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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Jan. 24, 2014

| Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 1:17 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Any topic at all, and off we go ...

Pghgolfgirl: I have a real uneasy feeling going into the Olympics due to the security concerns. Given that you are headed there, how do you feel about the situation? Somehow Geno's assurances that it will be safe is not cutting it. I've read that Sid is pretty nervous about the entire thing. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: This will be my fourth Olympics, and all have had security concerns to one degree or another. Of those four, this will be the first that is not in a major urban center like Athens, Vancouver and London were. By definition, that will make it easier — far easier, actually — to protect. In fact, Sochi's ice arenas and main press center and media hotels are all in one extremely tight area.

So, my answer is I'm not thinking about it at all other than the material I'll have to write on the topic.

My greatest concern — by a sadly broad measure — is that the only Starbucks on site is one that NBC is hiding for its own employees in the International Broadcast Center.

I've talked with both Malkin and Crosby about it, and I can tell you I didn't get the sense from Crosby that you're describing. They all know this won't be like Vancouver, but there are a lot of reasons for that.

Want to talk about a place where I didn't feel safe?

Vancouver, with all the hooligans and rioters-in-wait. Bad place.

Joseph: Best to you and have fun on your trip to the Olympics...we look forward to reading your columns.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks, Joe. Can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it. Always say, the Olympics are the worst assignment in the world while you're covering them, the best assignment once you're done and look back.

Derek: Dejan, I liked your Letang article. After watching him cough it up in our own end for an Islanders goal last night, I immediately thought of it. I see those types of mistakes too often from him. Maatta is 19 years old and more responsible with the puck.

Dejan Kovacevic: OK, well, if I could ask you a follow-up: Why did you only think of trading Kris Letang when he messed up and not when he scored that power-play goal?

So, so, so many fans think of trades only from the standpoint of the player they'd like to get rid of. As if a trade is some kind of punishment. In reality, the best trades are made when a player is performing at his peak, provided he nets a proper return that fits best with your roster.

It's amazing to me the number of people who read that column and apparently just zipped past that concept.

The Penguins have a ton of defensemen. They have precious few forwards and real, specific needs up front. If Letang is dealt, as the column clearly stated, you've got the very best chance of addressing that at a championship level.

Adam: Is Omar Khan responsible for some of the Steeler salary cap mess? Or would it be much worse without him? Just seems like he gets a ton of credit in a bad situation.

Dejan Kovacevic: It would be awfully hard to blame Omar for, say, the decision to extend players such as Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, if only because those decisions absolutely are happening over his head. Some have been good, others not, and Omar has been, for better or worse, the one assigned to make it all work within the NFL's cap structure.

Adam: Good afternoon Dejan. You asked me on twitter last night to bring this question to the chat- It's a big concern that Lambo looks to be the other half of the 1B platoon. But is he THAT much bigger of a gamble than guys like Smoak or Ike Davis ?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd say so. Justin Smoak's been a disappointment, no question, and he's 27. But he also was a high-pedigree guy as a No. 11 overall pick of the Rangers in 2008, and he's spent most of the past four seasons in the majors. You at least know more about what you've got. Same goes for Davis.

When I asked Neal Huntington about his feelings on Lambo for today's Pirates column, you could tell he was candid about Lambo's defense but also genuinely optimistic about what he could do with the bat. Power is power, and 34 home runs in a single season — even if they're at three different levels — is impressive.

Sean: Clearly Shero wants to trade Despres. Do you think it happens before the Olympics break and now that the Jets took your advice and fired their coach it seems like the Pens might need to look elsewhere for a trade partner. Any rumblings out there that seem realistic?

Dejan Kovacevic: Winnipeg has, indeed, won four of five since Paul Maurice took over for Claude Noel, and that will undoubtedly at least mitigate any appetite for a trade of Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd or players in that bracket. But there are 28 other teams and a ton of other players.

I have no doubt Shero would like to move Simon Despres, just as I have no doubt he'd like to get a first-line, long-term right winger. But I don't see those two things as all that congruous. You're going to have to give up a lot more.

Sam: Hello Dejan, Since the Rob Scuderi comments about the Penguins playing better fundamentally, have they?

Dejan Kovacevic: They have been, but I wouldn't read as much into that as I would that some of the older guys on defense coming back from injury — Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and yeah, Scuderi — are finding their footing. Very slowly, in the specific cases of Orpik and Martin, but it's happening.

But yeah, they've been a little better. Not much.

Sam: Dejan, I understand giving an assistant coach the opportunity to get a promotion elsewhere as in the case of the Steelers' Kirby Wilson... but to a division rival like the Ravens ? How so?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you're an assistant coach, would you ever take a job with an NFL franchise that you knew going in would never let you interview for higher positions elsewhere?

Whether it's Baltimore or anyone, it's part of the business.

Ronald Villone: When the time comes, do you see Pedro signing an extension, being traded, or leaving via free agency?

Dejan Kovacevic: When it's a Scott Boras player, the default position should always be that the player will choose free agency.

Scott's had exceptions, but I know the man and his philosophy and his depth of information well. He's incredibly smart. He's looking around at this market right now, with all the billions — with a B — in local TV money coming to a few teams and mapping out how much the National League's home run leader will be worth in a few years.

I'll bet that figure would blow your mind.

Lonny: When will the Pirates have an opportunity to negotiate a new TV contract?

Dejan Kovacevic: Anytime, really. This one expires in 2018, if memory serves me well in this live chat, but the existing deal was struck a full three years before it needed to be. Which is the No. 1 reason, by the way, that it's as awful as it is for the Pirates. Because Frank Coonelly and the team didn't get the proper advice at the industry-level and sat down with Root Sports as if these things happen in a vacuum. They don't.

The Padres are based in a TV market smaller than the Pirates with much lower ratings, and their deal — roughly $80 million a year — will quadruple the one the Pirates have.

The Pirates can tell you whatever they want on this topic. The proof comes in the payrolls. Just watch San Diego in the not-too-distant future.

techrat_77: DK, what do you think Munchak will be able to do for the running game and keeping Ben in an upright position?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't think Mike Munchak's responsibilities should extend that far. In Tennessee, he had Chris Johnson dogging it half the time in the Titans' backfield, which meant their numbers were going to be rough no matter what he and his staff did with the O-line. (And it was pretty much all new over the past couple seasons.) Munchak's focus will be on making the Steelers' line better individually and collectively. And, really, he's actually overqualified to do that. He's been a superb lineman himself at the top level, and he's taught the position, as well.

I'll tell you this: I exchanged a few texts with the Steelers' O-line the night of the hiring, and they're excited about what Munchak could bring. They believe strongly in their athletic ability, versatility and talent.

One legit concern raised, though, is that Munchak could walk out the door the next time an NFL head coaching job comes open. And they've had an awful lot of turnover in recent years.

Napper: How good will Olli Maatta be when the game slows down for him?

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean two months ago?

Yeah, he was pretty good two months ago.

Bob: If Pens did make it known that Letang were available what would you consider a fair return?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm getting variations of this question a ton today because I'm sure people would love to see names attached to this sort of thing. Longtime readers know I don't do that. Never have. If I put a name in print, it's a matter of minutes before it ends up on this or that ‘Roto' platform as a legitimate thing. That's not fair to anyone, least of all readers who get served incorrect information.

When real names pop up — and Wheeler was bona fide, at least in the context of the Penguins' interest — we'll print them as news, not as speculation.

That said, Mike Bossy would be awesome.

Jack: Why is Chuck Kobasew still getting looks at the top line? Is he the latest in the line of Bylsma's pets?

Dejan Kovacevic: I see nothing but Matt D'Agostini from him. Nothing at all. Jayson Megna needs to get on that line immediately.

Jack: Thoughts on James Franklin's first few weeks, his hire of Terry Smith and your guess on his impact on Western PA recruiting. Penn State has been weak in this area over the last 5 or so years. Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: I have no doubt that Smith's Western Pennsylvania roots — he's a fellow Gateway grad — played into his hiring, but it wouldn't be fair to Terry to limit it to that. He's also an experienced, accomplished coach.

Also, one thing to bear in mind when discussing our region and recruiting is that it isn't all about Pitt and Penn State. Urban Meyer's made some inroads here, and Dana Holgorsen turned up a couple prizes, as well.

PirateApologist: Is there anything more ridiculous than a goalie fight?

Dejan Kovacevic: A bench-clearing brawl in baseball, by only about a degree of a billion. Especially that part where the bullpens empty, then they run 400 feet to the mound, then look at each other and get tough.

All of the other three sports got rid of their brawl problems years ago. Not baseball.

That gets mentioned by the national baseball media almost as much as payroll inequality.

Andrew_Havranek: Hey Dejan! I made it. Lets discuss AJ Burnett and retirement a little further than we were last night on twitter

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks for coming. Shoes at the door, please.

A.J. is legitimately considering it. I thought initially it was about money, but time has passed, and here we are with no one touching him.

Stop and think about that for a moment: He was one of the best strikeout/groundball combo guys in the game last season, pitching is at a premium, and the only team being attached to his name is the Pirates. If it was really about the money, don't you think he could change all that by just saying, hey, everyone, I'm here?

He'll decide at some point.

Rick: Pitt/Duke prediction:

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, Clemson beat Duke by 20. And Pitt beat Clemson by 33. So I'll take the Panthers by ... um, 53?

No, really, it's hard to pick against Pitt at this point. They aren't the best team in the ACC. That's Syracuse, fair and square and undeniably. But they're a close and legit second.

What an atmosphere that should be, huh?

Oh, and by the way, I'll be heading down to Maryland tomorrow to cover Pitt's road game for the Sunday column. Can't get enough of this team right now, and I'm trying to do as much of this sort of thing as possible before Sochi.

Bernard: If the Colbert/Tomlin's top-rated NT, CB and WR are all on the board at #15, which selection do you believe they'll make and would that be the same selection you would make?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, the convenient answer is that you take the best athlete out of those three and leave it at that. But if I can take your question further and propose that all three players are of equal ability, I'll take the corner. Absolutely, I'd take the corner.

Or I'd just scrap the entire thought process and take Aaron Donald before he demolishes the world with what he's doing to wow NFL scouts right now.

Mike: To follow-up on what Derek said, NBC analysts were also discussing a possible trade of Letang last night. Is there fire to go along with all of this smoke?

Dejan Kovacevic: No, but you can already see what I mean. That column breathed not one syllable that the Penguins actually were pursuing this. It was putting forth a concept and providing it support. But people just see the word trade, and it's like that talking dog in Disney's “Up” that hears the word squirrel and perks up its ears and points in that direction.

Guest: Why do I keep reading that you misconstrued Frank Connelly's comments at PirateFest in regards to the Pirates TV deal? What's to misconstrue?

Dejan Kovacevic: I haven't heard or read anything of the kind, so I'm not sure how to respond. But yeah, I'm not sure what's to misconstrue. Here is Coonelly's exact quote to the fans that day, as reported by the Trib and other outlets verbatim: “‘Those numbers are incorrect,' Coonelly said, without providing specific data. ‘Our TV contract places us in the top half of baseball. We are well-positioned moving forward.'”

A comment like “the top half of baseball” is pretty tough to misconstrue or distort or whatever.

I've heard from people inside the organization that what Coonelly meant to say was in the upper half of teams based in similar markets, which would at least be plausible. But why he hasn't come out and just cleared that up, I'd have no idea.

Jeff: You dont have to throw out names, but positionally/packeage/draft picks....what do you think Letang would fetch in a trade? I assume it would be a package of players.

Dejan Kovacevic: That would be measured by the quality of the front-line forward coming back. If it's a real eyebrow-raiser, that changes things. If it isn't, then adding depth/picks would be needed.

Wiz: I heard the Browns hired a new coach!!!!!!!!!!!! Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Get a good look.

Tim: Just looked up the dictionary definition of “thug” and, shockingly, it didn't mention race. Tired of people thinking Sherman was called a thug because of his color. I called Shawn Thornton a thug for weeks. Comparing apples to oranges, but the point is anyone of any color can be a thug.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, yeah. Honestly, to get back to the “squirrel” concept, I probably find it easier than most to tune out what I consider “noise” stories such as Sherman or Justin Bieber or whatever. That was a classic ‘noise' story. Wasn't moved by it, nor the reaction to it.

Dejan Kovacevic: Did we ever do Tampa Bay Lightning? No? All right, final five minutes, then ...

BucsFaninAtl: Olli Maatta for rookie of the year and Norris trophy?

Dejan Kovacevic: Whoa, one thing at a time on the Norris there. Voters love plus-minus there, so you'd actually have a much more solid case — fair or not — for Matt Niskanen, now a crazy plus-29 and atop the league. Maatta should be a prominent candidate for the Calder, but we'll see. Again, numbers are big. He won't have numbers.

Andrew from Long Island: Your personal opinion if AJ Burnett will retire, return, or play elsewhere... How important is he to this staff?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've maintained all along he'll pitch. Maybe he wants to skip spring training. Who knows?

MAdesso: Hey DK, do you see the Steelers sign a free agent starter this off season, ala Ryan Clark and James Farrior? Seems like the time is now to repeat..

Dejan Kovacevic: Middle linebacker and safety are areas where you'd think they almost have to go to the outside. Or bring back Larry Foote, who very much wants to come back. Tough to ask a recent draft pick to jump into either spot.

TK: Does Tyler Boyd play for all four years at Pitt or leave early?

Dejan Kovacevic: Boyd's special. Can't imagine he'll stay the whole way through, barring injury.

Tim in Arlington VA: James Franklin for President? :-)

Dejan Kovacevic: Only when he decides to dominate the whole country.

Drews tatoo: Will you be doing any curling in Sochi? Truly, send some video clips of stuff other than interviews. We want to see what you're up to.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be there. I sure won't try it again.

TK: If Velasco was cut by Munchak why would he be excited about his coming here to coach?

Dejan Kovacevic: Being cut and having respect for a coach's ability to do his job are two wholly different things. Fernando Velasco's plenty bright enough to discern.

MAdesso: DK, do you think Pitt hoops can be a final four team this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not about to go there until at least one other player makes a big leap forward. Say, a Jamel Artis or Derrick Randall or someone like that. Especially with Durand Johnson lost, a lot of the scoring burden is on Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. That's tough.

cuzzinfish: Any reason to think Kendrys Morales in a Pirates uniform is real possibility

Dejan Kovacevic: And give up a first-round pick? Doubtful. Goes against pretty much everything they do.

jds182: Has Niskanen priced himself out of the Pens cap space for next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not if money is cleared elsewhere. Matt Niskanen's a lifer type. He'd love to stay with the Penguins. Just passionate about them.

Burgh Steel: Great movie- UP

Dejan Kovacevic: Really was.

Guest 23: I think you should become an exclusive college basketball writer, Dejan. You already do it better than most that do it on a full-time basis, Gorman excluded.

Dejan Kovacevic: I appreciate the kind words about the hoops. I enjoy it a ton, and I hope it shows. People know I don't watch NBA, so they assume it means I don't like basketball. Nothing further from the truth.

Squirrely Fries: Dejan, what do you think of the Penguins' Stadium Series jerseys? Are these jerseys really necessary??

Dejan Kovacevic: Whole concept is stupid. You're showcasing the sport to people who don't always see it, and that's the day you don't wear your iconic uniforms. Wow.

Victor: Letang for Peter Taglianetti . Straight up.

Dejan Kovacevic: Tags would be hurt if you didn't throw a draft pick in with Letang.

Gustav: Pick one Pittsburgh athlete who you think is athletic enough to professionally play a different sport and be good at it. (i.e. something like letang playing for the steelers)

Dejan Kovacevic: Sidney Crosby, Andrew McCutchen and Antonio Brown could do anything they wanted anywhere they wanted.

NaplesDave: DK, Have a great trip and, as my grandmother used to say, “Take your jacket”

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Thanks! And thanks to all! Way over allotted time today.

The column runs Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday.

The TribLIVE Radio show is Wednesday.

The blog is like the Calgary Flames. Old, crusty and really not going anywhere.

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