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Dejan Kovacevic's Blog

Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Wakeup Call: The return of 71

Some sporting thoughts before sunrise …

>> Anyone who saw Evgeni Malkin flying about the Consol ice last night knows two things:

1. The knee is fine.

2. He’s serious.

There’s never been a reason why Malkin shouldn’t be one of the top three players in the NHL at any point, something Michel Therrien once brought out of Malkin early in his career by showing him the daily scoring leaders in the newspaper and asking Malkin: “Where’s your name?”

For all the attention rightly paid to Sidney Crosby’s recovery, let’s remember that the Penguins could be getting two of these guys back, not one.

>> On a negative note, can anyone in the comments section begin to convince me that James Neal is good for anything more than looking like he’ll score goals someday?

With a couple exceptions, all I saw last night was more of the same: Pointless, long-distance shots. All shots high, even when rebounds would have been nice. Little in the way of passing instinct. There were times when he and Malkin worked well down low, but that was about it.

>> The Seahawks’ Raheem Brock announced on Twitter last night that the NFL fined him for going into Ben Roethlisberger’s knee Sunday. Accompanying that announcement was a strong complaint.

Brock will make this case once he appeals: Right tackle Marcus Gilbert whipped his leg into Brock after Brock beat Gilbert with a spin move. It was then that Brock fell forward into Roethlisberger.

But his case will be blown to bits by the video. Look for yourself. Does that look like a guy trying even remotely to avoid going into Roethlisberger’s lower leg?

>> No one expresses on a more regular basis their appreciation for Derrek Lee’s work than I do, I’m guessing. Watching him go about 450 feet yesterday in Phoenix, as well as two other hits, only adds to it. But it’s probably worth taking a step back and realizing he’s batting .387 — 24 for 62 — since coming off the DL. That’s not normal for anyone. And he’s done so in the context of a terribly lifeless lineup, making him look all the more grand.

Not suggesting the Pirates shouldn’t pursue him. They absolutely should. But a little context might be needed for those who think he’s still the Lee of his prime.

>> We will have our weekly chat today at noon, the usual time. You can submit entries as early as 6 a.m., though, if you can’t be there live.


  1. pghboyinca says:

    Malkin appears to be ready to go to the elite status, he has obviously realized during his time away last year that he truly loves playing hockey. Sometimes it takes having something taken away unitl you realize its value. He was on a different level than anyone else on that ice.

    Think aobutt his, as bad as the Pirates look right now take Lee out of that lineup next year….100 losses are coming in 2012 and the manageemnt teamis safely tucked on for 3 more years……..LOL Since July 25th I think this teeam has won back to back games ONE time. The team has quit on Hurdle, they have no reinforcements coming in any foreseeable timeframe and they refuse to add free agents of any stature. (not hat they would be able to recognize talent even if they spent money)

  2. Matt Carter says:

    I never watched the game so I can’t comment on his performance tonight but if it’s anything like him down the stretch and in the playoffs last year it was frustrating. With that being said I think James Neal is going to be a game changer for the Pens. Once he gets paired up with Sid they will be dynamic together, but even before that he will make plays with his large frame and good hands playing next to Geno or Staal. He’s what they have been looking for since Hossa, with the exception he is much younger and Canadian! Not to mention he has scored over 20 goals the last 3 years, imagine the numbers he’ll put up on this Penguins team

  3. Crash says:

    Lee also had a decent season in 2009 in the NL as well. Changing leagues is never fun. He’s back in familiar territory. I think they need to bring him back but no more than $7.5 mil.

  4. JAL says:

    JAL’s Rock the Boat Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

  5. JAL says:


    3—Pirates Prospects

    Game 156 Recap: Ohlendorf Rocked in Bucs Loss

    Gerrit Cole to the AFL

    4 McEffect

    Gerrit Cole To Pitch In Arizona Fall League

    5 Raise the Jolly Roger

    Back to Normal

    6 Hyzdu Headquarters

    What Do We Have: Catchers

  6. JAL says:



    9 Tribune

    Ohlendorf, Bucs can’t grab win in Arizona finale

    10 Arizona Republic

    Arizona Diamondbacks jump on Pittsburgh Pirates early, hold on to take series

    11 Richmond Times-Dispatch

    Pirates: Walking the plank

    12 Wall Street Journal

    Will the Worst $80 Million Pitcher Please Step Up?

    13 Daily Press

    MLB Team Report – Pittsburgh Pirates,0,5048506.story

    14 Cincinnati Enquirer
    Reds end on high note at home

  7. Jandy says:

    Re: James Neal. I think maybe he was a bit overwhelmed by Malkin last night. Give them a few games together….watch thee magic happen.

  8. JAL says:

    Steelers Blogs

    -Behind the Steel Curtain

    Keeping Up with the Steelers in the Diaspora)

    Feeling Confident About the Steelers Facing Kerry Collins? May I Caution You with Cody Carlson?

    -Steeler Depot

    NFL Week 2 TOX Stats

    -Steelers Gab

    Gridiron Gab Pick ‘Em Contest – Games and News

  9. JAL says:

    Pitt Blogs

    Pitt Blather

    Big East Puts On Happy Face

    Cardiac Hill

    Big East Expansion: Bad News For Pitt And ‘Cuse From Big East Officials; Basketball Split To Come?

    Pitt Vs. Notre Dame: Breaking Down The Two-Deep

    WVU Blogs


    LSU Preview

    WV Illustrated

    Conference Realignment Takes a Deep Breath



    Game 1 Pre-season: It’s a start, Geno’s back. Pens win 3-2

  10. Jandy says:

    RE: James Neal. I think maybe he was overshelmed a bit by Malkin last night. Give them a few games together and watch the magic happen.

  11. Dan says:

    I agree with Jandy on James Neal. He had an elite center in Dallas and has been billed as someone who can produce when given that type of center. Well, last night’s game was the first game with the Penguins that he has actually had that center to play with. Give him some time.

  12. JMB says:

    If the Pirates lose 90 again this year, the current streak will be seven straight seasons of 90+. AND our GM just got extended for three more years –Woo HUH?

    The team lost 90+ six years (1950-1955), which is esp. tough in a 154gm season.

    I wonder what the record is for most 90+ loss seasons in a row. It seems like losing 90+ more than two years in a row is not very common for most other teams.

  13. Arriba Wilver says:

    On Brock–I thought the same thing Sunday when the announcers were falling all over themselves to say his hit on Ben’s knee wasn’t intentional. They kept showing the replays to point out he was tripped by Gilbert, and they kept showing (without mentioning) that he still went for the knee. Of course, if that is the standard, then the Bungles also have that complaint against von Oelhoffen. It was a very similar play, which lucky for us didn’t have the same results for our QB.

  14. Fat Jimmy says:

    I personally don’t have much use for signing Derrek Lee.

    Despite Lee hitting at Ruthian levels, the Pirates are 7-14 in games he plays. That certainly isn’t to blame him for the team’s poor play, but it does suggest that his presence isn’t enough to make this team a winner.

    After suffering through years of “rebuilding”, I don’t see a lot of value in handing more starting time to a 37-year-old 1B whose positive presence in the lineup doesn’t make the team a winner.

    Let’s face it: 2012 is a lost cause. 2013 likely is too. We’re playing for 2014, and I would much rather give playing time to guys who can be a part of a winning team in 2014 than old guys (and very likely steroid abusers) who definitely won’t be on the team the next time the Pirates finish with a winning season.

    My preference for 1B for 2012:

    1) Explore trade options for “blocked” AAA firstbasemen
    2) Explore trade options for “under control” MLB firstbasemen
    3) Begin the conversion of Alvarez to 1B (much to my chagrin, he ain’t a 3B)
    4) Sign Derrek Lee as a stopgap

  15. diehard says:

    Believe it or not, in that same six years the Orioles have lost over 90 as well. They haven’t had a winning season since Jeffrey Maier turned Derek Jeter’s flyout into a homerun in 1997. How different may things have been if that was properly called an out? The O’s could have been going to the World Series and the Yankees dynasty would have at least been delayed. Instaed, the O’s collapsed.
    In their 14 consectutive losing seasons the O’s have lost 90 games 9 times to the Pirates 10 (though we have 2-100 loss seasons included in that). Basically, they’ve only been about 2.5 games better than us on average for the last 14 years and their average payroll is just over $85 million dollars in that same time frame.


    Malkin put the NHL on notice: the scoring race begins right now. With Crosby still out of the lineup indefinitely, the time is now for Geno to remind the league just what a healthy and motivated 71 can do. What he can do is downright scary.

    Good observation on Neal, DK. He’s a prototypical Bylsma forward (tireless and tenacious) and he’s got some size, but his offensive weapons certainly need some fine-tuning. I didn’t see him having a problem picking up the play from Geno (or Kunitz), but I did see him struggle to finish. He lacks creativity on the play-making front (even less so than Kunitz, who showed great chemistry with Geno), so he’s going to have to be the guy to put the shot on net… and bury it. For starters, he needs to start taking a simpler approach and just drive to the net. You called it: he’s ineffective downrange.

    Great start out of the gate by Fleury, who deserved one of the three stars IMHO. Bylsma took a lot of long looks at some lower-pairing defensemen last night, and defensive coverage (especially down low) was spotty at best. Fleury stood tall despite many good chances (some of them second- and third-chances) and gave the Pens the opportunity for the win. It’s clear the Pens have a lot of defensemen who can make a good outlet pass and easily join the rush, but the Pens D needs some work in their own end.

    Final observation: Niskanen made a strong case for the point on the PP. Quick release on the one-timer and a hard, low, accurate shot. The Pens haven’t had that kind of shot from the point since Sarge left. Niskanen had a number of quality chances that he made the most of, and even managed to work a nifty give-and-go sequence with Geno down low. If he can manage his defensive responsibilities and keep up his timely offensive contributions, we could be seeing a lot more of him.

  17. diehard says:

    Sorry – the O’s average opening day payroll was “only” $73 million. Still, they’ve spent $1,025,442,067.00 – yes over ONE BILLION DOLLARS for 2.5 more winds per year than the Bucs for the past 14 years. The Bucs have spent $550 million. But then, now they have Matt Wieters…

  18. Milo Hamilton says:


    I’m certainly willing to give James Neal some games in the regular season before I come to any conclusions, but I can’t see how he was even able to score 10 goals in Dallas. Brad Richards must be one of the all time greats. Just from what I saw last year – he’s slow, clumsy, can’t create anything on his own, and has no touch. Sorry, I guess I could have been describing Eric Tangradi there.

    But I’ll hold out hope that he can become a servicable “fire hydrant” for Sid or Geno.

    DK: I don’t think Neal is slow or clumsy. I just don’t see a great instinct for actually scoring goals, not least of which is the maddening propensity for shooting everything high. That’s what my grade-schoolers do that I coach.

  19. diehard says:

    JMB – Slow morning, lots of losses being observed. KC Royals went 83-79 in 2003 (which was preceded by a 100 loss season), and have lost at least 87 games every years since – including 3 straight 100 loss seasons, the 87, and 3 at 90+. 88 losses so far this year, so they’re looking at their 4th straight 90 loss season. That 2003 season is what gives us the record – otherwise, KC would have 20 straight losing seasons.

  20. Arriba Wilver says:

    I’m never quite sure what the point is when the O’s are mentioned as spending more money to stink almost as bad as the Pirates. I don’t sleep better at night knowing that. It doesn’t make me feel better watching the Pirates stink on TV or at PNC. I don’t look at the season ending standings and say “well, at least it didn’t cost Bob Nutting too much to stink.” It does show that bad management, no matter the budget, will get you a team that stinks. How ’bout them Cubbies?

  21. SeanE says:

    One of the things that I have learned watching various teams over the years is that major league payroll (with the exception of the Yankees and Red Sox) is not a good indicator of major league success in that particular year. Rather it is more of how you spend the money, and most importantly how you develop the players that you draft.

    Sadly, the Pirates have failed miserably in both areas. This is the reason for 19 straight losing seasons.

  22. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Well said.

  23. aglebagel says:

    Despite the fact that he does get tripped, it’s kind of damming to Raheem Brock that instead of trying to avoid Ben’s knees in the process, he actually wraps up as he hits Ben.

    DK: Bingo.

  24. diehard says:

    Wilber – “It does show that bad management, no matter the budget, will get you a team that stinks.” Absolutely – and much more succinctly put than I did it. I started out just looking to see if anyone else was currently with the Bucs at 6 – 90+ loss seasons.

  25. Ryan(Nor-Cal Stlrfanrc) says:

    LOL, look at what the Red Sox have done in September!!!

  26. DaveIn84 says:

    Do you have any feel as to whether Lee would be willing to stay in Pittsburgh?

    DK: Nope. I tried to ask on the last homestand and pretty much just got a smile and a general statement that he was enjoying his time. But don’t read anything at all into that. There was nothing remotely substantive to our talk.

  27. JMB says:

    Thanks for all the info @Diehard.

    I see the 1947 StL Browns thru the 1955 B’more O’s lost 90 for 9 straight year with a 154 game schedule.

  28. CWalton_67 says:

    I’m willing to give Neal some more time based on his recent history, but I’m not convinced he’s the answer as “winger for Sid!”. He has some flaws, but we’ll see if he can adjust. Thought Morrow was very impressive last night, and Ulf’s boy did not look out of place at all. The future remains bright for the Pens. Our dear Buccos on the other hand are in real danger of 25 straight losing seasons. A terribly disappointing end to their season with no serious hope for the immediate future.

  29. Milo Hamilton says:

    Keep an eye on young defenseman Scott Harrington tonight. I thought he was a standout at the rookie camp scrimmage.

    DK: Yes, a thousand times yes. Very impressive.

  30. Peter M. says:

    Dejan, go to and watch every one of Neal’s goals. It’s not hard to imagine what’ll happen when he’s (1) got his confidence and (2) got a Sid or Geno setting him up in the slot.

    DK: We’ll see. I’m sure the Penguins hope you’re right.

  31. Ryan R says:

    James Neal hasn’t had any time to gain chemistry with his linemates, other than playing with Staal and a slow Kovalev last year. In his first game with Malkin he was in position for 3 or 4 good scoring opportunities and fanned on the puck. Keep in mind, he is playing RW for the first time in his career. I agree his shot selection is a bit far from the net, but TK netted a 20 goal season by taking a lot of shots. Its not always a bad thing for a pens team that is at times hesitant to pull the trigger. He has one of the best wrist shots on the team, if he can overcome Tanger syndrome (missing the net) he will net 25 + goals for us this year. I think Neal needs to position himself in front of the net more with his size and grit. Regardless of his goal count, the boy is a hustler and a player at both ends of the ice.

  32. Dave G in Mason, OH says:

    St. Louis Cardinals extended Lance Berkman one season @ $12MM.

    Bucs should get Derrek Lee signed NOW!

  33. Milo Hamilton says:

    Pitt received a $125 million gift today from alumnus & former US Steel executive William S. Dietrich II. It is the largest gift to public higher education in United States history.

    In an unrelated note, Pitt will begin play in the ACC next Thursday.

  34. I did not get to comment on this when DK mentioned it:

    Baseball America, on naming Huntington’s friend Sano #1 Prospect in league:

    “Ray Smith has seen thousands of players pass through the Appy League in 18 seasons as Elizabethton’s manager, among them No. 1 overall draft picks and future American League MVPs Josh Hamilton and Joe Mauer. Smith said Sano’s offensive potential at the same age compares favorably with that dynamic duo.”

    Luckily Pirates do not need a shortstop or third baseman, since they soon will be cashing in the 2012 option on “the best sliding-into-1st-base player” in baseball for short, and Jalapino Hannah will be manning 3rd base after a 4-game stint in the Dominican Winter League. Bucs certainly do not need someone comparable to Mauer or Josh Hamilton——that would not be cost effective. Plus, our hitting is fine!

    Poor Rene Gayo!!

    DK: Yikes. Now you know why Gayo feels such a loss there.

  35. Bizrow says:

    Opie admitted he blew it with Sano.

    The putz ticked off his agent, I hope he learned from that

    I doubt it, the PBC FO learns little, so far

    Hope, but you know, kinda expect

  36. Officer Mancuso says:

    Milo quit scaring me like that and tell me whether or not you’re kidding.

  37. Officer Mancuso says:

    I am out of commision, nose down on the keyboard after just reading groat2maz’s full screen name. That’s a keeper.

  38. Milo Hamilton says:


    The endowment part actually happened today. The guy promised $265 million to CMU upon his death. Great timing, huh ? I’ll bet they can shave off some of that 27 month sentence with some of that cash.

  39. Milo Hamilton says:

    Word out of Miami is that Leo Nunez has been in the country illegally and has been playing under an assumed name. He’s actually Juan Carlos Oviedo and is 29 not 28 years old. He’s been deported to the Dominican to take care of this.

    Insert your Dave Littlefield joke here.

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