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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: May 6, 2014

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 2:17 p.m.

NEW YORK — Penguins in playoffs, Pirates at rock bottom, Steelers on the clock ... why waste any time?

The Capital of Greenland: Do you think AJ Burnett had any kind of galvanizing effect on the pitching staff, and now that he's gone it isn't as dominant as last year?

Dejan Kovacevic: As my own rule of thumb, if I ever start considering intangibles as a first possible explanation, I start over.

The Pirates aren't pitching well, aren't as healthy as they could be with their pitching staff. That's it. No amount of rah-rah from A.J. or backpatting from Ray Searage or cheers or tips of the cap will change that. Francisco Liriano hasn't been himself, possibly for health reasons. Wandy Rodriguez can't get on the mound. Jeff Locke hasn't recovered from that spring oblique. Jason Grilli is gone to the DL. All that adds up, especially when others aren't pitching as well as they did last season.

I've been saying all along it's the pitching, but nothing could possibly underscore that — at least symbolically — like an 11-10 loss, huh?

Answers need to be found in a raging hurry. One is Brandon Cumpton. Quit messing around with him and hoping he'll be something other than what he is. So long as he's getting people out, give him the ball.

Irate Fan: Pirates completely ignored holes in the rotation and at SS this offseason. Won't call up Polance 100% due to Super 2, cough cheap cough cough, who knows why Lambo won't come up. They won't sign Drew to help SS. Does this front office even care? Is Neal Huntington that incompetent? OR, as I suspect, is Nutting just that cheap? Would love for him to sell the team already to someone who cares.

Dejan Kovacevic: Kind of all over the place there, huh?

I didn't see holes in the rotation. I hoped for one depth starter to replace Burnett, then hoped for the best for Jameson Taillon to come up in June. The latter obviously won't happen. But to the former, Edinson Volquez has been the Pirates' very best starter, his weekend outing notwithstanding.

I'm not a Stephen Drew fan, and I'm not alone in that regard. No problem with him not getting a call, especially when the two shortstops the Pirates have were a big part of their No. 1 defensive efficiency last year that proved so important.

There isn't always a convenient target, except, of course, for Bob Nutting, no matter how irrational the application.

To repeat: It would be irresponsible bordering on idiotic to pay $15 million or more — and yeah, that's actually a low-end estimate — for a few weeks of any player, no matter how godlike his talent. I've never changed positions on this, from Andrew McCutchen to Pedro Alvarez to Starling Marte to now, and I don't expect I ever will. The system needs to change.

Brenden: Recognizing that the league is restricted by the CBA - what actions would you, as commish or director of player safety take against Marc Staal?

Dejan Kovacevic: He'd be suspended for the rest of the series. But that's just me, and it's not taking into account precedent and all that. If you want me to go realistic, I'd say absolutely Staal wouldn't be allowed to play in Game 4. Bare minimum.

But it's embarrassing to even think that way. It's nuts that we can look at stick assaults like those last night and say, aw, well, a game should suffice.

What a league. What a commissioner.

Deb: Any update on if the NHL plans to punish Marc Staal for the hacks on Sid's head/neck?

Dejan Kovacevic: Don't hold your breath, Deb.

Michael: Dejan, we know the league will do nothing about Marc Staal, but why won't the Penguins? I'm by no means advocating some Shawn Thornton-type assault nor some type of Penguins-Flyers meltdown. That being said, doesn't this team need to do something to protect Crosby?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's a one-goal game right up until Jussi Jokinen's goal, then 2-0 the rest of the way. Doesn't allow for a lot of license to start mucking things up.

Besides, which player on that active roster was going to go after Staal?

Up there in the press box with the rest of us were Deryk Engelland, Tanner Glass, Brooks Orpik, pretty much anyone capable of delivering a message through one means or another.

As the column today stressed, Staal got his by getting torched on the winning goal.

Seth: Where do you think Steelers go with their first round pick? I want to say CB, DL but there are some nice WR weapons for Ben out there, too...

Dejan Kovacevic: The gut tells me corner, but the heart's still going with receiver. I just feel like there's got to be at least one facet to your team that's elite for a team to be elite overall. The Steelers' best chance at that, given the presence of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, is to load up on the passing game. Would love to see a bookend. Would really love to see Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin.

mario lopez: In “What have you done lately” does anyone trust Colbert in this supposedly Deep draft to fix the mess that is the Steelers? 08-09 draft completely off roster. & per the Trib's Mark Kaboly team is getting younger but not necessarily better...

Dejan Kovacevic: It's a huge draft not only because the class is so rich but also because Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and staff have some serious amends to make for the two recent classes entirely lost. That can't happen. That is why you saw 8-8 the past two seasons, for all else that we analyze.

Dave from L.A.: You think we'll see any surprises by the Stillers at the draft? Like if Blake Bortles is available, would they consider drafting him?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't think Bortles will be there, given the number of teams openly eyeing QBs in the first round, even if the Browns go, as is being increasingly speculated, with Johnny Manziel. But even if Bortles were there, no, no chance. That's why Colbert openly stated this week the Steelers are open to trading down, for that very reason.

Dejan Kovacevic: Was last night the Pirates' nadir?

Trib Total Media: Dude ... I knew the Pirates' nadir. The Pirates' nadir was a friend of mine. And that was no Pirates' nadir.

(Cap tip, Lloyd Bentsen.)

Dan in Ttown: Everyone talks about how the Penguins need to resign Niskanen and i wont argue but what about Jussi Jokinen, he has delivered the dagger the last two games and may i remind that Carolina paid part of his salary this year!

Dejan Kovacevic: Craig Patrick once told me that, if he had his way as Penguins GM, everyone but Mario and Jagr would be on one-year contracts. You're seeing a zillionth example of why. Matt Niskanen is making himself a very wealthy man. Jokinen is helping his own cause. So is Brandon Sutter, though he'll be restricted.

Jokinen is a good fit with the Penguins, a skilled player who fits into multiple situations, including front-line if needed. He's also a consistent worker and steadying influence.

But the only question you ever need to ask about whether or not the Penguins can afford to keep a certain forward is this: Who in the name of Chris Conner would replace them?

The organization is bankrupt of forwards.

Dan in Ttown: Remember when the Pirates used to win close games? Gee those sure were the days i'll tell ya!

Dejan Kovacevic: Do I remember this past weekend? Is that the question?

joey_pittsburgh: Your comment about sitting Bennett for game 3 and putting in Glass made a lot of sense. Bennett hasn't looked himself of late and recorded 3rd lowest ice time on the team. What is it going to take before he gets the pine, even if just for a game, and get some energy back out there with Glass?

Dejan Kovacevic: That comment was on Twitter and, unfortunately, it got taken by some — predominantly those who have whittled down the complex game of hockey to a single statistic — as some sort of broader endorsement of Tanner Glass over Beau Bennett. It was nothing of the kind. It was a highly specific thought aimed at a highly specific situation, that the Penguins might benefit from one or two fresh sets of legs on back-to-back nights and that it might as well be someone who can simultaneously have the Rangers' defensemen looking over their shoulders.

As it turned out, Bennett didn't have much of any impact on the game besides his three hits, so there was that.

I'm going to repeat this: Hockey doesn't yet have advanced stats, at least nowhere near the level that baseball does. The data isn't there, the tracking isn't there. That's no one's fault. And condensing the game to counting up the number of shots on goal while a player on the ice is exactly how one reaches the conclusion that Tyler Kennedy belongs in the same company as Lemieux, Gretzky, Orr and Howe.

Different players have different roles. Different situations call for different roles. It isn't one size fits all.

Marty: Super 2 date this year, June 10th I think? Can't wait to see Polanco, who should have been here April 21st.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. He could have helped the Pirates score 10 runs and lose last night.

Guest: Don't always participate, but, your blog is full of colorful characters. A fun place to check out in the morning.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks all-around for that. We're pretty proud of that strange little corner of the world we occupy.

Victor: DK, was Barry Bonds really a jerk to the media when he was in PIT?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd have no way of knowing that. Well before my time on the beat. The one interaction I had with Bonds while on the beat was a long talk one afternoon in San Francisco in which he was friendly, cordial and outgoing.

Which doesn't alter at all how I'd feel about his career in either direction.

Derno: If Ebron is there at 15, do the steelers take him?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd have to think they'd entertain it. Blogged about this Monday.

Guest: Do the pens have any recourse to the league to show the referees what they missed re the Staal crosscheck? Or is it as informal as Bylsma yelling at them as they walk off the ice?

Dejan Kovacevic: The refs are immaterial at this point, unless you're just in a foul mood and want to try to make them feel bad. But the Penguins absolutely are free to make their case to the NHL's — ahem — Player Safety department. I'm guessing they already have.

PirateApologist: Although the refs didn't see what Staal did, you saw it, Twitter saw it, and the people in Toronto certainly saw it. Do you think there could ever come a day where the replay officials could give out Misconduct penalties during the game?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hockey's a game on the move, not one with the stoppages of baseball and football to review every individual play. I don't think you'll ever see something like that.

Heck, bad as the referees were on penalties last night, they were just as bad in blowing the whistle when they thought the Rangers had scored and inexplicably paused for a review. New York still had the puck in the attacking zone and still could have threatened.

Dan the man: You will agree the Pirates could have and should have done more in the off season to sure up the holes we now have. Everyone outside the organization knows the problems. The question is how to fix them.

Dejan Kovacevic: This statement gets made a lot and in a very blanket way, but I rarely see specifics attached.

Could they have upgraded at first base?

Yes, and they did by getting the guy they wanted, Ike Davis, albeit in mid-April rather than the offseason.

Could they have upgraded in right field?

Yes, for two months. People are talking about Marlon Byrd suddenly. Where would you put Byrd once Polanco came? Byrd wanted a three-year deal.

Could they have upgraded at short?

Absolutely. And that's been true for a long time. But we — and I — thought the same thing last year, and see above for what the Clint Barmes/Jordy Mercer combo meant. Doesn't mean someone couldn't have done it better than Mercer, but they liked what they had.

Could they have upgraded the starting pitching?

Sure, and the one guy Neal Huntington got has been their best.

Could they have upgraded the bullpen?

In a spring that saw them waive Vin Mazzarro, you'd have to say they looked plenty set there.

Parrotting popular memes sounds good, but back it up with something.

Stewie: Kennywood is about to open... Are you a coaster guy? What's your favorite ride at the park?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm all Thunderbolt. When I ride a coaster, I want to feel like it's the last thing I'll do on this plane of existence.

Matt: DK how different was the atmosphere for the Pens playing in Columbus verses MSG?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not in the same stratosphere. The Garden's dead. I've heard they priced out a ton of people since the remodel, especially up in the Blues, and it sure sounded like it.

Guest: How pivotal is this draft for Colbert and Tomlin's future? Hopefully a punter or a developmental QB won't be high on their draft board this year.

Dejan Kovacevic: Don't think you'll be seeing any Daniel Sepulveda or Landry Jones this time. They need players who can play right now, not hold clipboards or kick balls on the side.

Dave from L.A.: Didn't Staal's action remind you of another NY Ranger “great” in the playoffs? (Cough, Adam Graves, cough) And look how well that turned out for the Blueshirts.

Dejan Kovacevic: Did you know the Graves slash happened exactly 22 years ago to the day from Staal's assaults on Crosby?

Same teams, same ice, same round, same game.

PirateApologist: That was uncalled for, Senator.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well done on the Lloyd Bentsen pickup! Wasn't sure if anyone would grab that.

Puzzled: Explain Dan Bylsma's love of Craig Adams.

Dejan Kovacevic: No clue. Honestly. Just don't get it.

Guest: Ebron, Gilbert, Dennard, Fuller are available. Who ya got?

Dejan Kovacevic: Argh. I love Darqueze Dennard. Love the idea of some Revis Island type of corner. But I can't get past the receivers, sorry. Staying with Benjamin.

Toviya: Is Hurdle at least partially if not wholly responsible for Pirates terrible pla?. He seems in total denial. When asked about poor bullpen he said (paraphasing) bad loction tonightbut they have been generally good. Really? 15 Blown Saves.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's entirely on Hurdle. Every bit of it. Especially the things he says. Actually, the things he says have been the singular downfall of the team.

Come on, man.

Napper: Do the major sports leagues make the ref's and umpires available to the media after games? Would really like to hear more about their mindset.

Dejan Kovacevic: In extraordinary situations that demand an explanation or rules interpretation, the local chapter of the writers association can put in a request for a pool reporter to interview. Those don't have to be granted. They're much more common in football, obviously, because of the low game count.

Ed Costello: Whether or not Polanco could have scored 10 runs last night, why do you care whether Bob Nutting saves money? From the estimates I've seen (Forbes), Bob Nutting is making money regardless of whether he pays Polanco now or later.

Dejan Kovacevic: I didn't say anything about saving money, certainly not for any owner. I'm looking at it from the team standpoint.

Here again, there are facts, and there's parrotting narratives. Nutting has never drawn a salary for the team, never removed cash from the team, per two different sets of documents that were exposed — without the team's knowledge — over a four-year span. I had one of them myself from 2006.

The truth is, the Pirates' minority owners are anything but chummy with Nutting. If anything like these stupid narratives actually was the truth, they'd blow that up to Kingdom Come. I know them. Trust me on this.

Dejan Kovacevic: THE PIRATES AREN'T PLAYING WELL. There isn't a bogeyman in the equation. They just aren't playing well.

Jeff: Do you think Malkin is the coveted winger Sid has needed all along? Do you like the superline concept?

Dejan Kovacevic: I thought Malkin spent way too much time back on the perimeter again last night, waiting for things to happen. Needs to stay involved, no matter his linemates.

NaplesDave: Hi DK, MAF confidence has to be sky high & 87 scored, what's not to like about the Pens chances?

Dejan Kovacevic: Things certainly are trending the right way in this series, no doubt. But a Game 4 victory would go a long way toward strengthening the broader overall picture beyond. When a team is down like the Rangers are, you shouldn't be wasting time with them.

tim: after 94 wins the pirates had a miserable off season, nutting said their was $ to spend yet Neal didn't spend are most businesses run this way where the boss says 1 thing & the employees do another?

Dejan Kovacevic: Another parrotted narrative. The payroll finished last season at $77 million. It opened this season at $78 million, but that number means nothing. The only number that counts — in any business — is the amount that actually gets spent by year's end. It tends to go up significantly, as it did last year.

I've said all along — and put into print — that the Pirates responsibly should be around $90 million in money. We'll see if they get there. But that's not now.

Josh: Paul Martin and Kris Letang is something I would consider as a long term pairing. Paul Martin simply makes everyone better and when that person's ceiling is as high as Letang's, it can be phenomenal.

Dejan Kovacevic: They've both been a lot of fun to watch, each in their own way. But I'll place Martin a notch above. The guy is just controlling the rink when he's out there. It's something special.

tim: 40% increase in season tickets sales this year, more money then ever before in tv revenues yet the pirates still rank 27th in payroll, will Nutting ever allow this team to spend competitively?

Dejan Kovacevic: I could do this all day.

A 40 percent increase in season-ticket sales from a base that had been around 10,000 would put them, obviously, at around 14,000. That's an increase but by how much? The amount that payroll will probably go up?

The TV revenues that have gone up are national, meaning every team gets the exact same increase, which would have zero effect on their ranking in MLB.

We should do a parrotting chat one day just to address all this garbage.

Maddamma: The Steelers need to pick up a running back in the draft who can contribute as a backup this year. Have to be deeper than Bell/Blount. Is there anyone you like that might be available in rounds 5-7?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not drafting a back this year, sorry. I'm find with Bell and Blount, and the rest can come — as Willie Parker did — from outside the draft. There are lots of those guys, and they'd all better be ‘special teams capable.'

The Capital of Greenland: Given the play of Sutter and others, will the Pens still go after Kesler this offseason?

Dejan Kovacevic: Moot point. Canucks are under entirely new management now with Trevor Linden in charge.

IcedCapp: Who should sit when Orpik is ready to return? Scuderi or Bortuzzo?

Dejan Kovacevic: Should? Scuderi. Will? Anyone but.

Dom: Wasn't the salary that Nutting withdrew less than the $20 million amount he gave the team in 2003?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's never withdrawn a salary from the team.

Bryan: I enjoyed your story a few years ago about the Pirates Dominican Academy. Do you happen to know if the player Reno Gayo signed, who he told to take that thing off your head (Dodgers cap) and put this on (Pirates cap) is progressing through the Pirates system?

Dejan Kovacevic: He quit after one year. Had some arm pain, decided not to tough it out. Sadid Frias was his name, if anyone wants to Google the story.

James_Pittsburgh: Did the Pirates make a mistake in extending Charlie Morton's contract?

Dejan Kovacevic: Do you think Charlie's been bad? If so, please tell me it isn't because of the win column.

sam: wow what a masterpiece of defense that 3rd period was, pens only had 1 shot but no one cares it didnt matter just a beautiful thing to watch

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins actually weren't happy with the period at all, Sam. It might have looked nice from an outcome standpoint, but their intent was to stay aggressive and wear the Rangers down in their zone. They didn't.

They'll really need to get back to that in Game 4, for a bunch of reasons, but I think they will. The Rangers just might have had a last gasp there.

Adam: If the Pirates are “just not playing well,” is it that they have failed to sign or develop professional baseball players, or that the coaches can't instill Little League fundamentals, such as, you know, picking up a bunt and throwing to first, or moving runners over rather than wiping them out by GIDP? It's clearly not just that they aren't playing well. Huntington and Hurdle have repeatedly made crucial mistakes.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd genuinely love to do a scientific survey of why players are never to blame. It's always got to be some higher, monolithic entity at work.

The players aren't playing well. In most cases, they're below career norms. Or off to slow starts. Or hurt.

Ross: Any thoughts on “Million Dollar Arm”? Cute story but since neither is in the majors and one is not playing, seems kind of a waste.

Dejan Kovacevic: I've dealt with both Rinku and Dinesh, but honestly, I've never had much appetite for the story. Whole thing always felt so contrived.

James: Why is Travis Snider still on the team? Lambo might not be the answer, but time for the next guy up.

Dejan Kovacevic: Seconded. Emphatically. Now that's a real problem.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm way past time here. Hadn't even looked at the clock.

Tons of NFL draft stuff coming on the blog in the next couple of days. Hope you have a chance to check it out. I'm actually heading up to Radio City Music Hall, site of the draft, as soon as we're done here.

The next column will be written off tomorrow's Game 4.

Thanks to all for participating! (And parrotting!)

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