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Dejan Kovacevic's Blog

Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Wakeup Call: Neal’s payday, Shero’s heydey


BUFFALO, N.Y. — Brief and to the Point …

>> My Monday column from Sabres-land looks at the Penguins and the upcoming deadline.

>> Had a good talk with Ray Shero before faceoff on a variety of topics, including the James Neal trade — the anniversary is tomorrow — that led to the six-year, $30 million contract he signed yesterday.

No matter what point I would raise about the trade working in the Penguins’ favor, Shero would counter with how it’s also worked for Dallas. If I mentioned Neal turning into a player worth signing for this long, he’d talk about Alex Goligoski just getting a four-year deal in Dallas. If I mentioned getting Matt Niskanen as a throw-in, he’d talk some more about the Stars.

Call it false modesty if you will, but it didn’t come across that way.

“You know, I said at the time to Joe Nieuwendyk, right before we got off the phone, that this was a hockey trade,” Shero said, referring to his Dallas counterpart. “That’s how it’s worked out. Alex has been a great fit for the Stars, exactly what they needed. We gave our guy a contract, they gave one to their guy. It’s a deal that helps both teams. If we had more deals like that, hockey would be the better for it.”

So would the Penguins.

>> The deal itself is terrific for both sides. The Penguins lock up a player who spends so much time on the puck that you’re bound to get something from him even when he doesn’t score. There’s a lot of value in that.

Don’t engage too much in player-to-player comparisons here. Yes, at $5 million annually, Neal is being paid the same as Paul Martin. But Neal is 24, and Martin was 28 and an unrestricted free agent at the time of his signing with the Penguins. Different age brackets, different statuses.

>> On the first day of pitchers and catchers, the hot topic is the rotation, naturally.

Let me toss in here that the Trib’s coverage of the Pirates’ spring training will involve daily updates, features and notebooks from Rob Biertempfel, as well as daily videos and photo galleries from Chris Horner. At some point in mid-March, I’ll be joining that coverage, too, for a few days.

Best place to keep up is on Biertempfel’s Bucco Blog.

>> What a rotten ending to a rotten home season for Pitt. On Senior Night, Ashton Gibbs, the Big East’s preseason player of the year, nets two points. The five starters combined for 15!

With whom do you find most fault for this season?

>> This was my appearance last night on KDKA-TV’s ‘Showdown.’ I’ll beg in advance for your forgiveness for a somewhat haggard look. I’d just driven 3 1/2 hours from Buffalo and arrived exactly two minutes before the 8 p.m. taping. And I failed to bring my makeup artist along!

>> I’ll be on our online-only TribLIVE Radio at 11:30 a.m.


  1. Casey says:

    I agree with staying put concerning the current crop of rental players that have been mentioned lately. Do you see Shero making a trade for anyone that is another year away from free agencey like when he added Hal Gill for a draft pick in 2008?

  2. 21sthebest says:

    Your haggard look is forgiven. Filliponi’s haggard behavior isn’t. I like how you handled the Kool Aid comment. I thought comments like that were reserved for us fans on blogs.

  3. ChrisH says:

    I enjoy a good sports debate, but last night Fillipponi was an absolute embarrassment. What exactly was he trying to prove with the yelling, low-blows, and continuous interruptions. If DK achieved all his has in his career by drinking kool-aid, then I’d gladly do the same!

  4. Jandy says:

    LOVE the Neal deal. It’s real. OK, I’m done…seriously tho, what’s not to like about it? He fits the team style of hockey perfectly and he’s great with Geno.
    I missed the game Sunday, grand daughter was being baptized…but I see I didn’t miss much. They laid an egg…don’t hyperventilate, they’ll do better tomorrow.

  5. JAL says:

    JAL’s Looking For The Summer Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 Yahoo Free Agent Tracker;_ylt=AvN8KLXkNW0TcRjzSCagLIMBbgM6?slug=jp-passan_ultimate_free_agent_tracker_baseball_110211

    4 Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Spring Training Tracker

  6. JAL says:


    9 Bradenton Herald

    Pittsburgh Pirates hoping to improve on last year’s 72 wins

    10 The Post Game

    Does Pittsburgh Pirates’ Hope Spring Eternal?

    11 Washington Post

    Rick Santorum and the dog that had an accident

    12 International Business Times

    Yankees Trade A.J. Burnett to Pirates: 5 Things to Know

    13 Toronto Star

    Griffin: Selig needed to ask if Burnett trade was in best interest of baseball–griffin-selig-needs-to-ask-if-burnett-trade-in-best-interest-of-baseball

  7. JAL says:


    14 The hardball Times

    Let there be news – Volume 9‎

    15 PBC Site

    Burnett deal makes Pirates better club

    16 IS Sports Web

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Worshipping at the House of Mercer

  8. JAL says:

    Steelers Blogs

    17 Behind the Steel Curtain

    This Shouldn’t be Shocking News, but Mike Tomlin is a Great Coach

    Emmanuel Sanders Will Return Kicks and Punts in 2012

    With the 24th Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers Select… A Safety

    18 Steelers Depot

    - Steelers Six From Around The Web – February 19th – Pat Kirwan Talks Mike Wallace Edition

    19 Steelers Gab

    A View on How the Steelers Will Deal with the Salary Cap Issues in 2012

  9. JAL says:

    Pitt Blogs

    20 Pitt Blather

    Backcourt Blahs

    21 Cardiac Hill

    Greg Schiano Taking Pitt Coaches Once Again As Bob Bostad Leaves

  10. JAL says:

    WVU Blogs

    22 Metro News

    Mountaineers May Have Knocked Pitt Out Of Tourney

    23 WV Illustrated

    Jones, Kilicli Forming Dynamic Duo

    2013 Prospect Tyler Boyd Excited By WVU Offer


    24 Pensburgh

    Groupthinking the Penguins’ 6-2 loss to the Sabres out of exsistence

    Pens re-sign James Neal, 6 years $30 million dollars

  11. Dave G in Liberty Township, OH says:


    Nice job on the Sports Showdown show last night. I just watched the whole show from the link. I hope that this Fillie-Pony guy some day learns to pronounce your name correctly. (Day-zhan? Jeez. WE know who’s drinking the Kool-Aid…)

    I’ve gotta say that watching the rest of last night’s panel only confirms why we value your insight so much. And we thank you graciously.

    I strongly agree with your Martin/Despres sentiment. Martin (a minus-4 yesterday) needs an involuntary vacation in favor of Despres (or even Lovejoy for that matter.) Martin remains a major liability as the Pens march towards the playoffs. Something needs to be done and very soon.

  12. JAL says:

    Title song Looking for Summer, Chris Rea. Best known here for his 1978 hit Fool (If You Think It’s Over) but has been very popular in Europe and the UK. This song is from his 1991 album Auberge. His early and more recent works are mostly blues and his middle works more rock oriented.

  13. Curt says:

    Pitt’s lackluster basketball is on the players. We know its not Dixon’s fault. The guy has been getting it done for many years and highly successful as well during those consecutive years making the tournament. I guess it was time for a down year.
    The one thing that is baffling to me is the simple mistakes they constantly make. Forcing passes, bad shots, bad defense-improper angles to keep your man in front of you, losing your man on a possession, not boxing out, etc. Its been a rough year.

  14. Thundercrack says:

    I didn’t appreciate Filliponi’s use of the term “drinking the kool aid” either. But I did think the show last night was entertaining.

    I’m not a big fan of everyone shouting over each other —but that isn’t something new to last night’s show. It has been going on since that show began.

  15. Eric Bowser says:

    Defense, defense, defense.

    In the NHL, Penguins have Letang, Orpik, Michalek, Martin, Niskanen, Engelland and Lovejoy to patrol on the blue line. They’ve got Picard, Despres, Strait, Bortuzzo, Sneep, Grant, Samuelsson, and Valabik for AHL/ECHL. Players in juniors or college, there is Morrow, Harrington, Rogalski, McNeill, Velischek, and D’Agostino.

    Martin has been terrible but it seems Bylsma and Shero are afraid to bench or trade him because the amount of minutes ‘played’ by Martin couldn’t be replaced to their thinking. If the Penguins brought in Despres to replace him, he could play 17-21 minutes per game at a better level than what the team has been getting in Martin’s 20-24 minutes.

    Next season, I would expect more willingness on Bylsma’s part to rely on Despres in the 20-24 minute range but doing so now goes against the coaching black book.

    Look at the cap situation for the Penguins as well. They now have $4.7 million to sign three forwards, a backup goalie, and potentially resign restricted free agent Matt Niskanen.

    There’s also a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on the horizon after the season ends and a real possibility the NHL will look to reduce the salary cap as the players percentage of revenues has increased to unsustainable levels for certain markets like Phoenix, Nashville, and Florida.

    If the cap goes down from the expected $64 million without a salary rollback like the players gave during the lockout, Penguins will need to dump salary at a time when others might be looking to do the same, thus forcing the team to make a tough decision to buyout the contract of Martin.

    The Penguins and their fans have to hope the new CBA allows for a buyout clause without it counting against the salary cap. This team cannot afford to have dead salary cap space with Crosby, Malkin, and Staal on the roster.

    We are watching the final days of Paul Martin, trade deadline or this summer, he has to go.

  16. bdubb says:

    So glad Spring Training is here!! Best time of year for Pirates fans. In fact these are the best 3 months of the baseball year for Pirates fans. Then May 1st hits and “here we go again” seeps in. At least the question marks for this years team have some promise. Should be a fun spring

    Pitt’s troubles can be blamed on a few things. Horrible senior leadership and Birch’s transfer. There would be games in past years where Pitt has gotten on the floor for loose balls more than this team has all year. The transfer of “this is Pitt basketball” hasn’t been there this year. I hope Jamie can get that attitude back to his team next year. Remember too there would never be any layups given up and now it is a parting of the Red Sea on D. Which brings me to Birch.

    His leaving forced Zana to play the 5 and he just isn’t a 5 and it has killed this team. When you play with an undersized 4 and an undersized 5 you don’t win. Just look at all the cupcakes Pitt schedules every year. Those teams generally aren’t competitive vs the big boys b/c of the lack of size up front. Yes Pitt rebounds very well but can’t get clean shots off down low on the offensive end and there is no one on the D end to intimidate drivers. We will see next year with Zana sliding over to the 4 how that helps with Adams at C. But this team won on pure grit the past 10 years and the 2012 version didn’t have that. Pittsburgh adopted Pitt hoops the way they did because of their work ethic and leave nothing on the floor attitude. This was more like the 1997 version

  17. dave says:

    I agree with Curt’s assessment of Pitt’s overall sloppy play, but he left out another key weakness. Their two centers can’t put the ball in the basket. How many times have they missed easy layups that should have been dunks. Neither one looks comfortable on offense and their defense is weak, too. I think their lack of offensive skills hurts the guard play, also, because the opponents can concentrate their defensive efforts on Gibbs and Woodall knowing it doesn’t take much to stop Taylor or Zanna.

  18. Eric Bowser says:

    Every Spring, I have hope for the Pirates that usually lasts until mid-April, this year that has to change. The Pirates have to follow up last season’s early season success with a full season of quality baseball. All I want is 82 wins, 82!

    Other than 82 wins, we need to see the establishment of Pedro Alvarez as a quality power source, improved consistency by Andrew McCutchen, and two steps forward by Charlie Morton and James McDonald.

  19. Tim says:

    I played defense for about 16 years and I was never in Paul Martins’ league when it came playing the position. That being said, stick positioning and outlet passes don’t mean squat when attempting to move a big body, heck, any body from in front of the net. Defense 101 states tie the man up in front of the net, move him out of the goaltenders path and never, ever let him get an easy stick on the puck. I know this can’t happen all the time, but how about every now and then. The Penguins D is just weak in front of the net and yes, it’s all about puck possession and outlet passes, but the other team has good players and they get paid to score, also. In their own zone, the Pens become lame poke checkers, especially 5 on 5. Martin looks like a pinball out there, bouncing off of other guys, like the little brother trying to get his toy back while his brother holds him off at arm length.

  20. Leefoo says:

    JAL……..I noticed the links here, but not on that other paper’s blog. Are you on strike? :)

    But, at least they’re somewhere. :)

  21. Leefoo says:

    Dejan………once you get to Bradenton and Pirate City, one note of caution……..steer clear of the man they call ‘Drew”.

    :) :)

  22. JAL says:

    Gustavo Nunez on the 60-day disabled list Monday because of a right ankle injury to make a spot for Burnette. Oh those Rule 5 injuries :)

  23. Leefoo says:

    JAL…..great song choice. I’d forgotten about Chris Rea. His “All Summer Long” (speaking of summer) is also a great song.

    It’s a shame he was pigeon holed here in America with that soft pop yucky song.

    On Nunez, I wrote that same thing on that other blog. Maybe they can keep him disabled all year. Those ankles can be nagging injuries. Just ask Big Ben :)

  24. Leefoo says:

    Eric Bowser………I agree with everything you said in #19

  25. Leefoo says:

    On #13, I wish Selig had talked to that columnist first.

    Oh well. We’re stuck with AJ “Bombs Away” Burnett now.

    I sure hope every Bucco fan who wanted him gets rewarded for that optimism. I still don’t see it.

  26. mayhay22 says:

    82 wins means literally nothing to me. Make the playoffs.

  27. radio wave says:

    And speaking of making the playoffs:
    We still don’t know about this years playoff format.
    Is it four or five teams.
    it’s Feb. 20, most if not all teams are in camp, and Bud and the boys can’t tell us if the proposed format change will take place this year or next?

    I wonder what the hold up is?

  28. Milo Hamilton says:

    One small problem with any potential trade of Paul Martin. Who is going to pay him $5 million for the rest of this year AND the next three years to play like this ?

  29. NMR says:

    “One small problem with any potential trade of Paul Martin. Who is going to pay him $5 million for the rest of this year AND the next three years to play like this ?”

    The Columbus Blue Jackets, as long as we pay 2/3 of Martins salary.

    Oh wait, we’re talking about hockey?

  30. Stuart says:

    I’ll take a pass on Fillipponi. Much prefer hearing Zeise on that show, despite his occasional indiscretions. Always enjoy Dejan on the show, and no one can say that Bob Smizek is ever lost for an opinion. Dejan you are a good catalyst on the show, and your opinions are always thoughtful. Hope you appear there frequently.

  31. Roland says:

    Enjoyed your column today but I think this teams needs to be revamped for the playoffs. A healthy geno wouldve gotten us by tampa but against boston? Dont think so, not with this defense. Martin in front of the net is like tossing a pillow on the ice to assist fleury in front of the net. With his 5M cap hit, he turns it over too much, he’s soft and he can’t shoot! I dont remember him being so deficient in jersey. Maybe after his arm problems his shot suffered. I like michalek as much as anyone but at a 4M cap hit? He’s basically another scuderi and we let him go because he wasn’t worth the 4+M he got from LA. I believe they both have some sort of no trade or no movement clauses but if was shero I would SERIOUSLY consider calling nashville and seeing if they’ll take michalek and martin for shea weber. If not now because nashville wants to make a run in the playoffs, definitely worth the call in the off season when Weber will need a new contract. We have young depth at D, time to use it. Nashville is going to lose weber and suter for nothing after the season, this way they can have 2 nhl defensemen that are under contract for a few years making less than suter and weber.

    DK: Welcome to the forum, Roland, and apologies for the delay in this post going up. Only happens with your very first entry.

    Oh, and please, please tell me you were kidding about Martin/Michalek for Weber.


  32. Jandy says:

    Milo, re martin ~ that’s what *I’M* worried about. ::sigh::

  33. CWalton_67 says:

    Tim’s comments above are on the mark.

    While I agreed with most of the column, I have to respectfully disagree with the basic premise that the Pens don’t need to make a move. They are two players short of being a true contender. And one of those is not Sidney Crosby. They need to find Gary Roberts/Billy Guerin/Mike Rupp somewhere. A player who is committed, one who leads. That player might be Paul Gaustad.

    The defense as currently constituted is simply not good enough (and I include the forwards here), and and it isn’t just Martin. None of them are difficult to play against. There is a complete lack of physicality overall. I attribute some of that to the system, but mostly again to a simple lack of commitment in the defensive zone.

    Defense is not really a system–it’s a mindset. And the Pens need to find some players with the right mindset or they will be on golf course early this spring.

    DK: Trades don’t happen in a vacuum, Chris. A big part of the premise of that column is that the current trade market is lousy.

  34. Jandy says:

    I have been one who stuck up for Paul Martin for a long time. I’m done. He looks spooked on the ice. I don’t know what is wrong, but something surely *IS* wrong. He needs either sent down for “rehab” or sat on the bench so someone else can do his job better than he can. I wish I could say it’s an injury but I don’t think it is.

    Come on Shero, look into it!

  35. CWalton_67 says:

    @Jandy–completely agree. Martin is completely lost on the ice and he needs a seat in the press box. Can’t believe that Lovejoy isn’t a better option right now.

  36. Steve says:

    Pitt’s lack of an inside presence has been the most consistent reason for the poor season. No threat of inside scoring has had a negative impact on the outside game. Guard play is poor again – often penetrate too far into the defense then get trapped. There really are a multitude of reasons. Let’s hope Steven Adams is the real deal next season and this year goes down as an anomaly.

  37. TheSaltyRogue says:

    In regards to the Showdown last night – anyone that thinks Filliponi (sp?) was out of line with his shouting clearly has never had the bad fortune of tuning in to a Paul Ziese (sp?) appearance. I see him on there, I move on – immediately. I don’t need to be yelled at and told my team (the Pirates) is a joke every week by a media member.

    I thought last night was entertaining.

    And DK, I had much less of a problem with your “look” than I did with the camera operator for you and Smizik. If it was a human – that human should be ashamed and taken back to “locking the camera down and focus 101″… if it was robotically operated it should be taken out back and thrown in the trash. Seriously, it’s called “focus” – look into it KDKA.

    DK: The cameras are robotic. Was told during the taping that there was some problem. Never saw the actual show to see what that problem was.

    If they blurred me out last night, then I love them.

  38. Jandy says:

    CWalton ~ Lovejoy is sound defensively. I’d love to see him play. I’m sick of #7 :(

  39. CWalton_67 says:

    @Dejan– certainly agree that trades don’t happen in a vacuum. Didn’t mean to suggest that the Pens can just unilaterally pick out players. Solely that my opinion is that they are missing some ingredients that would make them a true Cup contender. It’s possible that the leader they need is among them, but I’m not seeing it at the moment. They’re good, no question, but if they don’t upgrade their defensive play, they’ll be out of the playoffs quickly.

  40. SD says:

    DK – did you find out what the situation was with Geno not taking faceoffs for the first part of the game? I know the Pens are loathe to disclose injuries, but then again you tweeted that he didn’t look injured when playing. It was just odd for him not to be taking the draws. Did anyone ask Dan after the game?

    DK: Malkin is fine. He ended up with 11 faceoffs. Bylsma was just trying to keep him away from the Sabres’ Paul Gaustad. Which didn’t really work out. Gaustad’s line was really good.

  41. TheSaltyRogue says:

    @KDKA – Stimulate the economy… hire humans!

  42. Kurt says:

    Dejan, keep up the good work. What is the hold up for the pirates not giving McCutchen a long term deal? I think that would be a great question to ask in your next article to get all of Pittsburgh thinking. It’s crazy to think they may be trying to low ball him on a deal. Anyways I hope you can write an article that really digs deep and asks good questions that may shed light. Thanks.

  43. Jandy says:

    Detroit Red Wings place Ty Conklin on waivers…

  44. Milo Hamilton says:

    Andrew McCutchen is not a free agent until 2016.

    Haven’t had a chance to do that in awhile.

  45. Kevin says:

    I know its been reported otherwise, but isn’t it possible that AMac will be gone once Marte gets his shot? I see that as a factor in the reluctance to sign him long term for A LOT of money…in addition to what Milo said as well, naturally.

    I’ll hang up and wait for your responses (if there are any).

    @ Jandy –

    Ty Conklin, eh? Verrry interesting…(think Arte Johnson)

  46. Milo Hamilton says:


    At least you didn’t ask me to think Ruth Buzzi. The McCutchen thing is pretty simple in my opinion. It makes little sense for the Pirates to do a long term deal unless they can buy out at least a year of free agency. Up to this point, the McCutchen camp has been unwilling to do that. If they just buy out his arbitration years, all they’ve done is guarantee his next three years and they gain nothing.

  47. Roland says:

    Kidding? Heck no i wasnt kidding! Getting Weber before the deadline might be impossible because nashville wants to make a run in the playoffs. But in the off season i think its possible. Put yourself in nashvilles shoes…Suter and Weber will be gone…if they were going to sign the deals would’ve been done by now. Why woudn’t nashville want 2 established nhl d-men?!?! I realize martin might be viewed as damaged goods but i think he still has value based on his track record. And Michalek most definetly still has value. I realize other teams will be in the hunt for Weber by the time the offseason comes but I think nashville would rather get established players instead of draft picks and prospects. And how is nashville going to replace those 2? How often do they sign high dollar ufa’s? Now stop and imaging Letang, weber and orpik in our top 4 with some combination niskanen, engelland, lovejoy, strait, despres, morrow and harrington rounding out our defense for years to come.

  48. NMR says:


    Milo nailed it on buying out FA years.

    I’m not bashing Andrew as a player or person, but I feel he’s over valuing himself at this stage of his career. He very well might turn into a true star, but he hasn’t shown near the consistancy needed to draw that consideration.

    I’m sure his camp wants something in the neighborhood of Justin Uptons 6yr/$52m contract. Upton hit .300 with 28 home runs prior to those negotiations.

    Andrew hasn’t come close.

  49. JAL says:

    It takes two to tango. Pirates can’t force McCutchen to sign and he can’t force them to offer what he wants. Might help get his interest if they have a good season.

  50. Kevin says:

    Ruth Buzzi…nice.

    I agree with all points re: buying free agency, McCutchen still having to prove he is worth what HE thinks he is, etc. And I understand that the Bucs can be patient, wait out his remaining years and see where they stand.

    But I will hold on to the idea that they know Marte is waiting behind McCutchen which gives them some measure of insurance when it comes time to make the “final decision” as to whether to sign him or not long term.

    Thanks for taking my call everyone…

  51. scapper says:

    Since the comments today are alternating between hockey and baseball, I guess it’s apt to ask if anybody saw the beautiful tribute the Canadiens did for Gary Carter.

    Players all wore number 8 in pregame warmups, then they had a very touching ceremony before the game. Holding a ceremony of that length and before a hockey game is a true testament to the impact Gary Carter had in that city.

    Really makes you feel for all the hardcore Expos fans who lost a team they truly loved. It’s just too bad there weren’t more of them.

  52. Arriba Wilver says:

    Gotta ask a couple questions about Cutch because some of the statements have been made like they are “facts.” And I’m just asking.

    First, Regarding Andrew not being willing to negotiate any FA years–I remember DK reported before the first negotiations started last year that Cutch was unwilling to. I thought that had changed over the course of the negotiations, and it was a price issue.

    Second, without knowing who’s offering or demanding what, how do we come to the conclusion that Andrew is overvaluing himself? The only numbers I have heard Neal talk about are $30 to $40 million contracts for comparable players (contrasting the Bruce and Upton contracts). And I haven’t heard any numbers from Andrew’s camp.

    Regarding fans’ interest in the subject, Frank at Piratefest said it was one of their most asked questions, if not the most (my interpretation) on the caravan and at Piratefest.

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