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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

| Monday, March 19, 2012

Dejan Kovacevic: It's another obscenely hot day here in Bradenton, and the world of sports news just got even hotter with early word that Peyton Manning will pick the Broncos. Obviously all kinds of fascinating repercussions there.

The Pirates are off today, but I'm not, so ...

David D: I just returned from Fla. Alvarez looks terrible. Do you see the Pirates starting the season with McGehee at third and Jones/Hague platooning at first?

Dejan Kovacevic: Honestly, David, after several conversations I had before writing this morning's Pedro Alvarez column, I don't see that happening. Management is of the mind that Alvarez was doing a lot of good things at the plate up until the past 3-4 days, including driving the ball the other way. I've been here only a week, so I haven't seen much of that. He's been, as you say, terrible since I've been here.

They'd really like to avoid sending him down, if possible. The column today makes clear my feelings on that.

Adam: If Alvarez busts, what do the Pirates do in the long term?

Dejan Kovacevic: There just aren't any internal answers there, Adam. That's why it's paramount that he does well. One of many reasons, actually.

CleveSteelerFan: Conflicting reports on Steelers' pursuit of RB Mike Tolbert....have you heard anything of truth to pursuit• Seems like a nice insurance policy for Mendenhall.

Dejan Kovacevic: Our Mark Kaboly reports that the Steelers absolutely did NOT pursue Tolbert, who ended up signing for four years about an hour ago with Carolina.

SterlingCooperDraperPrice: My sister lives in Denver so I've heard the Tebow mania first-hand, I'm interested to see how the fanbase will feel about Tim Tebow being replaced. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. I spent a full week in Denver in advance of the Steelers' playoff game, and I can assure you those folks aren't married to Tebow. The amount of negativity over this might be limited to the Tebow household.

This isn't just some other vet coming in. It's Peyton Manning. People are going to start, rightly or wrongly, thinking Super Bowl immediately.

LouisInMichigan: Why would Manning pick Denver• They have next to nothing at receiver. And would they contemplate moving Tebow to TE?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, they DO have this guy named Deymarius Thomas, who runs a mean slant route if you're looking for a quick 80-yard strike.

It's obviously early in the day, but I'd imagine John Elway will pitch Manning's presence as a boon to Tebow, who still has a ton of room to improve in the area of reading the field. No one better at that than Manning (or Elway, for that matter).

yinzer in va: Dejan, Do you think Fluery is playing too much• I'm beginning to worry that come late May, he will start to wear down. I'm thinking he's on track to play 65-70 games. Maybe we'll get a couple 4 game sweeps in the playoffs to give Fluery a rest.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, and I'm glad someone else piped up about this. I'll admit I was surprised to see Fleury playing yesterday. And I'm not saying that because he gave up three goals. Couldn't care less about that. What matters is that he's fresh for the playoffs. No winning streak is worth anything compared to the playoffs, as locals will recall from 1993.

I'll be very, very disappointed if Brad Thiessen isn't the choice tomorrow night against Winnipeg. The Jets are hardly an explosive offensive team. Great time to get Fleury a breather.

And there should be more.

Jim: Why did the Penguins continue to get involved in after the whistle scrums with the Flyers• That seems to feed their game and got the crowd back into the game at home.

Dejan Kovacevic: Exactly. Couldn't have put it better. They're usually a lot more disciplined than that, but the Flyers seem to bring the worst out of them. They'll need to correct that, obviously, if those teams end up 4-5 seeds.

Ghost of Sec D-10: Dejan, do you have an idea why the atmosphere at Consol is so subdued compared to the old barn?

Dejan Kovacevic: For the most part, it's the same 16,000-plus core of season-ticket holders. That stands out to me. For a lot of those people, it's not a huge deal to go to a hockey game. They were just at two others last week. Nor is it even a huge deal when there's something dramatic. They just saw something dramatic last month.

But I'll add this: I know there's been a lot of comparing of Pittsburgh to Winnipeg on social media of late. I'm guilty of that myself. Thing is, there's really no comparison in terms of settings, in the sense that the people in Manitoba are so ecstatic just to have their franchise back and to be in the playoff hunt.

Plus, and let's come right out and say this: The Consol bowl doesn't really lend itself to the intensity of other arenas. It goes back on not enough of an incline on the first level, too much of an incline on the second. The result is that the people on the second level -- usually the less to-do and maybe less uptight or corporate, for fear of generalizing -- are farther away from the action.

You'd have to be inside Winnipeg's MTS Centre to believe what that place is like. I can't really describe it well enough. It's amazing.

Larry: Dejan, what does Marte have to do to get a call up this year (June?) and who will be the odd man out when he comes• McLouth

Dejan Kovacevic: Marte will need to show patience, a smaller strike zone and a powerful stroke. If he's reaching out and poking the ball just over the second baseman's head, his numbers won't matter. He SHOULD have some power. The Pirates would be nuts not to try to bring that out.

And no, please, please, let's stop mentioning McLouth as a potential odd man out. Been hearing that all weekend. It's insane. McLouth is on the bench. You don't bring up an elite prospect to rot on your bench.

Zach: Great column today, Dejan. Regarding Pedro, to what degree do you think his struggles are a result of the enormous pressure that he has faced since we drafted him• He

Dejan Kovacevic: Honestly, Zach, as the column noted, I really don't care anymore. He just needs to hit. A lot of those pressures were self-perpetuated, whether it was the contract squabble or blowing off management's request to play winter ball. So my sympathy level is even lower.

He just needs to hit the ball.

John: Dj. Do you think Mike Wallace will be signed to a long term contract this year or will he not get any offers for his services and play this year for the Steelers?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you asked me a month ago, John, I would have said yes. There still could be a chance, if you look at the backloading of some of the recent receiver contracts. But the fact is that the prices have been so obscenely high -- quarterback high -- that if Wallace is allowing $$$ to get into his eyes, he's not even going to WANT to discuss it.

Right now, I like how it's setting up. No one's really left to go after Wallace, which means the tender works for 2012. And they can franchise him for 2013. That's good enough for me. Speed players don't last all that long.

ImpnArn: Dejan: Has anyone shown interest in Dennis Dixon• If not, do the Steelers keep him?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd bet on Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch being the backups again. That's fine by me. Leftwich can handle a longer stretch, if needed. Batch still somehow gets it done when summoned. Is Dixon really better than either of those two?

Martini Mark in ATL: It's draft day. Dontari Poe, Devon Still, Cody Glenn, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and David DeCastro are all still on the board when we pick. In your opinion, who is the best pick for the Steelers?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm still going with Hightower. Just love the idea of an impact middle linebacker at this stage.

Shawn: Hey Dejan, are you concerned that teams will try to steamrole our Pens and get dirty when the chips are on the line and how can we best support our players with arguably only 2 fighters on the team?

Dejan Kovacevic: Steamroll• Seriously• Have you been watching this team lately?

I understand the reaction back home to Scott Hartnell's goal was pretty rough, but man, it was the first loss in a dozen games. I'll take a team toughness factor of any lineup that includes Deryk Engelland, Arron Asham, Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik, Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz and even the star guys to an extent.

Besides, ask yourself how often you see fighting in the Stanley Cup playoffs• Maybe in the first game or two of a series, and that's it.

LouisInMichigan: It seemed like an odd time for Bylsma to start experimenting with line combinations yesterday. After 2 games in 3 nights and an early game against a rival only 3 points back.

Dejan Kovacevic: There's something to be said for Bylsma and the staff doing some highly unpredictable things on this three-game trip, notably the constant changeups on the power play. Remember how terribly predictable the Penguins were just a year ago.

But yeah, I'll repeat that I'd love to see Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis as a line. I don't care who's center. I do care that Crosby and Tyler Kennedy have no reason to ever share the same slab of ice.

Andrew: What do you know about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds new stadium planned for Station Square. I go to college out-of-state, and was very surprised to hear about this.

Dejan Kovacevic: Check our files on the Trib site. You'll find pictures. Looks amazing, really, and my discussions with the Riverhounds have me thinking the thing could actually fly if marketed properly.

We'll see. Pittsburgh's not a minor-league town. Never has been.

SterlingCooperDraperPrice: I had a chance to attend the NCAA tourney in Pgh last weekend, and I loved it. What sporting event would you like to attend as a fan?

Dejan Kovacevic: The World Cup. Would just love to be part of something like that.

maddamma: I know you've only been in Bradenton a few days, but how do you see the bullpen shaping up at this point. And does Meek go on the DL if the velocity ids no there in April?

Dejan Kovacevic: Impossible to say, really. And I don't think the Pirates have a much clearer picture than that. Meek's velocity is the big variable. He sat at 90-92 yesterday on the Fort Myers gun, and that's not going to get it done for him over a sustained time. He's a power pitcher.

If he's not the setup guy, it's probably Chris Resop. Or Jason Grilli. But the rest really is up in the air. Chris Leroux looked a mess yesterday. Lefties are all over the place.

John: If it's not too crazy, can you predict the Opening Day lineup?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've done it on the blog, so I can do it here ...

Presley, LF
Tabata, RF
McCutchen, CF
Walker, 2B
Jones, 1B
Alvarez, 3B
Barajas, C
Barmes, SS
Karstens, RHP

Leo: Watching the Steelers it seems that they always run the ball on first down, then end up throwing on second and third down. Is it me or are they just that predictable• Do you think Todd Haley will help change up the play calling?

Dejan Kovacevic: That pattern really wasn't in place, Leo. They threw quite a bit on first down, probably more than Art Rooney wanted to see. That's why they'd often work themselves into second- or third-and-long situations.

A lot of what the Steelers and Haley do is going to be determined by how Isaac Redman looks at Latrobe. If he shows himself to be a feature back -- and heaven knows he's confident enough -- the staff can adjust. If not, then it's outright foolish to force running plays.

gt: Dejan would you put Staal back with Kennedy and Cooke and Sid with Dupuis and Sullivan come playoff time, i think that will give them the best chance.

Dejan Kovacevic: No. See above. Stack two lines, plain and simple.

Kanye West: Do you like fish sticks?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Islanders?

Matt: Most important player, in your opinion, for a serious Penguins playoff run.

Dejan Kovacevic: Easy. Sidney Crosby. Lame answer, I know, but he just has to stay healthy. Anyone who thinks the Penguins can win the Cup without him is kidding themselves.

If you want an off-the-board, just-for-fun answer, here's one: Matt Niskanen. I don't think people have appreciated just how solid he's been for the team, and I'm still not sure the coaches are using him to the full extent, especially on the power play. All he ever does is get his shots through to the net. That's a great trait for a D-man.

Jim: So how bad is it now that the Steelers lost to a QB that isn't wanted in Denver and instead of improving the team the are doing nothing in free agency. 8-8 here we come!!

Dejan Kovacevic: Doesn't exactly make the loss to Tebow look any prettier, that's for sure. But I'm not sure where you get the 8-8 from. Have you seen all the players leaving Baltimore lately• Ravens are having maybe the toughest offseason in the NFL.

The Steelers are still the class of the division.

Tony: The Pirate organization behaves as if it has too much emotional investment in Alvarez, to the detriment of the team. 10 Ks in 23 ABs, let's get real.

Dejan Kovacevic: Spring at-bats are what they are. The part that's alarming, Tony, and I stressed it in the column today is that he's swinging right through pitches. Some of those were outstanding splitters by the Rays' James Shields, but some were flat fastballs right down the pipe.

Away we go with the (Tampa Bay) Lightning round ...

mayhay22: Noticed you didn't mention Juan Cruz in the Pirates bullpen mix. I have to believe he'll head north with the club Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, they've really liked Cruz. And you're correct. Live chat and all.

Daniel Louisburg NC: How has bedard looked this spring• I know when healthy, he can easily be the ace of this staff, and I have seen his numbers are good this spring, but I don't look much into spring training stats. Wondering if you have seen him in person this spring

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll see him for the first time tomorrow night against the Yankees up in Tampa. He pitched in a B-game my first day here last week.

Jim (VA): Final Standings in Atlantic?

Dejan Kovacevic: Divisions don't matter, but here's my Eastern Conference:

1. Pittsburgh
2. Boston
3. Florida
4. N.Y. Rangers
5. Philadelphia
6. New Jersey
7. Ottawa
8. Winnipeg

Hm. That 1-8 looks like a lot of fun. Think I'll get my travel agent right on that.

Forbes: Do we not give enough credit to Ron Burkle. I mean, he would seem to have no direct ties to Pittsburgh, and was still the financial muscle behind Lemieux's political rhetoric.

Dejan Kovacevic: He spent $22 million to buy his part of the Penguins. That's spare change for him. I'm not there, sorry.

I do appreciate the fact that he's been directly involved in the franchise, maybe more than people know. He had quite a bit to do with Mario's statue, for example. But the idea that he's been some huge benefactor ... if you go back a decade ago, before the cap, the Penguins really could have used some of that generosity while Mario was still playing. They didn't get it.

LouisInMichigan: Chances Fleury in top 3 for Vezina• Love to see him get a trip to Vegas

Dejan Kovacevic: I could see that, along with Henrik Lundqvist and the Coyotes' Mike Smith. The Blues' guys don't belong in there. They barely ever see any rubber.

Petey: Do you think the NCAA Tourney is best sporting event of year• 16 single elimination games on Thursday and again Friday, teams from Bethlehem PA and Norfolk VA beating Duke and Missouri, no 7 game series, every second, evry minute, every possession counts, one bad 2 minute stretcha nd your season is over

Dejan Kovacevic: It's an amazing event, though I find it to be that independent of all the upsets that people always cite. The simple concept of collegiate players giving their all for their schools, the dominant majority knowing they won't reach the pros, and doing so on such a huge stage ... makes for great theater.

If you didn't get moved late last night by the Ohio guys and that scene on the floor and in their locker room ... wow.

Mark: Where do you see Eric Tandgradi in the Penguins line-up going forward?

Dejan Kovacevic: Had a nice game in Philly. Long, long way to go to be top-six.

jeff: tyler kennedy needs to sit. it's like watching doug shedden in Mario's early years.....I agree sid, staal, duper....sullivan, cooke, tangradi

Dejan Kovacevic: Shedden was even less one-dimensional. Just poked in loose pucks from the edge of the crease. But I see your point.

IRed: How much faith do you believe the Steelers have in the group of running backs currently on the roster?

Dejan Kovacevic: I have more in them as a result of the Cleveland game late in the season than I would have had otherwise. People can roll their eyes because of the opposition, but the Browns were decent defensively.

Jandy: How about some love for Cookie...getting the Masterson nomination?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm a fan of what he's done this year, but the Masterton is kind of an odd way of rewarding it. Usually goes to someone who overcame a significant hardship more than a series of self-inflicted wounds.

Again, though, what Cooke has done has been worthy of applause.

jeff: i know you're a jets fan and I long thought they deserved a team back in the PEG...the Crosby's Better chant at Ivie was priceless.

Dejan Kovacevic: I am hardly a Jets fan. I really like the city, and I like even more the passion that they have for the game I've loved all my life. The chant you cite -- plus the "Jordan's better!" last night aimed at Eric Staal -- only underscores their passion.

The NHL looks great for having gone back there. Really does.

Miami Steel: Dejan ... Is there a chance that the Steelers can fill the NT position from within as opposed to the draft?

Dejan Kovacevic: I know they liked Steve McLendon and what he did when filling in this year when both Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke went down, but McLendon is seen as undersized for the position, especially the way Dick LeBeau likes to use it. So, no.

Martini Mark in ATL: Baron Batch & Jonathan Dwyer - who has to 'step it up' more to the beat of the Drumm this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Dwyer does, but it sure would be nice if Batch emerged, too, because having a younger third-down threat would be welcome. Mewelde Moore was hard to find last season.

God: What is the long-term fate of Jordan Staal?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ray Shero won't let him go. No way. And Staal most definitely doesn't want to leave. In these situations, compromises tend to be reached.

Stanislaw Terlecki: Matt Hague has hit at every level - he's hitting .375 with 2 HR this Spring. Why are the Pirates so anti-Hague• - Matt should be the 1B on Opening Day, or is he the Drago Dumbovic of baseball??

Dejan Kovacevic: "Why are the Pirates so anti-Hague?" Based on what• They're playing him a ton down here, giving him plenty of chances to show what he can do, and they're teaching him third base to expand his bench repertoire. What's anti about that?

Mark: I know it is a different sport but I think Pittsburgh fans tend to be a little hypocritical. All of these rule changes after the lockout in hockey to open up the game and improve scoring, however on the other hand a steeler/raven game that has a combined 17 points is the best game of the year. Why do you think there is such an opposit attraction between the sports in Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic: TOTALLY apples and oranges there. Maybe even tomatos and oranges!

Martini Mark in ATL: What about Weslye Saunders• Has his suspension put him out of favor• Does he have the talent/mindset to take his game to that next level?

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely not. Saunders' mistake was boneheaded and nothing more. And yes, he's a bright kid with good athleticism. He can be part of the future.

BigBob-O: Sid's come-back has been rather measured and controlled....when does he get the keys back or does the level that Geno has been played this year never allow that to happen?

Dejan Kovacevic: When the Penguins face the Islanders again.

That's it for me this week. Because of all the baseball stuff, there won't be a chat Thursday.

The columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I'll be here through Friday, so it should be all baseball, then pucks and other stuff next week. The blog is like Hartnell's grin. Even when you close your eyes and wish it would go away, it's still there.

Thanks to all!

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