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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Jan. 10, 2014

| Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 1:08 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: What's worse than a January night like last night, where no local sports team played and basically nothing was on TV?

We'll try to make up for that with a whole lot of sports talk right here. Any topic at all, starting right now ...

Scott: Hey DK, another great appearance on TLR… Can you expand on how in a new arena with all the world class talent that we ended up with ice worse than pond hockey? It has to be more than just climate… Keep up the good work! (borrowed the ! from Cleveland)

Dejan Kovacevic: For anyone who just missed our segment on TribLIVE Radio a few minutes ago, I was discussing with Ken Laird and Guy Junker that it would be interesting — if not pleasing — to watch tonight on TV how great the sheet of ice is in Edmonton. Watch the puck staying on the surface. Watch the superior stickhandling. Watch the passing. It's hockey the way it's meant to be played.

Check out the podcast. Guy has a good story to share about why it's not that way at Consol.

Tim in Arlington VA: Good afternoon, Dejan. I agree with the sentiments in your Thursday column about James Franklin, where Penn State clearly needs to step carefully in hiring a coach, as even the hint of impropriety is something that Penn State must consider, because of Sandusky scandal. If you were in charge of the hiring at PSU, would you go ahead and make the hire?

Dejan Kovacevic: I would. And I'd like to think the column made that clear. The words of caution weren't related to the actual hire, but more of a warning that, hey, there's at least a chance this could get ugly. There was no such thing with Bill O'Brien, based on what we knew, but there is with Franklin.

Even if it's a tiny risk, it's a risk, especially at Penn State.

Confused fan: The Bus is the sixth all time rusher in NFL history. Does he finally make the drive to Canton this year? If not, why does he keep getting snubbed?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's not going to be easy for Jerome Bettis this year, either. In this morning's blog, I broke down my own five picks, as well as why I think Bettis is on the bubble.

But yes, to address your primary question, he absolutely should be in. And he will be in. Almost everyone else around him in the top 20, exempting Edgerrin James, will be in.

jds182: Has Ray Shero ever commented on the lack of playing time for young defensemen? It was nice to see all the young guys finally get a chance when all those injuries happened.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm with you on this one, and I wrote as much when Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo were both scratched for the Winnipeg game, and the older guys were getting beaten left and right all day. That's not to suggest the older guys are finished. As Rob Scuderi fairly pointed out to me after that game, timing is everything, and he and Kris Letang had all of “six periods together” to that point. He's right. But you can't just keep burying kids. At some point, they have to at least get a chance to make the next step.

Steelkings: If AJ Burnett announces his retirement around the opening of spring Training will the Pirates try and find a REAL Platoon partner for Sanchez?

Dejan Kovacevic: There are no meaningful indications of any kind that Burnett will retire to this point. Some misconstrued comments Ray Searage made this week to 93.7 The Fan. All Searage said was that he as a pitching coach has to proceed right now as if Burnett is retiring. That's it. That means Ray needs to work with the pitchers at hand, nothing more.

According to the Pirates' front office, which is not exactly known for its truthfulness, the Burnett and first base issues are separate and there is money enough for both.

But then, the Pirates' front office stood in front of fans at PirateFest last month and brazenly boasted about their broadcast contract ranking in the “upper half” of Major League Baseball when they, their broadcast partner and so many others know that isn't the case. Which is funny on multiple levels, not least of which is that, in boasting something like that to try to save face over having signed a bad deal, they're also inviting scrutiny as to why they don't spend in the upper half. A recent Bloomberg study showed payroll and local broadcast money are very tightly linked.


So, take from them what you will.

B.B: Please comment on Dan LeBatard's actions on his Hall of Fame ballot. It's an utter embarrassment to everyone with a vote.

Dejan Kovacevic: Honestly, I don't care. If baseball writers want to engage in self-absorbed self-flagellation year after year over this stuff — Tim Kurkjian's head looked like it would explode this week on ESPN as he pleaded for a “national discussion” to remedy this, I kid you not — that's their problem. I want nothing to do with it.

That's the embarrassing part. Not one ballot. Not another being sold off. It's that these national baseball writers spend every single year inventing one thing or another for angst-ridden storylines.

I just don't care. That's my answer.

Let's talk about the Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists. How about that?

Scott: Do you trust Jeff Zatkoff yet? If Fleury somehow falls apart in the playoffs again would you be okay with him taking over like Vokoun did last year or do you think they should still be looking for another backup? Keep in mind his only teams faced this year are Columbus(2), Minnesota, Detroit, Florida(2), Toronto, and NYI. Not exactly a good playoff sample size.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm coming around on Zatkoff, I won't lie. Earlier this season, I had — and expressed — serious doubt, especially as related to his lateral movement and ability to get back on his skates after going down. He looked like a poor skater. Whether he really wasn't that bad or whether he's worked with Mike Bales on improving that, it definitely has improved.

Good for him, too. Terrific guy, the kind you want to see do well.

He's got to get one of these two games, tonight in Edmonton or tomorrow in Calgary, you'd figure.

Mike: Dejan, how can team canada possibly justify taking Rick Nash over James Neal. Even Marty St Louis. Seems that it is all about “the name”

Dejan Kovacevic: If it was about the name, you'd take Marty in a heartbeat. Really don't think that was it. Nash is one of those guys who drives you nuts because he's capable of a ton, just doesn't get it done. One reader wrote to me comparing Nash to Jeff George. Thought that was perfect. The most toolsy QB you'd ever find. Just couldn't play at that level.

Mattheww: Does Big Ben retire as a Steeler?

Dejan Kovacevic: He does. More convinced of that this week than ever. Loved Art Rooney II's comments to that effect.

But then, I'll wait for NFL Network to confirm.

KillerBunny: DK what are your thoughts on Pyatt? My thoughts are the PY letters match another word to describe how his play is today PYLON

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, come on. You just wanted to get that line in. I see you.

Taylor Pyatt's nothing special. But then, he isn't intended to be. Just trying to make the third and fourth lines a little bigger.

Jake: DK, with the Steelers heading into the offseason with so many questions, what do you feel is the biggest need that should be addressed in the draft as well as with the re-signing of current players on the roster?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's really broad for a live rapid-fire chat. I'd be delighted with a corner or inside linebacker in the draft, all else being equal. Wrote that right after the season and feel no less strongly about it now. Top priority for re-signing is obvious: Jason Worilds.

Victor: DK, give me a bold trade prediction for the Pens before the trade deadline.

Dejan Kovacevic: Um, they'll score a lot on Ilya Bryzgalov tonight?

Micha: Best sporting event you have ever attended AS A FAN

Dejan Kovacevic: As a fan, that's easy: Game 4 of Penguins-Rangers in 1992. Nothing else is close, actually.

Oh Please: Duquesne gets a rare national TV game Sunday vs. La Salle. Any chance the Dukes continue the winning streak against last year's Sweet 16 surprise?

Dejan Kovacevic: They might not. I'll give Jim Ferry credit: He's had the Dukes on an upswing since the City Game, winners of five in a row. I'll give even more credit to Ovie Soko, who's had at least 20 points in every one of those games. The guy's really talented and a leader on top of that. But I'm not going to pretend that beating Appalachian State and Fordham is anything definitive. Let's see more and, even better, let's see someone rise to Soko's level.

mag: Is there a reason you never mention WVU sports? There is a very big contingency in the area.

Dejan Kovacevic: If readers want that, by all means, let me know. I get almost no feedback about West Virginia. None. I tried putting up game-blog entries for football and had zero comments. I know what the demographic numbers are, though, and I respect what you're saying. I just haven't seen it.

Zane (not Smith): Has Keith Butler interviewed for any coordinator positions? Is it a given that he's the heir apparent to Lebeau and will he ever get tired of waiting?

Dejan Kovacevic: To our knowledge, he hasn't interviewed for any this offseason, if that's what you're asking. I share your view that Butler is deserving of a DC spot. He's put in his time. He's had his successes. But now including the Rooney sessions this week, I get zero indication that will happen in 2014 and that Dick LeBeau will stay put.

We'll see, though. As Rooney also noted, Mike Tomlin isn't done meeting over his staff.

Dion: Do you feel home field (or home ice) truly gives a team an advantage in a sport? Some try to downplay it, but after attending the Pirates wild card game I truly feel fans can make a difference

Dejan Kovacevic: How either of us feels doesn't compare to the actual data, which strongly supports it. Athletes are human. They're affected by emotion, positive or negative.

Rick: What does a GM do with a guy like Craig Adams right now? No trade value, signed for a few years...can he be sent to WBS?

Dejan Kovacevic: I know this: He hasn't been very good this season. And I'm being kind in phrasing it that way. I won't go the extra mile and suggest he's done. You do something like that, then you find out there was a nagging injury that slowed him for a bit, and everything works out fine. But there's no way the Penguins haven't noticed it. When Adams was out for both of those last-minute goals by the Jets on Sunday, he conspicuously was not out there for the final minute of the third.

PirateApologist: I know you don't root for teams, but what about the Olympics or individuals? Is it still just a story for you if a skater or skier wins a medal?

Dejan Kovacevic: That thought process never changes. One of my least favorite people to cover ever was a local Olympian, but I gave the very same effort in the coverage as if it were someone who was my best friend.

Marco: Aside from hockey, what Olympic sport intrigues you?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you mean specifically the Winter Games and in terms of covering them, I have a blast at the skiing. And I'm talking about the pure downhill, not the X Games stuff. In Vancouver — actually Whistler, three hours to the north — they had us media types stationed at the bottom of the hill, right where the skiers end up. It's breathtaking. Everything about it.

It's too bad Lindsey Vonn won't be in Sochi because that undoubtedly will cut down on any coverage needed in the mountains (which will be a separate area in Sochi). Still hoping to get up there.

Jamaal: Thought it was ridiculous to see some of the tweets and social media making fun of Jameis Winston's speech after his win. He is a kid, and played his heart out. Degrading a successful kid seems about as low as possible

Dejan Kovacevic: Seconded. But that's Twitter for you. Had to love Jameis' response later, though, right?

Napper: Good thing Shero didn't trade Matt Niskanen before the season. He's putting together a solid year. Next season he will be an UFA along with Orpik. Do you think the Pens will resign both of them or trade one before the deadline?

Dejan Kovacevic: Another case of Shero being right, the rest of us wrong. What I like best about Niskanen's season to date is that he fought to stay here. Really did. Made quite the verbal case for himself. Made clear he had no desire at all to play anywhere else. I'm guessing that had an impact.

Jason: Where would you recommend visiting in Pittsburgh if it's a first time visitor

Dejan Kovacevic: Duquesne Incline is mandatory. All else optional, though the best stuff is right Downtown. Ask around. We're really friendly people, I'm told.

flyers nation: Why don't you ever talk about how Crosby dives and argues 24/7? There are better leaders in the NHL.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah!

Oh Please: As a Pittsburgher, I'll be proud to see “our” athletes do well for other countries in the Olympics, but I'll never understand how people can root hard for Canada or Russia or whoever. For two weeks, I'll hope Crosby and Malkin and others get their dryspells out of the way. What are your thoughts on this pocket of folks who seem to root against their own country?

Dejan Kovacevic: People are free to support anyone they want. Speaking only for myself, I could never place any team above country. Sorry, that's just me. The home team's players are Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik come Feb. 7.

Caps Fan: Ovechkin is a better player than Sid

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah!

(I do actually get stuff like this. Just peeling back the curtain for you on some of the lesser contributions to this forum.)

Jimmy D: Have the Steelers considered Mike Munchak as a possible OL coach?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not to our knowledge, but it bears monitoring, as he's interviewing with Bill O'Brien today in Houston. Certainly qualified.

Based on my own talks within the Steelers, I'd keep thinking about more familiar names.

Bernard: It appears that Woodley is not popular with the media (sounds like he's a bit of a jerk), but is he popular with his team mates and coaches and does he maintain any type of leadership position amongst the young defensive players that might warrant keeping him on the roster despite his injury problems?

Dejan Kovacevic: I haven't heard that Woodley's popular with his teammates. You have?

Danimal: Remember when Claude Giroux was supposed to unseat Crosby as the best player in the world? LOL

Dejan Kovacevic: That's kind of old anymore, isn't it?

Michelle Tafoya: Tampa Bay Lightning round?

Dejan Kovacevic: Let's do it.

Tom: What happened to the left-wing lock? Seems like the Pens are back to playing a lot of pond hockey Dejan Kovacevic: They are? Because of one sleepy game against Winnipeg?

Poole: Read the article in the Trib about Maatta's work ethic. Wow, what an impressive young man. I know Letang and Crosby are exceptionally hard workers off the ice. Who is someone we might not know with an outstanding work effort off the ice?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, I already took a dig at Adams, so it's probably only fair to single him out here. Guy's a maniac. Runs up and down arena steps like Rocky all by himself.

Outlaw Pete: DK - we need some Pitt basketball talk in this chat. With the freshmen improving every game, and other teams struggling in the ACC, what do you think the ceiling is for this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've liked all along the concept that the Panthers can be a top-four team in the conference. Don't like going far beyond that because, well, Syracuse and Duke are still coming up. A third player needs to step up. I'll say that. Maybe Cam Wright.

P Salvatori: Marlins team president David Samson is going to be on Survior this season. Who wins an MLB president smackdown of Coonley vs Samson?

Dejan Kovacevic: Samson will win, and Coonelly will tell you he won.

Rob: You're NHL commissioner for a day. What is the first thing you would change?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yikes. I'd change commissioners.

No, for real, I'd install incredibly prohibitive penalties for illegal head hits. Then, before the day's done, I'd move the Panthers to Quebec and the Coyotes to Hartford.

Billy: Steelers won't have the new seats in for 2014. Think they finally get this settled so they expand Heinz?

Dejan Kovacevic: Eventually, yes. They're the Steelers.

Skeptical: Hey Dejan. Why do you consider it such a virtue that Pittsburgh fans “demand critical coverage” of their teams when they lose? I prefer when sports fans enjoy when their team succeeds and accept it like adults when they don't.

Dejan Kovacevic: You'd love the Chicago Cubs.

Jameis Winston: Ignore the haters, Dejan

Dejan Kovacevic: You, too, man. You, too.

Rob: I can't remember where I read it but someone proposed going back to the old NHL penalty rule where a player had to stay in the entire 2:00 minutes. What do you think?

Dejan Kovacevic: Undoing the Oilers rule? I'm all for it. I'll go a step further. Call icing against penalty-killers. Why in the world should the penalized team have a rule modification benefiting them?

Matt: Are most Canadians truly fans of Crosby? They boo him when he plays for the Pens, yet love him in the Olympics?

Dejan Kovacevic: They cheered him in Vancouver, which was at least a bit surprising though maybe it shouldn't have been since his last appearance in that building was somewhat memorable. Also, I wouldn't lump them all together. Each building's different and has different reasons. In Ottawa, they really hate Sid. In Montreal, I think they get behind P.K. Subban getting under his skin. In Winnipeg, they deliberately target all teams' best players for boos.

Daquido Bazzini: Besides two finger injuries, what do you think happened to Markus Wheaton this season? Should we be concerned about him contributing next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's a concern but, as you point out, Markus didn't play much. And when he did, he didn't get targeted much. And when he did, it was almost never on the deep patterns they loved in Latrobe. It's fair to give him time. He was a rookie.

Evan Bellas: Excited to see Shawn Thornton back tonight?

Dejan Kovacevic: Shouldn't be a dry eye in the house.

Java: Do you expect Shero to try to squire a top six forward due to the loss of Dupuis?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. I really do. It won't be Beau Bennett.

Tomcat: Will Pitt's stout defense be able to slow a team like Duke or UNC

Dejan Kovacevic: The Panthers have a strange defense in that they're built — physically, I mean — to be great at the zone, but they keep playing mostly man. I'd bank on the zone against Syracuse. We'll see about Duke.

Josh: How did you start your career (any advice would be great)

Dejan Kovacevic: Sure. Wrote this recently for the blog. Actually heard from two college professors who said they had their class read it, which I found hilarious, to be honest.

caps fan: LETS GO CAPS!!!

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah!

todd: Bye

Dejan Kovacevic: Bye to all, and thanks for participating.

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