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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Jan. 25, 2013

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 8:44 a.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings, all, from the basement of the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where — no kidding — I'd swear the air conditioning just kicked on.Away we go ...

Alan Gifford: When all is said or done who ends up ranked as a better player Mario or Sid?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll stick by my view that Lemieux is the most talented player in hockey history from now until someone comes along to change it. That hasn't happened yet.

Tom (Rochester): Dejan, do you think three high volume shooters, such as Malkin, Neal and Kennedy, can happily co-exist on a line? There's still only one puck! Do you think Kunitz will eventually end up back on the line, based on the success there last year? Stay warm, my friend!

Dejan Kovacevic: Malkin and Neal were 1-2 in the league in that category last season, for those who don't know, and nobody guns with more frequency than Kennedy. That said, I wrote in camp that I wouldn't mind seeing this combo AND that I strongly preferred it to anything involving Eric Tangradi.

No harm in giving it a chance.

S from CA: DK, love your work. So when will the pens admit that Tangradi doesn't have the hands, finishing skill, or talent to play as a top 6 guy in the NHL?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd love to say, hey, let's be fair and give Tangradi a few games, some real consistent action in the NHL. But two things keep from doing that:1. He doesn't even show glimpses.

2. It's a 48-game season. No time to experiment. That's why I find it a positive, if you've seen my news report from here this morning, that Simon Despres is out, too.

Tory: Hi Dejan, welcome to Winnipeg. And thanks for your kind comments about the good folks who live here. Now to my question. Do you think the shortened season will be a factor in determining which teams make it into the playoffs?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks, Tory. For those who don't know the reference, much happiness about Manitoba on the blog today. And be sure to scroll down through the comments for something special, too.No, I don't see 48 games as a get-hot-and-make-it setting. It's still a lot of games, and what it lacks in length it makes up for in the toughness needed to survive 48 in 99 days.

The best 16 will get in.

Black and Gold: If you were In Kevin Colbert's shoes would you draft a quarterback as high as rounds two to four?

Dejan Kovacevic: Two, no. But I don't have a problem with four. I really don't. You know, it's easy to say that whoever the Steelers get as backup should be someone who's happy to be backup for the next 5-6 years. But let's not pretend that the QB position as a whole isn't critical to a team's success. Let's further not pretend that the backup doesn't get on the field.

There has to be a workable QB in that range of rounds.

Groat2Maz2Strangeglove: It's —14 ° and you're outside watching water freeze. Why am I asking YOU questions? It's 19 days until Spring Training; Bucs seem done fiddling, unless they dump the Legend's salary. They have Snider, Sands, Tabata, Presley, Robinson, and maybe Jones to play right. Who starts, and who makes the 25-man?

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, come on. Who missed the water video on the blog today?It was sensational, and you know it.I haven't exactly been immersed in baseball, so assuming that the Pirates were serious at the Winter Meetings when projecting a starting outfield of Marte, McCutchen and Snider, that leaves Tabata as a logical No. 4 because he can play center. First base is some platoon of Jones/Sanchez, unless Jones gets traded. Awfully hard to keep a backup first baseman on a major-league bench.Man, that felt weird even TYPING about baseball.

Jim m: Dejan, Love reading youre coverage on the Pens- great writing- Going forward do you see the Pens being able to keep, Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Letang and still fill out a competative roster with the cap.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd be astonished if a good GM like Ray Shero with a knowledgeable assistant like Jason Botteril don't get all of that done. Those guys aren't going anywhere.And remember, the cap WILL go up in a couple years. Always does.

Polka: Since we're on a Top 6 discussion, what/who would it take to bring Ovi to Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic: Come on.

Matt_Newport: Obstruction/Interference question for you, as i'm still trying to understand the rule. On a typical dump & chase play, after the player dumps the puck in, the defenseman will typically try to hold him up. Is that interference or does the defenseman get one or two strides as if finishing a check on a guy that just had the puck?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's funny, but three of the conversations I just had in the Penguins' locker room, plus one in the Jets' — Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, Deryk Engelland and Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn -- were on this topic, and you'd get the idea that absolutely nobody knows right now. The Penguins, in particular, remain completely mystified by those boarding calls on Kunitz the other night.Brendan Shanahan of the NHL office has done a far better job of communicating with the athletes in the past than he is now, it would appear.

CoffeyCup: All these neat cities you get to visit, with all their local shops and businesses, yet you never seem to avoid Starbucks. Why not venture into the unknown?

Dejan Kovacevic: Dude, I ate something called a poutine last night. At a poutinerie in Winnipeg's wonderfully quaint Exchange District. It's almost impossible to describe, but it's safe to say it's very much a venture-into-the-unknown deal.I'm still paying the price for it.

Huke: I think it's just as important to keep Letang as Malkin. That guy is going to win the Norris someday. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Moot argument. Both will be signed.

jriggi87: Speaking of resigning the big guys. We've heard Malkin say a lot that he loves Pittsburgh and wants to stay, But I've never heard Letang say anything. Does he want to be in Pittsburgh any longer Or is he gonna pull a Staal and sign a matching contract somewhere else?

Dejan Kovacevic: What's with the Letang angst today?I miss something?He's not going anywhere. Shero will keep him.

Jim m: How would you rate JB's # 36 chances of getting in the hall this year ( it seems like he might be an odd man out this year.)

Dejan Kovacevic: It might not be this year. There is, in particular, a glut of wide receivers waiting to get in, as you might guess given the additional passing in the NFL.But there really is no question Jerome Bettis is a Hall of Famer at some point. Just a matter of when.

Scooter Crunch: I know its early in the season, but Tangradi doesnt seem to be the player the Pens think he is. Who would be the next guy up from Wilkes Barre to replace him?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you mean as a second-liner rather than a fourth-liner, Beau Bennett's very much next in line once he puts back the weight lost from the flu, per what Eddie Johnston told me last week. After that, it's Jayson Megna.

Hockey forever: What do you make of the Flyers and Rangers disastrous starts?

Dejan Kovacevic: New York will bounce back. Nothing in one week is disastrous. Too much solidity on the back line. Philly is different, because Philly's is being coupled with significant injuries. Losing Scott Hartnell for a month or two ... say what you want about Hartnell as a mop-headed, mouthy human, but he is one whale of a hockey player. Big loss.

PSU fan: What do you make of Bill O'Brien's recruiting class and do you think he will be able to crack the WPIAL for recruits during the sanction years?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's got to be at least encouraging that he's made forays up to and including even Tyler Boyd at Clairton. (One of these days, by the way, Boyd might want to actually stop lining up multiple visits after a verbal commitment.)It won't be easy for O'Brien. At least not the next couple years. But after that, he'll have a year and change where he can legitimately sell players on EVERYTHING that Penn State offers, as the sanctions will have expired.

As for the class, I've heard it's better than most will expect.

Steeler Dan: Dejan, do you have the opportunity to watch the steelers practice during the season, if you do can you honestly tell me these practices are productive and is there a game plan put in place. It is obvious that for more than half their games they look as if they don't have a clue on how to attack opposing defenses and there is no rhyme or reason to much of their play calling.

Dejan Kovacevic: The Steelers' practices look as disciplined as any I watched this past season in Denver or in Baltimore, with the Broncos and Ravens, if that offers any meaningful perspective. Moreover, Kevin Colbert actually went out of his way to say in our meeting a couple weeks ago that the team practiced far better than it played.But I also don't entirely dispute your other points. Just not sure it's a practice issue.

PensfaninATL: Love the Tribs coverage of the Pens and your articles. So is Mark Eaton a Pen, or is he on a Minor league deal, and can play for anyone? What are the big clubs rights to him, and if we suffer those inevitable injuries would he be a good addition to the big club if available? Thanks

Dejan Kovacevic: Lovejoy will get his chance tonight, but I'd imagine the writing's on the wall for everyone the moment Eaton signed the AHL tryout. He's so sound and steady, and he's got the kind of style you wouldn't imagine would get hurt much by age. Really smart.

PensfaninATL: will mike Tomlin shake up any of his coaching staff before this next coming season? How do you think he graded them out?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, obviously, Tomlin still has to replace Sean Kugler on the offensive line. Everyone else is supposed to be coming back, but that was said last winter, too, before Bruce Arians' alleged retirement.If anyone would be in trouble, you'd think it's Amos Jones. Special teams were a mess. But then, the Steelers have also said they'll get a second ST guy to work with Jones.

Chris from DC: If Eaton was so sound, why didn't anyone else sign him for anything more than a minor league deal??

Dejan Kovacevic: Past tense, man. We'll see how he is now.

Andrew R.: Where is Ray Lewis on your list of best NFL's of all time?

Dejan Kovacevic: Purely in the football sense, he's got to be considered among the great middle linebackers in history. And I'd start mentioning names like Lambert, Butkus and others, but people would start freaking over non-football stuff.Lewis is one of the great defensive players of this generation, no doubt.

PensfaninATL: If the situation warranted, and Tampa was bad this year would the Pens try a trade for Ryan Malone?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm not so sure Tampa will be bad. Steve Yzerman is too good a GM to let a fixable issue — defense and goaltending — hold a team back.If it happened, though, bear in mind Malone is a prime buyout candidate after the coming season, too. Might be able to get him for nothing.I know this: He'd definitely be happy to come home.

Matt from Greensburg: How long before the pens trade one of these young defensemen so they can get a true top six winger for Malkin? if they do, who are some of the teams that are viable trade options?

Dejan Kovacevic: The team that gets cited all the time is Edmonton, and watching the Oilers, you can see why. Just loaded up front, not nearly so much on the back end (though Justin Schultz looks promising).That said, anyone else see Nail Yakupov's ridiculous celebration last night?What did you think?I'd imagine the Kings will clean his clock at some point. A tying goal?As Chuck Noll once famously said of TD celebrations, "Act like you've been there before, kid."

Daquido_Bazzini: I know it's too early to say for sure, but if Manti Te'o is sitting there when the Steelers pick at sixteen....Do they take him?

Dejan Kovacevic: He'd probably have to go all Mike Adams on them in his pre-draft interviews. Adams pretty much threw himself at the Steelers' feet in seeking forgiveness.Te'o, of course, is a much more complex matter.Maybe the bigger question is whether or not Te'o is a 16th overall talent, other weirdness aside. Alabama swallowed him whole in the national championship game.

Tom: Given Vokoun is starting tonight, how is Fleury with the rotation?

Dejan Kovacevic: He has ZERO issues with this. And it really doesn't mean anything, who plays which game. Vokoun and Fleury were going to split these games all along. Vokoun is 5-12 for his career against the Sens, so he got this one.Besides, I'd want my No. 1 going against Ottawa. Stronger offensively.

Jimmy D: 75 degrees and sunny in Tampa today.

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, please, let's get into a comparison of downtown vitality between Tampa and pretty much anywhere in the U.S. other than Buffalo or Detroit.Weather matters more to some than others. This is a great place.

Polka: Crystal ball...score tonight, and who lights the lamp?

Dejan Kovacevic: Penguins, 4-2. After talking with them this morning, it's very clear they're planning to go back to the basics that worked in Philly and New York. If they pound the Jets deep in their zone, that's a territorial advantage that Winnipeg doesn't have the skill to overcome.Plus, man, Ondrej Pavelec has to see some of these guys in his nightmares.One more today ...

PensfaninATL: I would Take Tampa and sun right now.

Dejan Kovacevic: You can have it.What percentage of our lives does any of us actually spend outside?Is it commensurate with how much we agonize over the weather?

Napper: Is there ever a more enjoyable regular season win in all of Pittsburgh sports than the Pens beating the Flyers in Philly in front of their fans?

Dejan Kovacevic: Steelers over Ravens. The numbers will bear that out.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. Please check the blog, which is currently being updated and fancified. The columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The chat is Thursday. The radio show is Tuesday.Back out the door now. Today is Winnipeg Underground day on my list of things to do. All-underground shopping. But I will step outside at Portage and Main, world's coldest street corner and something pretty wild to experience.

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