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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Nov. 8, 2012

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 2:57 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Welcome, all, and one final Hoka Hey from me, given that the Pirates' owner saw fit to retire the line and the general practice this week!Off we go ...

Blair C Rob: Will we have NHL regular-season hockey in December?

Dejan Kovacevic: I believe so, but we'll all probably know for sure in the next 48 hours or so. For all the varying reports emerging from New York right now, the bottom line is that both sides have been meeting essentially around the clock for two days plus the marathon last Saturday. There's no way that ISN'T encouraging.If there's a deal, you could do training camps in 7-10 days, then drop the puck around Thanksgiving or so.

Baltimore Ron: Dejan, have you ever asked Bob Nutting how it feels to be so hated by the fan base and to be so laughed at by the baseball community?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've asked if he's aware of his unpopularity, and he most assuredly is. I think he's viewed it within the prism of taking the arrows for some unpopular decisions that require fans to be patient for long-term results.That's part of what makes his Tuesday non-announcement all the more surprising. He decided to step out there and take the arrows for a management team that he CLEARLY doesn't trust much anymore. It's all very ... well, Pirates.

Rich: Is it just me, but are the hits to the head not being called when plays like Chris Rainey getting speared while on the ground or Mike Wallace getting hit in the head as he rose off the ground? Our D hits a player in the ribs and it's called a "shot to the head" but we take legit shots and a blind eye is turned. Also, with all of the focus on shots to the head and safety, are running backs' heads more concussion-proof? It seems hypocritical that you can slam them in the head, but not a receiver or a quarterback.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure where you're heading here, Rich, whether it's that all refs hate the Steelers (ridiculous) or that some positions are allowed to get hit more than others (definitely not ridiculous).A running back is different than most positions in that he's the one offensive player most likely to initiate the contact. As a result, you're almost never going to see him in the "defenseless" mode. The latter designation seems to be the priority right now as far as how the NFL is interpreting shots to the head.And yes, there absolutely should have been a flag for the hit on Rainey.

Confused: How could the Pirates ... I mean, why would Nutting ... but how could Stark and Huntington ... never mind. I must be taking crazy pills.

Dejan Kovacevic: Me, too, man. Me, too.

Dom: Did Nutting address what his justification was for keeping Kyle Stark, Greg Smith and Larry Broadway? How does he think Pirate scouts with years and years of experience feel when guys like Stark and Broadway get promoted over them?

Dejan Kovacevic: We can either parse everything Nutting said this week, including a couple clear missteps in live settings, or we can cut right to the chase: If he fires Stark, he's got to fire everybody. These gentlemen are joined at the hips, both philophically and in practice. If one goes, they all go, all the way up to Frank Coonelly.As my Wednesday column laid out rather bluntly, that should have been Nutting's choice, in my view. In fact, it remains outright stunning that it WASN'T his choice on that count alone.But his feeling -- and heaven knows I'm not defending it -- is that he simply wasn't prepared to make a move of that scope right now. Whether that means he wasn't prepared with replacements or he didn't like the timing with the offseason's work at hand or he just wanted to give these guys another chance, he didn't specifify.I used to joke when I was on the Pirates beat that my business card should read, "Explaining the inexplicable."That hasn't changed.

Jason81: If an agreement is reached this week, would you say the NHL is looking at a 60 game schedule starting around Dec. 1st?

Dejan Kovacevic: No. The aim is to be right around 70. It would be pretty compact, but the one thing both sides can agree upon is that the more games the better.

Greg: Do you see Penn State restructuring O'Brien's deal? I imagine he is going to get some interest on the college and pro level and PSU might want to look at doubling his buyout

Dejan Kovacevic: You're catching me in a live chat without the chance to do research, but if memory serves, Bill O'Brien was given quite the attractive contract in the first place. Not sure of the buyout terms, but I'll agree with you that he's made himself -- already -- about as indispensible to Penn State as any coach is to any college in the country, given the circumstances.

Ryan: Who has done a better job transforming their QB, Paul Chryst or O'Brien?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd argue that O'Brien had more natural material in Matt McGloin than Chryst did in Sunseri, but I'll still go with McGloin because -- aside from one bad set of downs vs. Ohio State -- he's gotten it done when it counts, while Sunseri has wilted.That's obviously not all coaching, though.

soccernut: Where's the soccer article?

Dejan Kovacevic: You're in for at least a bit of a surprise tomorrow.Man, you people have long memories.

carisi_99: The running game went from terrible to very good the moment Mike Adams went in the lineup. Is he that much better of a run blocker than Marcus Gilbert, or is it not so much that as improvements by other members of the OL and the FB crushing people?

Dejan Kovacevic: Adams has been very good in run-blocking and, judging from our talk the other night in New Jersey, he's markedly more comfortable doing that than pass-blocking. But you're probably over-simplifying to point just to right tackle. ALL of these guys have been very good and, in fact, most of the run plays the past three weeks have been right up the gut. I've given most of the credit to Willie Colon and Ramon Foster.That said, Gilbert won't have an easy time getting back on the field. And shouldn't.

matt geist: I thoroughly enjoy your blunt honesty when it comes to the Pirates and criticism of the front office staff. Have you ever thought about contacting a larger media network like ESPN or CBS perhaps to do a '60 Minutes' segment (long shot I know) about how far out of touch pirate ownership is with reality? They say they care but don't do anything to prove otherwise?

Dejan Kovacevic: Glad you like the coverage, Matt, but have no idea why you'd ask me that. I work for the Trib. Why would I contact another media outlet to push a story that we're covering?

Sam: Dejan, some of the big offseason news centered on Haley's in-your-face approach with players. We haven't seen that pubicly in Pittsburgh. Do you think it's a newer Haley trying to tone down that image for a possible head coaching opportunity later? Just working with his favorite childhood team? Just not having to be that way because the team doesn't need it? Or perhaps at the direction of Tomlin and the Rooneys?

Dejan Kovacevic: First, Sam, I think it's possible that we all -- myself included -- might have overreacted to what kind of hellfire Todd Haley would spawn here. I still haven't seen anything close to the snarly version, and I'll cite as a small example a question I asked him last week about 'dink and dunk' that brought no more of a reaction than a smile and a funny answer. (Check on the blog .)Second, success breeds healthy atmospheres. It isn't the other way around, although a lot of people will paint it that way. The Steelers have been a success on offense pretty much from Day 1, and that's only mulitiplied with the eruption of the running game.Haley deserves a TON of credit for that.

King-of-Rock: Nice to see 2 backs in the Steeler backfield in 'bout that Fullback action?

Dejan Kovacevic: With all due respect to Will Johnson, let's see two actual running backs back there. If you've got talent, get it on the field. Find a way.

Matt: Would Troy have a better chance to stay healthy if he's the nickel guy for the rest of the year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Whoa. If anything, you wouldn't want him playing a position different than the one he's had for such a long time.

Brian G.: Halfway point for the Steelers, what is their record the rest of the way? I think they go 6-2 and finish 1st in the division with a 11-5 record.

Dejan Kovacevic: You're asking a lot, but I couldn't rule it out. There are two games against Baltimore, obviously, and it's never easy in any circumstance to go 8-0 in your division. There's a game at Dallas, too, and you never know which Tony Romo you'll see on a given Sunday.You might be a lot better off taking the attitude of the athletes, who repeatedly talk about "stacking wins" one at a time.

Zack: Jamie Dixon starting two freshmen, that a sign of how good they are?

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely. Both Steven Adams and James Robinson are considered immediate-impact guys, and that's especially saying something right now about Robinson given all the guards Jamie has at his disposal. You're right that both will be out there for tipoff tomorrow night against Mount St. Mary's, and both will get a ton of playing time.The idea -- and this is mostly, though not entirely new to Jamie -- is to have these guys in full gear by about February or so. It's the right approach, and it's a lot different than the senior-heavy style of most of Dixon's tenure.This team should be a blast, by the way. Surprised more people aren't talking about it.

Naterosboro: DK, can you explain how our minor leagues (and the development of said players) was at fault for the collapse of the major league team? Are we to believe that when major league players falter or get injured that there should be ready-made counterparts in AAA (or below) that see no dropoff in production? Is there any minor league system that can live up to this in MLB?

Dejan Kovacevic: Others have tried to simplify the argument that way. I never have. I've never linked Hoka Hey to the collapses and, in the columns, actually went out of my way to AVOID doing that.And that's despite the fact that you easily CAN draw a correlation between drafting, development and organizational depth that's needed to make up for players who are hurt or struggling in the majors. The Cardinals this year had three players on their roster out of the 2009 draft alone. The Pirates, of course, had none.Was that the drafting?Sure.Was it development?Sure.But as far as drawing a hard A-to-B line between Hoka Hey and the collapse, that's outright silly. None of this stuff ever happens in a straight line, and it's never just one thing that leads to a team being great or lousy. It's a combination, and a cloudy one at that.

It's Tampa Bay Lightning time ...

c-man: I know the old thinking of a player not losing his starting job to injury, but wouldn't it be silly to replace anyone on the Steeler's offensive line once Gilbert & DeCastro return to the lineup?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't think you can change a thing on the line, and that includes Foster/DeCastro. But that doesn't mean there won't be snaps to spread around a bit. Let's not forget this team's offensive line gets hurt as much as any in football.

Biz: Dejan, do you think there is any (better) chance that now Nutting would consider selling the club? Also, any chance that some of the FO will see the writing on the wall and quietly resign?

Dejan Kovacevic: No and no.

James_Pittsburgh: Do you believe that if the Steelers continue to play they way they have that they can challange Houston and Denver for the AFC championship?

Dejan Kovacevic: I do. I love the defenses, in particular, of the Texans and Broncos. You love to go into the playoffs with a playmaking defense. But I see the Steelers' offense as one that can pretty much negate that advantage with any team.Crazy, huh, after the way things looked in Nashville?

yovan: Frank Coonelly seems to have slid behind the shadows these days, rarely making public statements (unless he's in Altoona). Has Nutting ordered the operation shutdown?

Dejan Kovacevic: He did, yes, though I think you'll see that lifted now.

Scott: Do the players seem as happy to be rid of Bruce Arians as the fans?

Dejan Kovacevic: Next negative word I hear about Arians in that locker room will be the first. They like what Haley has done. That doesn't equate to disliking his predecessor. That's talk-show stuff.

Brian G.: If they compact the schedule (NHL) would they keep current dates and add games where able or would the whole schedule (and your well publicized non-refundable airline tickets) be tossed out the window?

Dejan Kovacevic: Fingers crossed, man.No, really, to an extent, they have to keep a good number of the existing dates. The NHL doesn't rank high on the tenant list for a lot of arenas (even Winnipeg, which is one of the busier venues in North America with other events). You can't just change the schedule at will.

Living in Oblivion: What has been more disappointing the past month, the NHL lockout or Pirates front office?

Dejan Kovacevic: The lockout, by far. A disappointment implies that you had high expectations dashed.

Rob: Being so far from any sort of hockey coverage here in Texas, how is Malkin doing in the Russian league?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's doing very well, and I'm sure his game shape will be a big positive for the Penguins if action here were to start soon. There's only so much game simulation you can pull off with a dozen buddies at Southpointe (though Sid is skating like every morning is Game 7).But there's also going to be an adjustment for Malkin once he returns, I think, in that the international game -- particularly in Russia -- remains one of wide-open skating and not a ton of contact. I'm reminded of that terrible fourth line the Russians would send out in Vancouver made up of all KHL stars, and those guys looked like lost puppy dogs.

Tim Tomczak: The power running game with Redman and Dwyer has obviously transformed the Steelers offense the past few weeks. Any chance Mendenhall is strictly used as a 3rd down/pass catcher when he (finally) returns?

Dejan Kovacevic: No. Read Mark Kaboly's exclusive report on the Steelers' plans for Mendenhall in today's Trib.

Naterosboro: In your Wednesday column you wrote: "And yet, despite accumulating information that should have been the cherry on top to five years of abject failure, he chose status quo." Abject failure? When they've just put a team on the field that has seen the most wins for the franchise in 15 years?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Well, Nate, if you choose to set the bar within the context of the worst stretch of performance in the history of professional sports, go nuts, man.There's nothing funnier than listening to the Pirates boast about their "improvement" the past two years, when the hole they dug by going 57-105 in 2010 was with their own shovel. And no, it absolutely was NOT part of the plan. Bottom line: All the Pirates achieved in 2012 was finishing ahead in the standings of two 100-loss teams, one of which will be in the American League next season.Huzzah.

Jim: With the way the team is shaping up is their biggest need linebacker?

Dejan Kovacevic: Weird to say, but also not exactly a laughable notion. We keep waiting for James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and we don't ever know what we'll get from Lawrence Timmons. Been talk for a while about Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester, but they're both out of the picture, Sylvester due to injury.Strange situation, one not easily solved. Because if I'm drafting I'm still not looking to prioritize linebacker with all the money tied into those guys, plus -- hopefully -- Sean Spence coming back healthy.

Jared in MT: Dejan, what makes you have such confidence in Nutting doing the right thing? I assumed with how much negative press you gave NH and FC, you knew that they were being let go. But now Nutting has said that he's not going to make any changes. Why the confidence that he would?

Dejan Kovacevic: What you assumed wasn't what was written, Jared. I expressed utmost confidence that Nutting would conduct a real investigation and, to be honest, he actually went a LOT further than I'd have imagined anyone going. Now, I also expressed that I thought, if Nutting heard what I'd heard, he would act. He didn't, but his reasons for it came completely out of left field.

We're a little over time here today. Thanks to all for participating. (Especially big crowd today, too.)The columns run Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The radio show is Tuesday. The chat is Thursday. And the blog is like driving around the pretzel roads near Newark's airport: Meanders aimlessly at all hours of the night, with no exit ramp in sight.

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