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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: May 13, 2014

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 2:12 p.m.

MikeChuk: Dejan, Love the chat. Living in North Carolina, I read this and your columns all the time. I really like Dan as coach and Shero as GM. As I sit here fretting over tonight's game, Do you think they will definitely be gone if we lose? And who do you feel is untradeable off the current Penguin roster? Thanks for your time!

Dejan Kovacevic: With major opinions such as hirings and firings and who should or shouldn't be traded, I prefer to leave those to columns. I've written quite a lot in the past 48 hours for the Monday and Tuesday columns about how pivotal Game 7 will be for the Penguins in those terms.

I'll repeat from the Monday column : Ownership is ticked.

I'll also repeat: I'm not guessing or speculating about that.

Hubert: Why do Pens fans blame the series going to 7 on Bylsma and Shero instead of realizing that Henrik's the best goalie in the world and it's hard to beat him when he's on regardless of who is on the ice, Malkin and Sid or not?

Dejan Kovacevic: Henrik Lundqvist has been very sharp, I think, through the whole series, not just in these past couple games. For a while there, he was the only Ranger who looked remotely competitive. Now, even as his team has ascended from wretched to at least ordinary, his play stands out all the more since it's coming in winning causes.

Full credit to Henrik here. Been writing that all along.

The Parallax: First and foremost DK, phenomenal column today — - makes my DK Mt. Rushmore. A brutal, albeit honest assessment of an organization with poison in the water, from top to bottom. What I found most troubling, you saved for last: 1) lack of any criticism 2) the hypersensitive management more concerned with controlling the message/brand than improving it...from your perspective, was there any specific event that caused this shift and has this “culture” created any dissent amongst the ranks?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's all kind of complex, and today's Game 7, so we're probably better off sticking to hockey stuff. I've seen with other teams I've covered that the perception can take precedence over the reality. That's always dangerous.

One unflinching positive feeling I've had about the Pirates' current front office, by way of example, is that they learned way back in 2008 not to get overly caught up in in. Yeah, they freaked over the SEALS stuff a couple years ago, but that's because there was dissension internally over it. For the most part, they've handled events like Gregory Polanco and others — where they're clearly running counter to public opinion — exactly as they should.

The Penguins have a good many issues. That's one of them.

Guest: DK - Who is your favorite play by play caller....any sport? Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Mike Lange has no peer. The one downside to his being known for all the catchphrases is his brilliance — and I use the term advisedly — at not only calling the action but also feeling it. He's got a sixth sense for what's about to happen, what's building.

Longtime listeners of Lange's will know exactly what I'm talking about. You start perking up just at certain inflections in his voice. It's amazing.

The best.

Jason: Do you forsee the Pirates making any other moves this season to acquire talent outside the organization to upgrade the rotation or every day lineup? I feel like Polanco is going to be the biggest name that isn't currently on the club.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not to pick on Jordy Mercer, because the kid had a home run and double before that GIDP the other night. (And at least he, unlike Ike Davis, didn't hack at the first pitch.) But shortstop has to get better offensively. You can tolerate .240 or so if you're getting the glovework, but not .200.

Mercer's beginning to come out of it, though. Just needs to step on the gas.

Rob: Does it appear to you the Steelers attempted to fix their secondary by getting faster everywhere else?

Dejan Kovacevic: That sounds about right, Rob. I had an extended blog entry on the draft Monday in which I stressed that the Steelers seemed to go raw. They looked for speed, size and strength. And if that came at the front seven rather than the DBs, so be it.

I don't blindly accept the principle that one addresses the other, as a lot of readers seemed to do. If the front seven's coming, the QB just gets rid of it quicker, and the secondary still can get torched if they can't do their jobs.

But I do appreciate and respect that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went about solidifying the front seven, sure.

Just wish we had some/any clue as to who will play nose tackle.

Bernard: How surprised were you the Steelers did not address the need at CB earlier than the 5th round? They must have had Dennard rated meaningfully lower on their board than Gilbert and Fuller

Dejan Kovacevic: Hate to toss you another link, but I think that Monday draft evaluation will answer your question with a lot more detail than I could here.

Trainframe: I think something is wrong with Crosby. In 2009, the wunderkind dominated play. Not so this year. Matter fact not since last year against Boston. Could he be playing injured!

Dejan Kovacevic: He's getting the snot kicked out of him night after night, and I'm probably guilty of not calling enough attention to that. (Only two columns through the whole playoffs.) When you write about it, it can look like homer whining and all that — heaven knows I hear that and a lot worse — but that doesn't mean it doesn't apply.

It's one thing to be checked closely. It's quite another what we saw from Brandon Dubinsky in Columbus and from Marc Staal in New York. He's getting mangled every other shift.

Whether that's gotten him dispirited or angry or bitter that he isn't getting anyone but Chris Kunitz to help him out, I can't say. Because he isn't saying. It's the last thing Crosby would talk about, even off the record. He'd never bury his teammates or coaches.

But that doesn't stop me from doing it. The Penguins' organizational failure to protect their stars ... well, just wait. That's a column in the very near future.

Brandon: DK, any predictions for tonight's game? I like the Pens 3-2. As you said, they're best with their backs to the wall.

Dejan Kovacevic: None. No idea how to read these guys anymore.

Michol: What is Pirate org. going to do about poor performance of starting pitching? Difficult to win playing “catch up”!!

Dejan Kovacevic: Most important thing Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage can do is to stop trying to make the ideal five work out as some smooth, 32-start rotation. It's pretty clear that isn't happening. Brandon Cumpton isn't anyone's savior, but if he's getting people out — and he is — he needs to be in the rotation. Just go with the hot hand, keep winning series and get the heads back above water.

John: All of your Polanco commentary assumes we won't be able to sign him to an extension. Otherwise, there is no harm in him becoming a Super 2. Why don't you think that the Pirates will be able to sign him?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not assuming that he won't sign it any more than I'm assuming he will. Either way, it's an assumption. Polanco already rejected $25 million guaranteed before taking his first swing in the majors, though, so here's betting it won't be a breeze.

Alan: does the current system the Pens employ right now maximize Crosby and/or Malkins talent.

Dejan Kovacevic: I could give you an example of an NHL team that recently changed from the latter to the former with great results, but you'd all roll your eyes because they didn't make the playoffs. Which wouldn't be the point. The point would be that the pack mentality dramatically upgraded their play, which is mostly built on talented forwards.

And no, don't try guessing. Like I said, it doesn't matter who it was.

The Capital of Greenland: Is the Pens locker room united, or is there possibly some issues between players and/or coaches?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't feel that's an issue.

DNY: Ever seen European soccer in person? If so, what's the one thing that sticks out as different from US events, from a fan's perspective?

Dejan Kovacevic: I have, in Romania, Serbia and Holland. Easiest answer, assuming you're talking about the game rather than the environment, is the first touch. The European player — or from other parts of the world — will apply the softest, most intelligent touch. Doesn't happen here. And double that equation if we're talking about midfield play.

pghgolfgirl: Regarding Tony Granato and Jacques Martin - has their time passed to be considered for head coaching positions? I never hear their names mentioned. Should Bylsma be fired, would they hire from within (perhaps one of those 2 or John Hynes) or go to someone else?

Dejan Kovacevic: Don't be surprised to see Granato emerge as a candidate in Washington. I'm serious. I've not heard Martin's name in that regard.

Mark: The thought that if you say anything negative or critical about a favorite team, you aren't a “true fan”. I find that insane. I love my teams but if they are doing something dumb, I'm going to point it out, doesn't mean I love my team any less, I'm taking a great interest and what them to do well. I just think the whole “true fan” arguement is ridiculous...meanwhile the Penguins twitter is retweeting people saying how they are “true fans” ....thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Like I said, image, perception, etc. Rules every day there.

When you have a core that talented, it's about championships, nothing less. The overwhelming majority of the Penguins' fan base seems to get that, to their credit. Expectations are high because they should be.

Gary Z: With the Steelers trying to revamp their front seven, does this allow Troy to not play in the box all the time? Do you think he will help in the secondary more next year than last?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, Troy's got a couple circumstances that will make his 2014 a lot different than his 2013.

The one you mention might be the biggest. He spent roughly 40 percent of snaps close to the line last season, and rarely because he was blitzing like in the past. He was just a plain, old inside linebacker making up for the fact Larry Foote was hurt and Vince Williams was too green. That's going to save a ton of wear and tear on Troy.

But remember, for all the grief Ryan Clark was getting last season — deservedly, most of it — he understood Troy and how to play off him. Now, it's a whole new safety, Mike Mitchell, who has to learn that. And Mitchell's first instinct, like the younger Clark's, is to go for the big hit.

Going to be very interesting watching that come together.

The Capital of Greenland: What is the pecking order for Steeler WRs after Brown?

Dejan Kovacevic: Lance Moore will own the slot. That's a given. Markus Wheaton will be expected to take the other wideout. Don't see another way around it. And it's not like the Steelers didn't know that. Mike Tomlin pretty much blurted that out during the owners' meetings.

George: Dejan, why are you so negative all the time? Your article about Game 7 tonight really ticked me off (I'm not even a huge hockey fan). It's almost like you are telling Pens fans not to care about a Game 7! There is a fine line between winning and losing in sports, and it isn't easy. Every team has flaws and that won't change EVER. Instead of reading your controversy laden, negative Nancy crap, I will actually watch the game and enjoy/root for the team. You've done this with other sports too (Pirates especially). It's annoying...I can't wait until the Pens win the Stanley cup and you eat your words. Cheer up and write something interesting.

Dejan Kovacevic: Enjoy the game, George.

All I can tell you is that I never approach any topic with a ‘positive' or ‘negative' mindset. I just write what's there. And I'll put just as much passion and work into writing about a ‘positive' topic, always, as longtime readers would attest.

Moreover, if the Penguins win tonight or go on to win the Cup, that changes nothing that was in today's piece. The entire point of it was that nothing changes about those areas with a W. They'll all still need to be addressed.

Sammich: The Winnipeg Jets seemed like a different (better) team after they changed coaches. Could the Pens learn anything from them?

Dejan Kovacevic: Busted. Yeah, you got me.

Paul Maurice came into Winnipeg and added exactly that kind of structure. Got all their forwards involved all over the rink. Totally different than the loosey-goosey stuff Claude Noel had been doing. Striking to see the same players suddenly look so different.

Mark: George: “True Fan”

Kevin: How in the world could NH & Co. believe that the best time to bring Wandy back is this series in Milwaukee?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, that's kind of what I'm talking about. Wandy's set to pitch the matinee Thursday in Miller Park, rather than being pushed back to Friday for a much less important game at Yankee Stadium. Sure, it would be ideal to get Wandy back to his Houston form. It's worth working toward. But that game Thursday means more.

Also, I wouldn't be looking at Huntington on that. That's Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage. The GM doesn't mix himself up in stuff like that.

Ryan: Do you think Tanner Glass will play tonight?

Dejan Kovacevic: Honestly, not to suggest Glass is some panacea, but I'll be stunned if he isn't.

Tommy: What is tighter? The CEC crowd tonight or a wedding dress twenty years later?

Dejan Kovacevic: The bigger question about the CEC crowd, for me, isn't about tightness. It's about how invested they'll be in the first place. There are some really angry hockey fans in this city right now. Really disappointed. Really disillusioned. Wanting to dump their season tix. I hear from them all the time now.

And these aren't lesser fans, by the way. Caring about the franchise's ability to win a championship, as opposed to just supporting whatever the hell you're watching, doesn't make you a lesser fan.

Patrick: It seems you overreact to bad games by the Penguins (and Rangers). Is Boston all of the sudden a bad team in need of a major facelift because they lose 4-0 and face a game 7?

Dejan Kovacevic: Is this serious?

About 99 percent of the areas for which I criticize are about broader, long-term issues that, at some point, manifest themselves in crescendo settings like this. It's not a pure reaction to any one game. That would be ... weird.

Moreover, in case you haven't seen much of these playoffs, the Penguins have put forth a significant effort in three of their 12 games. Three! Say what you want about Boston being tied with Montreal, but that series has been sensational in terms of the energy invested by both teams. Yes, including the Bruins, including last night. Just so happens that each team has won three.

The Penguins have done nothing of the kind, and you don't have to take my word for it because they themselves have made effort, passion and desperation the No. 1 talking point.

Comparing the Penguins and Bruins in this sense is beyond absurd.

Poole: Do you think a pure skill team survives in postseason hockey? Do we need to bring back the balance with some sandpaper guys?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. And I've only been writing that all season, even during the 51 wins, even during the three games in these playoffs in which they gave a damn. The Penguins lack toughness. They lack the ability to protect their stars. They lack all that.

That must be addressed, no matter what happens tonight or beyond.

pghgolfgirl: Rumor has it that NY fans are buying up a lot of tickets for tonight's game. Could that actually help energize our crowd?

Dejan Kovacevic: I do know that there were a lot of secondary tickets on the market as of yesterday, as in a couple thousand at least. And New York isn't that far, so it's not out of the question.

pghgolfgirl: Who do you sit down if you play Glass? Bennett? You can't sit Gibbons since he is one of few who have been showing a lot of passion. Is Olli Maatta OK now?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, I'd sit Bennett. Two penalties in Game 6, knocked off the puck too easily, etc.

Kevin: I hear Braun is going to be back. Any word on the Gomez suspension?

Dejan Kovacevic: Carlos Gomez isn't supposed to play for the Brewers, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and neither is Aramis Ramirez. Ryan Braun will, indeed, return tonight, but it still seems like a good opportunity for the Pirates to take a fourth consecutive series.

Except, of course, where this series is being played.

Guest 23: Pitt broke a 2 year drought and had players selected in the NFL draft. Chyrst has had two transfer QB's he has been associated with (Wilson and Savage) go in the draft. Gotta believe this is a good sign for Pitt recruiting in the future. Kids and QBs want to go to programs where players move on to the next level.

Dejan Kovacevic: It never hurts a recruiter to be able to show kids that triple-montage of Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street being drafted. Especially the latter two, believe it or not, because of being so-called skill positions. That said, I can't help but look at the Panthers as presently constituted and wonder who's going to replace them, or Jason Hendricks at safety. Other than Tyler Boyd, that's pretty much the who's who of the 2013 Panthers.

Pittsburgh sports fan: Dejan, It seems that some people hate the reality you tell through your writing. It scares me as a pittsburgh fan to know that people don't like when your critical or telling your honest opinion. Do you ever get tired of dealing with these “true fans” all the time? Please tell me this is a small group of people.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's not a concern for the simple reason that I don't come up with or write opinions to express any view other than my own. When I write that Bob Nutting isn't the Pirates' problem, I know I'm going to hear it. When I write that I'm not wild about the Steelers not taking a corner, I know I'm going to hear it. Same for the stuff the past couple days.

I try like crazy to gather as much info as I can, trust and verify, ask more and more questions, then form an opinion. These past two columns weren't written lightly. If anything, based on the info I had, I might even have held back.

If you're honest with yourself — and this applies to anything in life — you'll always feel comfortable that you're being honest with others.

One more today ...

Joe: Dejan, you dodged my question last week saying that Bob Nutting hasn't pocketed a cent of the pirates. Clearly his investment is generating much more revenue than costs each year. How much do you estimate that to be? What is it being used for? Paying down his debt? thanks

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes! Couldn't get through the week without one of these ridiculous entries! The financial papers that were obtained four years ago and released to the public fully supported that the profit went back into baseball operations, although it's also used to pay down debt independent of revenue-sharing checks. That part is kind of gray, and it takes a CPA to get it all. The part that isn't gray is that the only payments outside the company were repayments of a $20 million loan to owners, one from more than a decade ago. It was made against Nutting's will, his hand forced by minority owners.

But hey, don't let all that gobbledygook spoil a swell narrative!

Kevin: Who's more nervous tonight, Disco or Flower?

Dejan Kovacevic: The coach, no question.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. I'll write a column off Game 7 that will including nothing but sunshine and rainbows. I'll also have my TribLIVE radio show tomorrow at 2 p.m., when we will open with your calls!

Thanks for participating!



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