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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Jan. 31, 2014

| Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, 1:14 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Next time we chat, it will span a much, much greater distance. For now ...

Dan: Over and under on how many people ask you about Pens trading Letang? My vote is 7.

Dejan Kovacevic: You're way low, considering the hundreds of submissions that come in general.

Q: Whats the minimum return necessary for Shero to pull the trigger on a Letang trade? To Edmonton for example?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't do fake trades and, specifically, I don't throw out names. Did that a few years ago, and minutes later, I'd see those names show up as “rumors” on various sites attributed to me. No thanks.

As the Letang column last week noted, the Penguins need a first-line right winger. For me, moving Letang means you get an elite such player. There could be more, but that's the priority. You can't enter the playoffs with Crossed Fingers flanking Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. That's all kinds of wrong.

EJ: We all know your stance on trading Letang (I agree with you, too), but you have been adamant that your opinion is based on the return the Penguins can get. So here's my question... do you think the Penguins play better defensively with or without Letang in the lineup?

Dejan Kovacevic: The numbers will illustrate they play better overall defensively not only when Letang is out but also when Evgeni Malkin is out. And you aren't trading Malkin.

I keep emphasizing this, though: You aren't trading a player because he's defective or you hate him or as punishment. No matter how many fans interpret it that way, that isn't the motivation. The concept is to trade something of value at a position of strength for something of value at a position of weakness. That's it.

Stop trying to bury Letang over this. It doesn't have to be part of the conversation at all.

Newtang: Rob Rossi intimated that Letang's absence last night in L.A. was pretty unusual. What do you think? Any chance he was really a healthy scratch?

Dejan Kovacevic: On 100 of 100 occasions, I'll defer to the beat writer on the scene when I'm not there. I'll do so this time, as well. Rossi's game story is online, for anyone who wants to check it out.

cosmo: Do you have any concerns about traveling to Sochi to cover these games?

Dejan Kovacevic: I have one, and it isn't the one everyone's discussing.

TDB1977: Dejan, are you planning on doing another one of those decathalon type event viewings at the Winter Games like you did at the past summer games? It was great reading and really enjoyed that column tremendously.

Dejan Kovacevic: I am. Haven't picked out which dates yet. But thanks for remembering that. Those are always among the highlights for me of covering an Olympics. And for the 99.9 percent who don't know what this is, I'll cover 10 events over two days — decathlon spirit — and just tell stories from those places. Random stuff.

Nervous With the Ball: Despres for Callahan? Just kidding, I know you don't engage in speculation. But...Despres for Callahan?

Dejan Kovacevic: I will say this: The impression that some locally have of Simon Despres' value is astonishing to me.

Paul from Altoona, PA via Nashville, TN: Does Brent Keisel retire as a Steeler and will I be this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sure doesn't sound like it. He's maintaining he's got a couple good years left in him. But, and with all due respect, I'm not seeing that, and we heard very similar pronouncements from other recently retired former Steelers just before they retired.

Derek: Dejan, I moved from Butler, PA to Findlay, OH (High School of Ben) in 1999 as a Sophomore. As a huge Steeler fan I was shocked they drafted a QB out of my high school and I guess a little jealous. I never really liked him. I was the first to jump on the “let's trade Ben” band wagon. It dawned on me a few seasons ago, just how important a consistent QB is to a team (thanks to the local Cleveland team). My question to you is how long should we extend Ben and at how much?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ben should — and will — get a fair market rate from the Steelers, and the contract should — and will — be set up in a way that doesn't cripple the franchise, even for a year or two, as we just saw in Baltimore with Joe Flacco. If Ben's around $18 million over the life of the deal, that's fair. He's done everything asked, above and beyond.

Matt from New Castle: Until the Pirates win a pennant and continue to contend for them, isn't trust ALWAYS going to be an issue here in Pittsburgh for the Bucs? 20 years is a long time to be burned. Pens went what, 8 years without playoffs, and 6 of those 8 years they had Lemieux, Crosby, or both.

Dejan Kovacevic: I opened the TribLIVE Radio show the other day with a video rant about the Pirates and trust, and I appreciate all the feedback I got over it. That said, a good portion of the feedback was about trust to make the right moves, which wasn't my point at all. It was about trust, period. As in believing they aren't lying about things like the local TV deal for no reason beyond ego and bravado. It was about honesty.

Wins and losses have nothing to do with that. A.J. Burnett has nothing to do with that.

Scott: What do you make of the Pens 11-3-1 record against the west? Especially when the west has dominated the overall record against eastern conference teams.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's just bizarre. Honestly, I was thinking about that very thing in watching the game last night. I've heard it said that the Penguins' puck-retrieval and breakout are different enough that they throw off teams that don't regularly play them, but they're not different at all from Detroit, which was in the West until this season.

Here's one: Maybe the Western teams think they can engage in a soft run-and-gun game when they face Pittsburgh and take the foot off the gas. For sure, you don't see the same physical play when they're facing the Penguins as when they're killing each other on a nightly basis.

Really, it's just odd.

Dan: Why did the pirates drag their feet with AJ Burnett? We need him to be part of the rotation if we are to complete in the Central Division. Are the Pirates are just being cheap. your thoughts.

Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates, as I've written for years, place an internal valuation on a player and don't like to stray from it. And no, that doesn't come from Bob Nutting. He's not evaluating players. It comes from his front office. They're also very fond of the idea of getting someone at a bargain rate, not even necessarily so they can be cheap but to be able to say that they did. They love that sort of thing.

When anyone asks me what happened with A.J., I believe they thought they had the player all to themselves. Same as Miguel Sano. So they looked at $14 million, thought it was high and said, eh, let's wait to see what he does and maybe they'd look like geniuses in the end.

Obviously, they don't.

Funny thing is, the very best signing this management team has had was the one time they broke all their own rules and went above and beyond for Russell Martin. They saw the player they wanted, they went and got him. Funny how that works.

yinzer in va: Dejan, Will you be holding your chats from Sochi?

Dejan Kovacevic: I will give it my best. The internet's got to cooperate with a live Java platform. We'll see. But yes, that's the plan.

Zane (not Smith): Are any Trib news reporters heading to Sochi? Will you have any planned news pieces?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm going alone. I'll cover any news that happens. It won't be a new experience for me. In another life, I covered the Serbian revolution right on the military front line. Reporting is reporting.

Newtang: Is there any fear that Maatta will burn out by the end of the year? With his first full NHL season and Olympics he's playing way more than he ever has (At least I think so)

Dejan Kovacevic: He's 19, so no. It'll be incumbent on Dan Bylsma to get all his Olympians some kind of break upon returning, especially those who go deep into the tournament. But I wouldn't worry about Maatta wearing down. At least not physically. Psychologically is where most athletes will tell you the fatigue sets in.

Steelkings: Are reporters covering the Superbowl secretly hoping that Seattle loses on a couple of phantom holding calls and a missed Pass interference call at the end?

Dejan Kovacevic: Imagine the whine.

Eddie: DK: What's it like to try to get interviews with other countries' athletes at the Olympics, hockey for an example? Is there a “stick to your own country” vibe among the media or more of a “first come, first serve” rule?

Dejan Kovacevic: Interviews are done very differently at any Olympics. All athletes pass through a rope line and stop — or keep walking — as they please. The men's hockey has extraordinary demand, so their national officials will have them spread out at assigned spots behind the rope.

So no, there's no such thing. Even the multilingual athletes will take a turn in the native tongue, a turn in English.

Joseph: Dejan - Suggestion for you regarding your Starbucks dilemma - Would it be possible to “hire” your own personal Barista from Starbucks to take with you and then expense that back to the Trib? They surely would pay that for you. Just a thought. Trying to help you on this situation. Either way...enjoy! ~ Joseph

Dejan Kovacevic: Doesn't matter. Can't get the goods through. No liquids at all allowed into Russia on any flight for a three-month duration that being in early January. Not even one of those tiny travel-sized toothpastes.

Believe me, man, all options have been exhausted.

Mr. Negative: I think you're a brilliant writer, but your article about increasing the net size was laughable. Hockey will always be the baby brother to the other sports in this country. Let's not deface the dignity of this wonderful game in hopes to make it more popular. What do you think, if Alex Ovechkin was sitting at 91 goals in April, ESPN would air chasing history updates every time he steps on the ice? No, they'd run a 10 minute segment on the types of shoes Dwayne Wade wears on his way to the arena. Let's keep our game the way it is. Those who don't catch on...their loss.

Dejan Kovacevic: I completely respect your opinion on the topic and am grateful you read the column. Thank you.

Donny: Do u think this year's Olympics in Sochi could be to Malkin what the Canada Cup was for Lemieux? Mario took to another level afterwards in his career, came out of Gretzky's shadow.

Dejan Kovacevic: They aren't at similar stages of their careers, Donny. Mario still hadn't played in a single Stanley Cup playoff game at the time of the 1987 Canada Cup, so everything about that experience was all new to him. Malkin's been an MVP, a scoring champion, a Conn Smythe winner and, of course, a Stanley Cup champ. Colossal difference.

If there is one area where maybe it could be comparable, I'd say that would be if Malkin were to somehow just take over Team Russia, carry the group on his back on and off the ice. On the ice isn't hard to imagine, but off ... by all accounts, the leadership is expected from Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. Can't see Geno stepping on those toes.

Crosby Sucks: LETS GO FLYERS!!!!! Why don't u put this up the pens suck Dejan Kovacevic: What a life that must be.

Mike: Who is physically the most impressive athlete on the Penguins?

Dejan Kovacevic: Crosby, and it isn't close.

Tim: Funniest athlete you have ever covered?

Dejan Kovacevic: Past: Steve McKenna, Penguins. Current: Ramon Foster.

Mike: Tampa Bay Lightning round Dejan Kovacevic: I do believe that you are correct, sir. Short Qs, short As, here we go ...

Matt: Do the Pens have the assets to get a RJ Umberger or Ryan Malone seems both would fit the gritty player type that can play on all 3 lines

Dejan Kovacevic: Because they're local? Don't get me wrong. Love them both, but that can't be the way to think.

Mike: How far can this Pitt team actually make it? I think the Durand Johnson injury can hurt in the long run

Dejan Kovacevic: They need more scoring than Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. That's why one legit bright spot from the Duke game was Cam Wright stepping up. Need one of the freshmen now, too.

Kurt from SoCal: Its obvious Crosby is league MVP this year. Who is the distant second?

Dejan Kovacevic: By season's end, I expect it will be Ryan Getzlaf. What a beast he's become. As with the Mallards in general.

Oprah: Chances we see an outdoor game in Beaver Stadium within a year or two?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not next year, from the sound of it. But the idea is just too good, too obvious to ignore. And as we've seen, the NHL really loves having the Penguins involved.

Paul from Altoona, PA via Nashville, TN: What kind of impact has Suzie McConnell had in her first year of coaching the Lady Panthers Basketball Team? Do you think that she will be able to bring them back to being considered a “Top 20” caliber team? If so, how long will I take her to get there?

Dejan Kovacevic: There honestly won't be that much to judge from this season, although I happen to think she's already overachieved to an extent with this group that's basically Brianna Kiesel and everyone else. Suzie has an excellent class coming in next season.

Winky sniffer: Any chance Lamar gets ACC player of the year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I thought so ... until Monday. But wow, you saw Jabari Parker. If he can light up Syracuse the way he just did Pitt — and Duke and the Orange meet tomorrow, of course — that'll go a long way. Special talent.

mayhay22: Sport you know the least about that you'll be covering in Sochi?

Dejan Kovacevic: Always the X Games stuff. I'll never be able to watch that and casually say, ‘Oh, hey, there's that Double Y Twisty Corkscrew Cherry Cadillac maneuver he's been working on. Awesome.'

Michael: How amazing would a Super Bowl in beautiful Pittsburgh, PA be?

Dejan Kovacevic: Couldn't agree more.

gms caps fan: Ovie is clearly the MVP. 39 goals speaks. Doesn't whine either

Dejan Kovacevic: His minus-5 last night in Columbus says hello.

Paul from Altoona, PA via Nashville, TN: Dejan, who is/was your least favorite athlete to cover in your career and why?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, I'll tell you who it isn't: A.J. Burnett. Been hearing some characterizations of Burnett as being boorish or a problem in the clubhouse. It's garbage. Always been above-and-beyond professional with at least this one reporter.

Ziu: Biggest olympic hockey sleeper?

Dejan Kovacevic: The easy answer is Slovakia, because they always seem to come underappreciated. I'm going with Finland because of all the ridiculous goaltending they've got. They'll start Tuukka Rask, but they have so, so many options. Someone's bound to get hot.

JC: Is there enough hotel space for a Super Bowl here

Dejan Kovacevic: Read the linked column. The answer is an emphatic yes. People's stereotypes of old Pittsburgh don't fade easily. We have far more hotel space than Indianapolis had, and it's a lot closer, too.

Andre: You ain't ever use one of my questions DK!

Dejan Kovacevic: Because you end them with exclamation points!

Chris from DC: Gibbons, Ebbett, Megna....who sticks with the Pens during the playoffs?

Dejan Kovacevic: Gibbons is closest to really getting a role for himself. Too bad he doesn't kill penalties. That would do it.

Cuzzinfish: In your opinion, is Niskanen becoming a Norris-type defenseman? Or is it just an outstanding season? Seems like he's quickly making a certain uber-talented guy expendable.

Dejan Kovacevic: Niskanen's been very good, but there are hockey metrics far more powerful than plus-minus. No need to go overboard.

Randy Cyphert: Is there a very real chance that Ray Shero will stay the course with this team? i.e no trades at the deadline, or before? Thanks for all you do DK!

Dejan Kovacevic: No chance. None. He'll make moves. He's Ray Shero.

Don: Is Bennett the answer for the first line or does Shero trade for one?

Dejan Kovacevic: Beau Bennett isn't the answer to any question, certainly not the first line. He's just a question.

Spity: In reference to your “Want more goals? Try net gain” column, wouldn't the easiest solution be to get rid of the kicking the puck into the goal is a no goal rule? Or am I thinking to much like Bettman?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ugh. Kicking? No.

Jerry: 71 days until the Riverhounds Home Opener. Do you think the team has a chance at winning it all this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I would and still might, but I'd first want to see what defending champ Orlando City brings back. One year away from joining MLS, they're probably going to be stacking the roster the same way the Hounds have. That opener should be telling on that count alone.

Zane (not Smith): Pens have produced some of the greatest front line players ever, but who is the greatest back liner to ever put on a Penguins jersey. I'll go 77.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's Dave Burrows from the 1970s. Coffey was barely around long enough for a cup of ... oh, you know.

NaplesDave: DK, How great this headline would read...,.Big Ben to Mike Evans deep...TD!! Got to go with tall WR 1st round.

Dejan Kovacevic: Sorry, man. This team needs elite additions on defense.

Alan Gifford: Apparently Dan Rooney doesnt think there is enough hotel space according to Bart Hubbach

Dejan Kovacevic: Mr. Rooney, with all due respect, will want to contact Visit Pittsburgh, as I have. They've got all the numbers. And their contention is that the Steelers simply aren't interested. The Steelers, as you might know, would have to initiate this. Visit Pittsburgh assures the hotel numbers are there, and they've got data to prove it.

Ivan: Will there be any surprise, last-minute entrants on the US curling team?

Dejan Kovacevic: No chance.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's all for this week. The columns will run every day from Sochi, so no point in the usual citing of the schedule.

Thanks to everyone — except the Flyers guy — for participating. Good stuff today.

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