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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: March 14, 2014

| Friday, March 14, 2014, 1:10 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — They call this the Friendly City. Been the moniker for a long time now, and it's richly deserved. There isn't much here at all, at least not for those of us who aren't into beaches, but the people are wonderful.

The chat's wide open today, though I hope you'll understand if I lean toward baseball while down here.

LuckyNKentucky: Now that you've been there almost 3 days, do you sense any surprises that have a chance to go north, such as Dickerson or someone else? Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Never have I covered the Pirates in a spring training where this much was set in stone. And obviously there's good reason for that. So no, barring injury, no one will break into the 13 position players, though Chris Dickerson provides a nice backup option out of Indianapolis. The bullpen might have a surprise or two, but it would be of omission rather than addition. And the rotation is set, too, being that Jeff Locke — and he and I just discussed this minutes ago downstairs — will need patience recovering from a strained oblique.

It's a solid roster. Nice problem to have, as they say.

Peter Aron: Dejan - Houston just gave up with Brett Wallace. The Pirates took a look at Jeff Clement a few years ago. Both were first round draft choices (other teams) as is Travis Snider. Is Snider simply not good enough?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hearing nothing but really good things about Snider down here, which kind of surprises me, to be candid. More on that in Sunday's column, which won't just be about Snider about a whole slew of observations down here.

yinzer in va: Dejan, Hope you can take one more Olympic question since I missed you your last chat. I was wondering if the bobsled and luge tracks are treated in any way. Do the sleds make ruts similar to ice skating? If so, what is done?

Dejan Kovacevic: The ice of the tracks for those two sports — and obviously skeleton — has an incredible toughness to it and doesn't have to be treated for a change between the three. I was struck by this, in particular, by the track's ability to withstand a hard, steady rain on the first two nights of women's bobsled. The times were no different, and the drivers had nothing to say when I'd ask about any rain effect.

Wonderful Olympics question, by the way. We should ask one of these in perpetuity every week!

Matt from New Castle: A local “media personality” as we'll call him - locally opined that “journalism is dead” somewhat for dramatic effect for sure. What are your thoughts on this topic, as I know you will disagree with this sentiment at face value.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm sure I don't know what you're referencing. But I'm also sure about this: I just covered the Olympics in Russia, I'm here in Florida for spring training, I'm heading next week to follow Pitt through the NCAAs, I'll be back in Pittsburgh for the Pirates' opener, and I'll tail the Penguins out to Winnipeg and Minneapolis right after that.

If this is being dead, then I don't want to be alive.

T: Tired of hearing Steelers fans complain about our drafts. If they are so bad why are teams signing them all away as free agents? Guys like Wallace, Lewis, Brown etc are far exceeding their draft position and we cant afford them. Shouldn't it be said that Colbert is doing too good of a job?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sorry, T, but this was the week that the Steelers officially had nothing at all to show for their 2008 and 2009 draft classes combined. That's absolutely indefensible.

That said, there's a lot of heat aimed at the Steelers for cutting LaMarr Woodley strictly in the sense that he was a big mistake as a signing. I'll differ at least a little on that count because Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin signed several players as part of that wave, and for the one bust in Woodley, they also signed two excellent deals with Lawrence Timmons and Antonio Brown. Let's not forget that there was all kinds of doubt associated with choosing Brown. That now looks like one of the better contracts in the NFL.

Mr. Negative: I understand everyone is entitled to some vacation time, but to do so during the NHL trade deadline is unusual for a person in your profession. That would be similar to my accountant taking vacation for the first two weeks in April. Next time, skip covering the Olympics and come back fresh for one of the most exciting Pittsburgh sports days of the year. With that being said, I hope you the vacation was nice for you and your family.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yikes. Skip the bronze- and gold-medal hockey games in the Olympics on the other side of the world — where I was sent not only for columns but also news coverage — to return here to offer opinion on NHL trades?

Not even sure how to reply to that one. We have a lot of talented people on this staff, and the trade deadline was covered intensely by our beat men Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe, and a column — a damned good one, at that — was written by Joe Starkey.

DNY: You wrote: “it's always worth applauding when the Steelers a) recognize a real shortcoming and b) find the dollars and the will to address it from the outside.” Shot at the Bucs, or reading too much into it?

Dejan Kovacevic: Good Lord, no.

Drewski: Why does Jamie Dixon seem to be under appreciated both locally and nationally? All he has done is take Pitt to the big dance 12 of 13 seasons and have the highest winning percentage in the Big East, which over that timer period was the toughest conference? People better watch what they wish for before we end up like Indiana with Crean, missing the NCAA tourney 4 times in 6 years I think.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not sure Dixon is underappreciated nationally as much as locally, but I'd venture to summarize public sentiment this way: He wins, and people want him to win more. To me, there's nothing wrong with that. If anything, it's the highest compliment that can be paid to Dixon and his program that Pitt fans aren't satisfied with a fifth-place finish in the ACC and repeated flameouts in NCAAs.

That said, the people who call for his firing are out of their minds. Elite college basketball programs take a long, long time to build. Don't assume that just because Dixon took over for Ben Howland so smoothly that someone else could come into Pitt and do likewise.

Drewski: Lets hear your sales pitch for any casusal football fan who has never seen an AFL game to go to Consol this year and watch the Power play.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd have no idea. Sorry.

Derek: Dejan, what are the chances the Pens keep Jokinen next season and possibly longer?

Dejan Kovacevic: I sure hope so. Jokinen is that classic example of a modestly skilled guy who's never going to be overpriced. And his style is such that he doesn't rely too much on speed, which means he could lose a quarter-step and still be effective. That would be a nice extension for the Penguins at the right cost.

However, don't be surprised if Ray Shero waits to see what he gets out of some guys in the playoffs. That's a big deal for him as it relates to any UFA.

Matt: What are the chances the Steelers sign James Harrison after the Bengals released him?

Dejan Kovacevic: About the same as my watching arena football.

Ben: I think I'll ask this question in a nicer way. I would enjoy hearing your perspective on the Pens trade deadline additions? I respect your hard work in Sochi and hope you had a wonderful - well deserved - break!

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Yeah, it was great. I've got a 13-year-old and a 9-year-old and had been away from home — and mostly unable to communicate with them — for 25 days. That's not a complaint. The Sochi assignment was incredible. But so was the time afterward.

jefft: Hi Dejan...great column today. The video that you talked about...will that be shown to the public as well, or was that just for team consumption?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks regarding the column. And I don't know the Pirates' plans, if any, for the video. Not really sure why they've kept it under wraps. It's incredible.

If you haven't seen it, check the blog.

Guest: Hey Dejan, BucsCannonball here from twitter. Neal Huntington said the Pirates want Gregory Polanco to help win pennant. Polanco is 1 of the best 25 in camp. April games are just as important as September games. What's your take on Polanco starting the year in Indy?

Dejan Kovacevic: For those who don't know, Polanco, the Pirates' top prospect, was optioned to Indy this morning. Check Travis Sawchik's news report for more.

You sound like enough of a fan to know the background and arbitration and all that stuff related to waiting until June to bring up a top prospect, so no need to repeat that. To me, this whole thing has never been an issue, particularly because Polanco has never played above Double-A. The pitchers are older and smarter in Triple-A, whereas most are very young prospects in Double-A. There's a gulf there in that regard. Moreover, being one of the best 25 doesn't work as singular logic. If it did, Andrew McCutchen would have played for the Pirates at age 18 for those terrible teams, and he'd already be long gone as a free agent.

I'll have more on this in that aforementioned Sunday column.

Guest 23: What is your favorite type of sport in terms of taking in the atmosphere-not talking about your favorite sport in general. I'm talking about stuff that fills the senses-a kid dribbling a ball, a clank of the goalpost, a ball hitting a mitt, etc

Dejan Kovacevic: For sheer atmosphere, I'm not sure that a high-intensity college basketball game can be beat. I know it can't be beat in our city. Whether you're a Pitt fan or not, hoops at the Pete is a treasure.

Guest 23: Will Jim Ferry turn it around at Duquesne ? You know, at least to the point of making the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament! Lot of good basketball talent in PA and the Northeast. Go out and get some!

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm on record as saying I believe he will and that he certainly deserves more than a year and a half to show it. It would be wonderful to have Ovie Soko back another year, but that obviously won't happen. At the same time, Micah Mason is a sophomore and was one of the best pure shooters in the nation. Ferry has a history of being able to go far and wide for talent, and I'm sure the folks at Saint Louis would concur he's capable of coaching on the court. I'd give him a chance.

Jandy: I do believe that the opinion expressed by the “media personality” (and you know him, Dejan) was that PRINTED journalism is dying. Newspaper.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, to repeat, I don't know of the reference at all. But I'll say that, to me, there really is no such thing as printed journalism. What does that even mean? The content I produce right now goes not only into print but also to laptops, iPads, iPhones, even TV and online radio. And the fact is — and I do mean fact — more humans are getting their news from newspaper-based outlets than at any point in the history of civilization.

The challenge for the business is monetizing the non-print aspects. That will take time and a culture change.

But again, in terms of pure readership, we've never, ever been read more.

Newtang: In the last few weeks we've seen Crosby get admonished for not staying on his skates from Toews and Selanne. I'm pretty sure he has no embellishment penalties to his name, but does he have a reputation for diving amongst players? Or is this a gamesmanship thing?

Dejan Kovacevic: I didn't like how Crosby went down in Sochi against Finland, but I'd go with the broader notion that it's gamesmanship. Teemu Selanne is a really smart guy. He knew he'd have to get Canada's captain off his game, and he knew exactly which button to push. Similarly, Jonathan Toews was Crosby's teammate in Sochi, and he saw the effect Selanne's jab had on Crosby, so maybe he was just as smart in trying it at Soldier Field.

Man, imagine what the opponent this weekend will be saying!

Matt in Ann Arbor: Is Pitt a lock for the NCAA's now, or do they need to beat UNC to make it a lock?

Dejan Kovacevic: They're absolutely in. But beating North Carolina, I'm sure, wouldn't offend any of the Pitt faithful.

Jon: Thoughts on the “Kesler watch” fiasco?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Canucks are owned by idiots. And that's going to cost them a potentially good GM in Mike Gillis, as well as future GMs.

Brendan: It's still early but any predictions on attendance for the Manchester City vs AC Milan game at Heinz in July?

Dejan Kovacevic: The next soccer on my schedule is April 12 at Highmark Stadium. That game will be completely sold out.

Michael K.: How do you interpret the term “injury prone” in sports? Take Beau Bennett, for example, do you actually consider him injury prone or did the guy just have some bad luck?

Dejan Kovacevic: There's no question some athletes are more brittle than others. Same is true of the general population. If Bennett's going to make an NHL career for himself, he needs to illustrate rather quickly that he isn't in the former category. Way too much has gone wrong for him in a short span.

Tom: I was excited to hear about the Mike Mitchell signing until I saw that Ziggy “pushed off the line” Hood got the same kind of money in the open market. Will Mitchell have an impact or is he a depth guy?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure I'm following you, Tom. You're less excited that the Steelers got Mitchell for five years and $25 million because the Jaguars apparently have no scouts and signed Ziggy Hood for four years and $16 million?

Mitchell will start, of course, and he's eminently expected to have an impact. Literally. He's a big hitter, a playmaker, and that's what the Steelers wanted at the position.

Love this signing. Really do.

Dan D: The following question has nothing to do with Letang's current health but anyway... If the Pens had any idea that Maatta would be this good this fast is there a chance that Letang doesn't get the big deal he got? I think Letang on top of his game is well worth the money by the way and here's to hoping that he just gets healthy whether it means return to the ice or not.

Dejan Kovacevic: Hm. Going to try to find a good way to answer this without looking crass.

OK, here: If Letang were to never play again — and heaven knows there's no indication of that, and one would hope it isn't the case — the Penguins technically don't have to pay Letang anything. I don't think it would ever come to that, including on the team's end, but that's the technical aspect here. Asked about that while in Sochi, and that was the NHL's reply. Any injury or ailment that's outside hockey isn't the responsibility of the team. In Letang's case, the small hole in the heart has been an issue since birth.

I'm going to repeat this, though: There's nothing to indicate Letang is done. There's also nothing to suggest the Penguins would be so classless as to just pull the financial plug on Letang. All I'm describing here is the technical stuff.

As far as Olli Maatta having space cleared by Letang, that's true, but it has nothing to do with the extension. Rather, it was because Letang was hurt early in camp. Ray Shero has bluntly stated as much.

Bighatfunny: This whole “Lamarr Woodley as a hybrid hand in the dirt/stand up 4-3 defensive end” thing is gonna work out great for my Raiders, right? RIGHT?!

Dejan Kovacevic: The Raiders are lucky that the Browns exist.

Matt from New Castle: How special is Clint Hurdle? I mean really - the man just seems like a special human on all fronts. Pittsburgh is lucky to have him, but I think more than anything else he'd say he feels lucky to have Pittsburgh. What a fit.

Dejan Kovacevic: One of the best.

Alan Gifford: which player the Steelers lost do you think they will miss most?

Dejan Kovacevic: None is a huge loss, but the one who needs to be replaced more than any other is Jonathan Dwyer. The Steelers have serious running back depth issues at the moment. But there's a ton of time to address that, and I wouldn't be surprised to see LaRod Stephens-Howling return.

Dave: A Stamkos-back-with-Lightning-round yet?

Dejan Kovacevic: Let's do it ...

Nick: AJ seemed to be a leader in the Pirates' clubhouse. WHo fills that void this year? McCutchen?

Dejan Kovacevic: At the moment, it's Clint Hurdle. No real alpha male just yet.

espo33: What is your opinion on the Pirates this year. What are their weakness you see happening in the season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Weakness? I'd go with the uncertainty regarding 200-inning starters. That could undo all else.

danb: what do the pens do with lines now that neal is out with a concussion

Dejan Kovacevic: Hope that he's 100 percent for playoffs. That's all that matters right now. Be glad this happened now rather than then.

Harrisburg Hal: Flyers try to goon it up at home tomorrow? and do the Pens take the bait?

Dejan Kovacevic: Only if the Pope is still Catholic and Bradenton still has Wal-Marts.

Matt in Ann Arbor: Will Sid ever be the premier option on the PK for Bylsma?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd love to see that, and I think Sid would welcome it, too. But I'd want to see him wear that skate-guard, and I wouldn't hold my breath on that.

Dejan Kovacevic: Sorry for the pause. Had to stand for the Anthem here. Where were we?

Guest 23: Bet you don't miss beat reporting! Cruise down to Florida for a few days, then back to the family, before taking in the NCAA's. As a lover of multiple sports, I have to say “pretty sweet, Kovacevic.”

Dejan Kovacevic: Never, ever been happier in the profession.

PirateApologist: I'm late to the chat party, but I still love reading the Trib and other things in print as opposed to always online.

Dejan Kovacevic: We appreciate that! The Pittsburgh market as a whole is far healthier for print than most others. Older generation and all.

Sam: Man, how different would the Pens be if Jagr actually would have came back to the pens a few seasons back...the guy is still lighting the lamp

Dejan Kovacevic: Just a phenomenal story. As colleague Josh Yohe observed earlier in the week, it's a story that should be getting a lot more national attention.

Aaron: Once Polanco comes up in June if Lambo is not working out at first and Snider is doing well, would they consider him playing 1b like GJ used to do?

Dejan Kovacevic: Polanco is an outfielder. He'll remain that.

Guest 23: Which group of athletes, in general, cuss the most?

Dejan Kovacevic: All about the same. And none more than those who cover them.

Bruce: Steelers now have so many holes to fill. If you were GM how would you fill them?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you mean the draft, I'm still looking at WR, CB and ILB, although I'm open to the order of those. People talk about nose tackle, but you don't go that high with nose tackles.

Guest: In the past month or so….We have heard President Coonelly and various Pro-Pirate blogs comment that this present Pirate team is better than the one that was on the field in the playoffs.

Dejan Kovacevic: He can't know that any more than anyone else. Time will tell. Obviously, the offseason moves would indicate otherwise, but individual players can still improve.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's all for this week. Brandon Cumpton has just climbed the hill, and I have to snap the first-pitch pic for Twitter.

Thanks to all for participating. I'll be down here through the Monday game with the Yankees. The columns run Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. The TribLIVE Radio show is every Wednesday at 2 p.m.

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