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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: April 26, 2012

| Thursday, April 26, 2012, 12:51 a.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, all. Happy NFL draft day or double-Game 7 day or Pirates off-day, whichever makes you happiest. Let's get going ...

maddamma: Dejan, which is most likely to be true: a) the Steelers will make their first pick before 10:30 pm; b) the Steelers will draft a running back in the first three rounds; c) the Steelers draft o-line over defense with their first pick; d) someone will erroneously comment on tomorrow's column without reading it; or e) all of the above?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hm. I'll go, in order, with B, D, C and A. Sure sounds like the Steelers will at least look hard at running backs, but even a QB could come into that mix. And an offensive lineman is almost as much a possibility as linebacker or nose tackle.

WyattBurp: Afternoon, Dejan. NFL draft is up tonight. Is there a player that would be perfect for the Steelers, today? I'm thinking Dont'a Hightower, but you might have someone else in mind.

Dejan Kovacevic: Nope. He's my pick, too.

Dan: Is there another sport that the 'best player in the world' conversation comes up more often than in hockey?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, soccer and tennis. But it's true that hockey always has felt this need to have that anointed One Guy. Goes way, way back, well before Wayne Gretzky.

Eric Majeski: The Pens penalty kill has been top 9 in the regular season each of the past 3 years (top 2 twice). Yet come playoff time, that unit has become a major liability, finishing in the bottom 2 all 3 years. How does that happen?

Dejan Kovacevic: It happens because playoff opponents have way more time to prepare and make adjustments. We saw that last year with Guy Boucher, saw it just now with Peter Laviolette and his staff. Both times, by no coincidence, we saw very little in the way of change from Dan Bylsma's staff. Last year, it was the Statue of Liberty power play. This year, it was the wiggle-the-sticks penalty-kill.

The Penguins have to become multifaceted in systems. They do have a lot of set plays they run that vary, especially off faceoffs. I'm talking about all-out changing systems on the fly, the way the Lightning did last year. The Flyers did it some, too.

BucsFaninGA: Do you think Pedro Alvarez is begining to get it together? It appears that the front office is inclined to not give up on him. Mike Schmidt with the Phillies has similar issues until team gave him opportunity to gain his confidence. What do you think of Pedro.

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't like the Schmidt comparison. All kinds of reasons for that. But I do like the Alvarez topic enough to make it the Friday column. Hope you enjoy it.

Mike: What are your feelings on Jose Tabata? He looks really lost at the plate and isn't even showing gap power let alone HR power. Just a bad start or long term concern?

Dejan Kovacevic: It'll be as long-term as Tabata drags it out. Tabata can hit. He can make contact, he can hit the ball with authority, and he can manage his strike zone. But when he's lacking confidence like he is now, not much matters. You'll see a bunch of squibbers until he's out of it. Even a failed bunt or two.

The staff's working on it.

Sam: Dejan, Should the Steelers really consider Donta Hightower? I've read a few times that his weakness is in pass coverage and the NFL is pass happy. Or, is he worth it for stopping Ray Rice twice a year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hightower was known for his run-stopping at Alabama. That might sound like he'll get exposed in coverage the way James Farrior and Larry Foote were last season (especially Farrior). But those reports are inconsistent, for one. And for another, let me ask you this: If the Steelers were more confident in the RUN-stopping ability of their middle linebackers, do you think they would have brought the whole franchise to the line of scrimmage on that fatal play in Denver?

Milo Hamilton: If the NFL pulls the plug on the Pro Bowl, will anyone notice ?

Dejan Kovacevic: End all All-Star Games except for baseball's. Do skills competitions. At least those can be fun to watch. The games have gotten terrible.

Ditto: When does Ray Shero begin to get some blame? You have to consider he has been GM since 2006 and (aside from a gimme in Staal) has not developed any top nine forwards, top four defenseman, or a back-up goalie through the farm. Plus, he seems to target by free agency and draft only mobile defenseman, completely disregarding good defensive zone defenseman (Leopold/Martin/Michalek). What gives?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you're asking when Shero starts to get blame from me, you probably missed my Monday column from Philly in which I singled out his signings of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek as being primarily responsible for the Penguins' decline on defense.

As for the farm, if you're gong to do a fair analysis of that, it's not enough to look at top-nine forwards in the NHL and ask which came through Wilkes-Barre. If he trades a homegrown player (Alex Goligoski) for one of the NHL's top wingers (James Neal) and one of the team's top defensemen (Matt Niskanen), that's getting it done on the farm.

Keep the faith: Hey DK, Do the steelers Draft a QB late in the draft or keep FA Troy Smith depending on his work ethic to back up Charlie and please no leftwich.

Dejan Kovacevic: Sounds like a QB is possible. Also sounds like it doesnt' have to be some franchise type. Ben just turned 30 last month. He's not old. And he'll be around a good while if he can do that "tweaking" and keep himself from getting killed. All that's needed is a backup. I've never heard anyone suggest Smith will be that guy, so maybe someone new in the Dennis Dixon mold.

Guest: With Clark and Polamalu slowly growing older in the Steelers secondary, how important is it to find someone to groom as a replacement for them? What ballhawking secondary talent can the Steelers steal in the mid to late rounds? Somebody like South Carolina's Antonio Allen seems to have a "nose for the ball" and a "knack for making big plays", while being athletic enough to play LB & Safety in the SEC...

Dejan Kovacevic: This is an outstanding thought process, one you can only hope Kevin Colbert and his staff maintain through the weekend. For all the gasps that scouts experience over the combines, for all that we can over-value results at the collegiate level, the innate ability to read a QB, track the ball and take it ... those are REAL tangibles.

PirateApologist: Dejan, what are Donald Fehr's stated goals for the players?

Dejan Kovacevic: Fehr, for those who don't know, headed the baseball union for a long time and now serves the same role for the NHL. The simple answer to your question is that even he doesn't know. He and Gary Bettman have yet to have their first conversation, formal or even informal, about a new labor agreement.

Fehr maintains he needs more time to study up on hockey's nuances. Been doing that for months now. Feel free to roll your eyes anytime you hear it. He's just trying to make the owners nervous.

Dan: Worst case scenario for Pirates 1st month: 8-14, Best case: 12-10. Given their being mostly allergic to hitting and the schedule difficulty, would say this is a nice start.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's quite the testament to this team's pitching that they're 8-10, really is. I mean, we're talking a .211 batting average and next to nothing for power, at least before Alvarez and Garrett Jones sent a couple out yesterday.

Yeah, 8-10 is spectacular right now. If you'd looked in March at that list of pitchers they'd face to open April, would you take 8-10?

Jesse: Was at the double header yesterday, and people are already booing Barajas. Why did the Bucs get rid of Doumit? We could have had him for a million less than what they signed Barajas for, and he was a much more capable bat than what Barajas has shown.

Dejan Kovacevic: I was there, Jesse. There weren't enough people at PNC Park to constitute an official booing quorum.

Jesse: Jeff Clement possibly getting a shot at first base if he keeps raking at AAA?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, he will. And he should. I know Clint Hurdle is a fan of Clement, and I know from spending some time with Clement while down in Bradenton this spring that he's felt his primary issue all along has been the knees. Well, those have been repaired. And knees are like elbows in modern sports. When they're fixed, they stay fixed.

Clement, by the way, is batting .327 with seven doubles. You would like to see some home runs out of him, though, if only because it should come naturally with his swing.

Sam: Dejan, speaking of a new CBA for hockey, what are the chances a salary cap remains?

Dejan Kovacevic: Excellent.

Naterosboro: Is Ray Searage a genius? The staff did fall apart towards the end of last season, but this guy continues to get more out of a staff than we've seen in recent times? Does he do anything different than others past? Am I putting too much stock into what he does? Are the Bucco pitchers just that much better than we've seen in seasons past?

Dejan Kovacevic: Put it this way: However strongly you feel about Searage's work, you'd have to multiply that many times over to quantify how the pitchers feel. The Pirates have themselves a good one there.

If only Searage could teach hitting ...

Wild Bill: Hello Dejan; the Canucks - gone, the Bruins - gone, the Pens - gone, and maybe a couple more tonight. Do you think the NHL is just really balanced, or is somehing else going on here?

Dejan Kovacevic: In the Bruins' case, I saw a team last night that looked like it was suffering from a classic case of Cup fatigue. That's been going on in the NHL ever since the Edmonton dynasty, and it might have been a factor for the '93 Penguins, too. It's just not easy for these guys to kill themselves through June, then show up a couple months later ready to do it all again. Boston struggled almost immediately this year, with just about the same lineup minus Mark Recchi.

But yeah, there's parity, if that's what you're asking. Parity in hockey tends to come mostly in the form of goaltending, and you've seen especially with the Kings and Capitals that it can be huge.

Maybe Craig Anderson and the Senators will have something to say about that tonight, as well.

Milo Hamilton: Is Brooks Orpeck traded this summer ?

Dejan Kovacevic: Pierre?

Marc: Dejan I have enjoyed reading your post-season penguins articles. What kinda of return do you think a package deal of Martin and Staal can get. Will we need to do some type of package to get Martin off the books?Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, come on, we're not going there, are we?

As I wrote Monday, the Penguins' front office is confident that Martin and Michalek retain enough value that they'll be able to trade them straight up if they so choose.

Dejan Kovacevic: First base coach Luis Silverio handles the baserunning, and yes, the Pirates are not good at this. They have 11 steals and seven caught-stealings. Worse, as we saw again yesterday, they get nailed by these really ugly margins at times.

Between the failed steals, the pickoffs, the 12 grounded into double plays and ALL THOSE BUNTS, the Pirates seemingly wipe out as many baserunners as they produce.

FoolBack: Dejan, Why is R. Graham expected in Pitt's backfield this fall, and R. Mendenhall seems to be put out to pasture? Aren't the injuries similar, and they didn't seem to be more than a month apart?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ray Graham was hurt for the Panthers on Oct. 26. Mendenhall was hurt in January. That's not all that close. And, as upbeat as Graham sounded when I last saw him at spring practices, he still hasn't been pronounced a lock to return for Pitt's opener.

Wild Bill: When Marte is considered ready, who sits - Presley or Tabata?

Dejan Kovacevic: Tabata is playing right field, where Marte would be slated to go. Tabata isn't hitting much at all. Can't see how it's not on him.

And with that quick answer, we can begin the Tampa Bay Lightning round ...

Guest: Bad move on the swap-out of Doumit for Barajas? Or unfair b/c Doumit wasn't going to resign here regardless?

Dejan Kovacevic: Doumit was delighted by the chance to test other waters, let's put it that way.

Tyler: Dejan, would you swap Staal for Kane or B. Ryan?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins want to keep Staal. They don't know about the cap.

Mj: What chance do you give the Flyers for winning the cup?

Dejan Kovacevic: The East is playing out nicely for them, but the Cup involves goaltending at some point in the equation. Didn't see much of that, did you?

Eric: So who starts for Ryan Clark opening day this year in Denver? Who is his and Troy's backup? Your gut feeling?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ryan Mundy again. Only this game plan will be WAY different given the Broncos' somewhat significant change in QB. And Will Allen would still be the backup. Which is -- and I'm presuming this is why you ask -- the Steelers would do well to address the safety position sometime soon. It's not young.

Bugger: What gives columnists and other reporters the insight on things that happen for the particular Pittsburgh teams. The thinking is that if you have information then you sahre it through a column. Do you get a lot of information "off the record" or are most of the columns written based off of your interpretations of the time you spend with the club(s)

Dejan Kovacevic: Tough one for a Lightning Round. Bring it to the blog, and I can give you a better answer. Suffice it to say, on my end, it's a whole lot of everything. Have to be around the teams constantly, have to travel some, have to ask all kinds of questions, have conversations on and off the record and learn what you can. In the end, you hope to come up with the most informed opinion you can.

Devin: Your favorite interview you ever conducted was with...

Dejan Kovacevic: Johan Hedberg. Every single one of them. He's the best.

Wild Bill: Which young defenseman makes an impact with the Pens next season?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you mean other than the obvious one in Simon Despres, I'd really like to see Robert Bortuzzo get a good look in camp. He kind of looked to me like what Michalek was supposed to look like.

Marc: Do you think it hurt the pens this year by playing older vets like Park , Asham, Williams instead of younger player Jeffery, Tandradi or anyone else at WBS. Pens won both games Tandradi play in during playoffs. Look at how the young Flyers did in the playoffs.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. That's a fair point. Craig Adams looked like he had some hard miles on him, too. Those fresher legs can make a difference in a long series.

WyattBurp: Hey, Dejan, thanks for giving the fans a forum. Hope the NFL draft meets your expectations. You have a great day.

Dejan Kovacevic: You too, Wyatt. The first round can't miss, as Colbert was saying this week, and it's got to be about impact. The Steelers have invested first-rounders in the O-line. The offense was among the youngest in the NFL, which not a lot of people realized. Time to start balancing that out on the defense.

One more today ...

Guest: what's your go-to at Starbucks?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sixth and Penn Downtown. I'll actually be there about 20 minutes after signing off here.

OK, this doesn't count. Another one ...

Roy: Favorote sport to cover and Why??

Dejan Kovacevic: Lame cop-out but three-way tie: Football for the drama and color, hockey because I've loved it all my life, and baseball for the excellent people involved. It's been terrific being around the Pirates again the past couple days.

soccernut: hockey's over so it must be time for the soccer column...

Dejan Kovacevic: Not yet!

Patrick: I have a friend coming to Pittsburgh from out of town. What's the one "must see" thing in town for a first-time visitor?

Dejan Kovacevic: Incline. Always. Not optional.

And not the Mon. The Duquesne.

@suckmeter: Can you sum up your opinion of the Pirates Charites sign at PNC Park in 2 words?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not on a family site.

Scotty: Your starting six d-men on opening night next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: All right, last REAL Q: Let's go with Orpik and Letang paired, Despres and Niskanen, Morrow and Engelland.


Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks to all for participating. (Except for the clown trying to stuff the entries with Neil Walker hate. I've criticized Walker plenty for his start and, even in this chat, made unsolicited mention of the lack of extra-base hits. Take a deep breath, dude.)

Meet you all at Starbucks at 1:30 p.m. I'm buying. For real.

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