer out here blocks most sports related content on the job, but I'm still able to get to your blogs. This chat is always the highlight of my week at the office. Keep up the good work!

Dejan Kovacevic: Nice! Thank your new employer for allowing us to steal some of his valuable corporate productivity!

Eric: Given the change at FS, do we see Troy at OTAs this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I hope so. Tomlin wouldn't bite when asked. He can't really. As he pointed out, it's supposed to be ‘voluntary.' But I'd be very sure that Polamalu's presence would be immensely valuable not only to Mike Mitchell in learning Ryan Clark's old spot but also to Shazier and other newcomers. Heck, remember, Polamalu spent almost as much time at inside linebacker last season! One more ...

confused in Pitt: Does Niskanen get a contract from the Pens? People think Niskanen is a bottom pairing d-man who we shouldnt dump a lot of money and we already have a lot of money tied up in Letang, Crosby, and Malkin. Does he go and we start bringing in the youth? I'm sure Orpik and Engelland are gone.

Dejan Kovacevic: Who are people who think Matt Niskanen is a bottom-pairing guy after what he just did this season?

Can't say I'm hearing that one much at all.

Yes, Niskanen should get a deal. But Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi need to be cleared out for some other younger players such as Despres, possibly Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington.

Victor: DK, have you been to every baseball park in MLB. Which one (besides PNC Park) is your favorite to visit?

Dejan Kovacevic: Love Petco in San Diego. Been there a ton of times and each time it feels like the first. Beautiful. Underappreciated.

cuzzinfish: Am I crazy for thinking 90 wins is still realistic? The Bucs would have to go 25 over the rest of the way. Considering they went 69-39 in a similar amount of games after starting 1-4 last year as well as some of the negative statistical anomalies, I think it's very possible.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's extremely ambitious. But 90 isn't necessarily the goal. The playoffs are. Other teams can have a say in that.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be with the Pirates most of the week, working toward Thursday and Friday columns on that topic. The chat is every Tuesday, the TribLIVE Radio show is every Wednesday at 2-3 p.m., and the blog is omnipresent and, when it's really hungry, omnivorous, too.

Thanks to all who participated!

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