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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Dec. 20, 2012

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 10:53 p.m.

Comment From Nathan: Has there been any off the record comments, or front office grumblings about LaMarr Woodley's play/weight? All I read is that he was overweight and slow this season, and while I completely agree, I can't remember seeing anyone in the organization say anything. Not that coaches or FO staff make a habit of commenting on such matters, but Tomlin has in the past with Hampton.

Dejan Kovacevic: Keith Butler, the Steelers' linebackers coach, spoke about it publicly. Didn't exactly lambast Woodley, but it couldn't have been anything that pleased him, either.

If you're asking if the coaching staff was satisfied with any aspect of Woodley's 2012, the answer is a resounding no.

Comment From Troy: Hey Dejan, what do u see in this Pens team. Last year ended badly. No significant improvements were made. One could argue we are relying heavily on an improved Flower to help the D. Losing Staal doesn't seem like an upgrade. What do you see?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hockey talk! Yeah, I'll admit I've been having a few such thoughts myself of late. A deal isn't struck yet, but signs are far more encouraging than ever, including this morning.

You ask kind of a broad question, so I'll focus just on Jordan Staal. When you talk to the Penguins' people, they are as excited about adding Brandon Sutter to the mix as about anything — other than, obviously, simply playing — going into this season. That's not to suggest Sutter has Staal's talent. There's no reason to think that. But Sutter, as they see it, addresses a lot more of their specific team concerns — third-line checking center, penalty-killing — than Staal was doing.

We'll see. I'll be honest: Sutter isn't a guy I watched much with the Canes.

Comment From Maddamma: Messi scored 91 goals in calendar year 2012. This received barely a whisper in the US media. Your thoughts on Messi's accomplishment?

Dejan Kovacevic: Lionel Messi is the world's greatest soccer player, and a joy to watch. But what that has to do with the U.S. or media is very little.

Were they discussing Evgeni Malkin's MVP season in Argentina?

Really, a lot of soccer fans — and I'm one — need to get over this notion that they're somehow owed coverage of the sport. You want to follow it, follow it. It's easier to find than ever. But there's no need to wag a finger and compare to sports that have been ingrained here more than a century.

Comment From Maddamma: The Steelers rarely draft in the teens but, since 2001, they have been very successful getting impact players when they do (Hampton, Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Timmons, Pouncey). All were the “best player available” that filled a team need. At what position do you feel the Steelers most need an IMPACT player?

Dejan Kovacevic: If one assumes Woodley can get back to his old self, I love the idea of an impact inside linebacker. Yes, Lawrence Timmons was wonderful. But it will be hard to count on Sean Spence with the severity of his injury, and I just love the idea of two powerhouses in the middle. Opens up a lot of possibilities.

Second choice: Safety.

Third choice: Running back.

Comment From K from Cal: Everyone seems to be forgetting McCutchen's MVP type first half last year carrying the Pirates. He may be able to carry it through the season with better hitters around him.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure who's forgetting it. Can only speak for myself, and his individual season cracked my personal top-10 list of Pittsburgh sports stories for 2012.

As for Cutch carrying the offense through additional lineup support, I'll offer two counter-points: 1. Most studies involving advanced metrics downplay or even outright dismiss the statistical advantage of having the big slugger in front or behind you in the lineup. They argue there's no such thing as protection. I'd argue against that in certain instances, but not overall.

2. What additional lineup support?

Russell Martin?

Comment From Jason81: If the NHL gets a 48-game schedule in, do you see having to play 7 games within the division affecting the playoff races considering the imbalance in some of them?

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely! If you look at the comparative caliber of, say, the Penguins' totally loaded division (even the Islanders, if you weigh solely how they fare against the Penguins), and put that against the Southeast ... it's clear that some teams will have an easier path to the top eight in the conference than others.

Don't think there isn't a reason Winnipeg didn't protest staying in the Southeast when there clearly was thought to moving them to the West. The Jets would happily pay the extra air fare rather than joining the Red Wings, Hawks and others.

Yes, it will be tough for the Penguins. It's a whole lot of Flyers, Rangers and Devils and, in my mind, the best division in hockey top to bottom.

Comment From BEN: NHL this year? Yes or no. Dejan?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes.

Comment From Outlaw Pete: What is the biggest takeaway from Pitt's losses against Cincinnati and Michigan?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure I'd lump the two together, as they were mostly different plus separated by more than a month. Looking just at Cincinnati, it became very clear not long after tipoff that the bigger Bearcats were going to win inside. That's fine. There are other ways to counter that. But when Pitt can't hit a 3-pointer and can't — or won't — throw inside to Steven Adams, you pretty much wipe out those options.

There's a tendency to look at the freshmen. To me, there was more to it. Tray Woodall is a senior, and his key missed front end of a one-and-one near the end was indicative of a lousy overall day.

Jamie Dixon's got work to do.

Much, much more on this in tomorrow's column, by the way.

Comment From Bernard: How close to 100% was Ben after returning from his injury? Even if he was less than 50%, it still wouldn't seem to explain the late game interceptions that were more mental mistakes — a case of simply not executing an offensive system he doesn't know or particularly like?

Dejan Kovacevic: You know, more parsing and analysis goes on about Ben's health than everyone else in the city combined, and it's never an easy read. Even now, you've got people dismissing his “aorta” line from a few weeks back. I find it very hard to believe that he didn't hear that from a doctor and simply repeat it — doctors read the news, too — but that's just me.

How was he?

All I'll go by is what he told us right after the Cleveland game when he said he was looking forward to a full recovery and had already begun mapping out a plan with the Steelers' doctors. If any of us thought we saw something amiss, it's that he clearly wasn't as accurate with his throwing after the Kansas City injury.

Was that his shoulder?

I can't say, but I did see him heave a ball 60 yards in the air to Mike Wallace in the next-to-last game against the Bengals, and I did see him fire an absolute bullet to Plaxico Burress for the TD against the Browns.

Comment From Bladen: Any idea what Neal Huntington makes for his salary? A lot of talk about him being gone after this year but does he make too much that Nutting doesn't want to eat the rest of the salary?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't know Huntington's exact salary, though I've heard he's not especially well paid as compared to his peers.

I do know — going again with what was said rather than guessing — that I asked Nutting point-blank if he was keeping this front office in place because of financial issues. His pointed and simple answer to that was an emphatic no.

The owner's got history on his side here, too. He fired Dave Littlefield with a year and a half of his $1 million salary due, and he did the same for the same amount with Jim Tracy.

Comment From J_C_Steel: I saw that, under the NHL proposal, teams may get a cut-one-player-without-cap-ramifications card. If that happens, who could the Pens potentially cut? I'm thinking Paul Martin. Freeing up that $5 million and inserting a young, cheap defenseman would certainly help the Pens for 2013-14, right?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm thinking right along with you. I have no use for Martin's game, and I have less use for the cap space he consumes. Really nice guy, but a liability on the blue line and on the payroll.

Comment From Missing hockey: Is there any chance the NHL season gets canceled because of this pension stuff?

Dejan Kovacevic: None. We will have pucks. And if by some chance we don't, it won't be over the pension but over core economic issues.

If the main thing right now is the difference between the cap for 2013-14 — owners want $60 million, players $65 million — then my 11-year-old girl could tell them $62.5 million seems like a swell compromise.

(She'd never use “swell.” It's hypothetical.)

Comment From JD: Who do you think stays with the steelers, Keenan Lewis or Mike Wallace? I hope it's Lewis. He has shown a lot of improvement and with Ike Taylor not getting any younger, I don't think the steelers can afford to lose him.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's funny, but fellow Trib columnist Joe Starkey and I were having this very debate over the phone a couple nights ago. He took Wallace, and I took Lewis. My argument, in its simplest form, was that a) quality corners are harder to find and take longer to groom, b) Lewis took his game to a high level this year while Wallace did not and c) Ike Taylor is 33.

Comment From Ryan: If Haley gets hired elsewhere, Who would be the leading candidate for OC?

Dejan Kovacevic: Kirby Wilson, the running backs coach, would be No. 1. But I'm sure there would be a full search. It can't be escaping the Steelers' attention that a ton of potential OCs came onto the market with the wave of head coach firings last week. Ken Whisenhunt stands out from that class.

Comment From Brian G: Afternoon Dejan, I read a Blog about a mega conference idea. Basically, it was about The Big 10 possibly positioning themselves to try and hatch a super conference of like 40 teams, 4 10 team divisions. What are your thoughts on a possible super conference basically taking up all of the east coast and mid west?

Dejan Kovacevic: One thing that won't work — and everybody except the ACC presidents will acknowledge this — is a five-conference structure. It might take Florida State bolting to set the wheels in motion, but it seems inevitable to me that, if the NCAA will ever have a playoff format that's clearcut and politics-free, it will be based on the four conference champions facing each other.

The ACC is a clear No. 5.

Comment From Mad Hungarian: After watching him in the WJC, do you think Ray Shero has any regrets passing over Filip Forsberg with the #8 pick for Derrick Pouliot?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins regret passing on a European forward in favor of a defenseman in the draft?

I'm guessing no.

Comment From Dan F.: I've read several articles about Sergei Gonchar and the possibility of him coming back to Pittsburgh. Do you think this is even realistic? The Pens have a tons of solid D prospects, but I see them as solid 5 and 6 spot D for now. Do you think it's a good idea to get Gonchar on for one year to help Orpik, Letang, and a hopefully better Martin?

Dejan Kovacevic: Gonchar would be a tremendous fit for this team on many levels, but above all the power play. Anyone still holding out hope that Kris Letang can be the quarterback type on the power play isn't watching the games. Gonchar can roll out of bed and do that job.

Comment From J_C_Steel: NOOOOO! You can't choose a running back in the first round, DK! Great RBs can be found late if you trust your scouting — see, e.g., Terrell Davis, Alfred Morris, Willie Parker. No RB in the 1st-3rd rounds!

Dejan Kovacevic: Alfred Morris is a great example, as is T.D., probably both better than Fast Willie. I can see your point there, but let's not also dismiss that Adrian Peterson was the seventh overall pick in 2007. Great backs can go early.

OK, Tampa Bay Lightning time ...

Comment From Georgie: Who fills the top 6 winger spots. Neal, Kunitz, Dupuis,?

Dejan Kovacevic: Tyler Kennedy. You might not like it, but that's how it's going to be.

Comment From RCG: What do you think the odds are of bill obrien leaving for the nfl after a season? And is there any hope/merit to the state's lawsuit against the NCAA?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've said all along that Penn State needs to step up if it wants to keep O'Brien. And, even the university isn't technically involved in the lawsuit — which is dumb beyond words — I can't imagine that reopening that whole storyline is helping any.

Comment From Miked: Are the Pirates shopping Garrett Jones or will they re-sign him?

Dejan Kovacevic: They are shopping him, but that's got nothing to do with re-signing him. He's an arbitration guy. Knowing the mentality of this front office, it will operate under the impression that what Jones did in 2012 was a fluke and that he should be moved at highest possible value.

My own feeling is that Jones is the best of the first basemen they have.

Comment From BrienGee: If the Chiefs hire Reid today, doesn't that violate the Rooney Rule? No way they interviewed any minority candidates.. .or, does Crennel count as consideration?

Dejan Kovacevic: Depends on who else K.C. might have interviewed. But you raise a good point about Romeo. Not sure if having an incumbent minority affects the Rooney Rule or not.

Anyone know?

Comment From Matt: Who has worse hands: Aaron Gray or Steven Adams?

Dejan Kovacevic: Our resonating impression of Gray was as a polished senior. He played pretty well that year and far better than he had when younger. Seems only fair to afford that same opportunity to Adams, a true freshman from another hemisphere.

Comment From Billy: You forgot one of the 13 good things about the Steelers. Finishing in thrid place allows them to play bad teams like the Raiders and Titans next year!

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, because that went so well this year!

Comment From Mick: Who has the best 2013 season. Guinos, Buccos, or Steelers?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins will. I'm more in love with the signing of Tomas Vokoun — and what that will mean to Fleury, the team as a whole and this compact schedule — than I've yet to let on. He will be an impact player and person on this roster.

Comment From Mikey: If Jeff Karstens was as valuable as many, including you, deemed him to be, why has he not signed with another team yet?

Dejan Kovacevic: Because he and his agent would be idiots to sign right now. Look at the history of pitchers in his category, and you'll see that they sign a lot closer to spring training, sometimes even into spring training when injuries pop up and needs arise.

Comment From Rob: As a Pittsburgh fan in Texas all my Cowboys friends are looking forward to Ranger baseball. What do I have to look forward too?

Dejan Kovacevic: Your hockey team will be a good bit better than Dallas', in large part because the Stars sent James Neal to Pittsburgh. Try that one on them.

Comment From Dejans Uncle: Hi Dejan! Your thoughts on the direction Pitt football is headed and expectations for next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's a huge weekend for Paul Chryst, and not just because of the bowl game that could give him a winning season in his debut. He's also likely to hear the commitment of Tyler Boyd from Clairton. Win both of those, and I'll like 2013 a lot better than otherwise.

Comment From Rob: It seems Carnell Lake has done a tremendous job with the secondary. Have you talked to him and is there potential for him to move up within the organization?

Dejan Kovacevic: Lake is an intense, serious and intelligent man who obviously accomplished even more on the field than off it. I'd think he's an excellent candidate to move up, in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.

Comment From loyd: Has the NHL and the Union agreed on realignment? I was just curious because every time the end seems near something else comes up and delays a deal. At least it feels that way…

Dejan Kovacevic: Realignment is being put off until the summer.

Comment From Joe Starkey: Favorite commissioner out of the major sports is?

Dejan Kovacevic: David Stern. But probably only because I know the least about him.

Comment From Matt in Ann Arbor: If Ryan Malone is an amnesty buyout in Tampa (good chance), do you think he'd be a good fit on the Penguins, at a good discount.

Dejan Kovacevic: He'd be a wonderful fit, and he'd love it, too. But a discount? Not sure.

Comment From Damon: Can Travis Snider be an every day RF?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not according to people I've talked to in baseball. A nice No. 4, maybe No. 5 since he can't play center field.

Comment From Joe: They interviewed Falcons ST coach.

Dejan Kovacevic: The Chiefs did? Well, there you go. That's Keith Armstrong, an African American.

Thanks for that.

Comment From Bibi Jones: Your Super Bowl pick?

Dejan Kovacevic: New England.

Comment From Playoffs by 2012: Your favorite Tampa Bay Lightning player of all time? Mine is a tie between Darren Puppa and Enrico Ciccone.

Dejan Kovacevic: Manon Rheume. She was awesome. Look it up.

Comment From DBrick: Bob how come none of my questions have been answered? whats the deal?

Dejan Kovacevic: Because you keep calling me Bob?

Comment From Rob: Think we will ever see another female NHL player?

Dejan Kovacevic: She was only in the preseason, so we still haven't seen one yet. If we do, obviously, it would be a goalie.

Last one today ...

Comment From Guest: 1st round draft pick for Steelers...

Dejan Kovacevic: Manti Te'o would be cool, huh?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's all for this week. The columns run Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The radio show is every Tuesday, the chat Thursday, and the blog vents around the clock.

Thanks for participating, and happy new year to all!

Comment From Rob: Thanks for answering my questions Bob!

Dejan Kovacevic: I said we're done!

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