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Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

July 1, 2014
by Dejan Kovacevic

238 comments so far - add yours!

Morning Java: U.S.A.

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

Morning, Lunatics …

>> The Tuesday chat is at 1 p.m. right here on the blog. Would love to have you along. It’s super-easy to participate. Just wait for the chat post to go up, usually around 11 a.m., and type your Q into the field. No fee. No signup. No registration. That’s it.

>> There’s a lot going on in local sports today, as we’ll get to imminently, but it’s all going to take a back seat to the bigger scope.

A preview of today’s World Cup match vs. Belgium, by the New York Times.

If you want to watch among friends, Market Square is putting up a big screen. This was done at the initiative of Mayor Bill Peduto and good friends Mikey and Bob at 96.1 Kiss FM. A fine idea, gentlemen.

A fantastic article about African nations — all out now — and the players demanding cash payments that often never come, also from the Times.

FIFA declines to punish the Dutch Diver Arjen Robben. This piece is filled with excellent background about soccer’s attempt to curb the practice.

Luis Suarez vows to stop biting people. Inspirational.

Here are the official World Cup 2014 page and the U.S. Soccer page.

Also in soccer, the Riverhounds play tonight in Dayton. Beat man Matt Grubba has that.

Here’s what our panel had to say about soccer diving on WPXI-TV’s Subway Final Word:

>> Nikolai Kulemin and Benoit Pouliot will be two of the Penguins’ targets when NHL free agency opens today at noon, by beat man Josh Yohe.

James Neal was all upbeat, all class in his initial meeting with the Nashville media, by the Tennessean. Turns out Neal heard about being traded while he was among the handful of then-Penguins invited to Matt Niskanen’s wedding. You know, one of those events where you invite locker-room cancers and the like.

In addition, Neal tweeted this last night …

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 11.58.12 PM

And shortly after that, Neal got this tweet back from someone in Pittsburgh …

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 11.53.39 PM

Here’s TribLIVE’s Penguins page and our Chipped Ice blog.

>> Gregory Polanco turned down the Pirates’ $75 million offer, by beat man Rob Biertempfel.

Andrew Lambo remains in limbo, by Biertempfel.

Here’s Diamondbacks news from the Arizona Republic.

Here are official game highlights on

Here’s TribLIVE’s Pirates page, our Bucco Blog and our photo gallery.

>> Ike Taylor is still ticked at the Steelers over the pay cut, by Mark Kaboly.

>> Let’s hear from you in today’s chat! And thank you, as always, for reading.

June 29, 2014
by Dejan Kovacevic

355 comments so far - add yours!

Morning Java: The real Neal, the real Grilli

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

Morning, Lunatics …

>> One of my favorite qualities to my birth town is that we tend to be pretty shrewd judges of character. We can spot a phony — a Todd Graham type, if you will — with the best of them. And it doesn’t take us long to toss them out on their ears or, at least, to make it onto our don’t-trust-this-guy list.

But man, the bulk of the sporting public has thoroughly blown it in the cases of James Neal and Jason Grilli, at least based on the feedback I get and see elsewhere.

And both in very different ways.

Neal has been suddenly — and stunningly — vilified as some sort of locker room cancer who did even more damage for the Penguins on the ice by acting out like Matt Cooke 2.0. And it’s crazy. Both of them.

Think what you want about Neals’ behavior on the ice. We all see that. What I saw was a player whose effort was almost never questioned, whose production exceeded even the highest expectations set upon his being traded here from Dallas, and whose presence was pretty much demanded on Evgeni Malkin’s line by Malkin himself. The two were — and are — great friends. He had the three suspensions, each of which I criticized and in once case referring to his action as idiotic, but that was over the course of 200-plus games in Pittsburgh. And, in what was something of an oddity, he really didn’t have problems on a nightly basis. Those things would just kind of burst out in some situations, usually when stakes were highest.

I also saw a player who was so passionate about his work that, after a playoff win in Philly in which he was dominant, he slyly arranged for him and his teammates to skate out for the three-stars announcement, just to further stick to the Flyers and their fans. Visitors almost never participate.

Off the ice, I’m going to speak for no one else, but I do feel compelled to say that Neal was unfailingly professional, courteous and honest with me. In general, he also was — along with Sidney Crosby, Matt Niskanen and a couple others — among the few to show up and answer questions after losses, rather than sticking his teammates with those. Also, I never heard directly from any actual player that he was a problem in the locker room. Most of this is coming out now, quite  curiously, from some people who never dealt with him. Stop and think about that for a moment. People in the newly revamped Penguins front office are impugning him. Seriously. And people who never interviewed or dealt with Neal are jumping on board. Double-seriously. It’s ridiculous, and it’s false. Neal would get down in certain situations, but I’ll take guys who care and get ticked off over guys who don’t care.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Ray Shero’s best friend in the business, and his mentor, is David Poile, the man who just acquired Neal in Nashville. Poile just committed $20 million to Neal. Poile just told his new coach Peter Laviolette — another close associate of Shero — that Neal will be his big acquisition for the summer. What’s more, there’s thick speculation that Shero will inherit the Nashville job sooner rather than later, meaning Neal will be his guy again.

When our Josh Yohe asked Poile in Philly over the weekend if he’d consulted Shero about Neal, Poile declined comment. Which Poile rarely does. Read into that what you want.

Does anyone with a right mind think that Shero wouldn’t know what kind of a player or person Neal is?

Or that Poile and Laviolette didn’t consult with Shero to find out?

Come on.

It’s been disappointing to see the Penguins try to kick Neal on the way out, just as it’s been disappointing some of the fans do likewise. It isn’t deserved at all.

Jason+Grilli+Pittsburgh+Pirates+Photo+Day+NMDSeyWJWtIlGrilli is another story.

Most of the sentiment I gather is this gushing sentimentality over what a great guy this was, and how sad it is that he’s having his heart broken, both of which — and I’ll be painfully blunt here — are flaming nonsense.

I don’t have to comment on Grilli the player. You saw what happened to him this season. He hit almost surreal highs in the first four months of 2013 but really was never the same after clutching his elbow coming off the mound later in the season. This year, he’s been … well, again, you’ve seen it yourself.

As a person, and again I’m speaking for no one other than myself, I’ve never seen someone act 180 degrees one way around some people, then 180 degrees the other around others, quite like this individual. As soon as the cameras or microphones were on, he was Mr. Smile and all emotional and passionate and weepy or whatever. As soon as they were off, he was something else altogether. And again, I’m talking 180 degrees.

Honestly, in all walks of life, we all suffer jerks. But hey, I’ll take a genuine jerk over a phony one anytime. At least be who you are.

Some of this had started to kind of creep out, not least of which was in his amazingly narcissistic book in which he compares himself to Christ and all kinds of other weirdness. Check the Google machine, and you’ll find some hilarious reviews of the book.

And then yesterday, he did all of us who have known the truth for a long time a monster favor by tweeting this out to everyone after his trade …

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 10.02.08 PM

Well, hey, now there’s the way to insult the team that gave you the only chance of your baseball career at a very advanced age. Kick them on the way out. Nice.

Trust me when I tell you the players in that clubhouse will read it, and not one of them will be surprised.

I’ll stop there, other than to wish Neal good luck with the Predators and beyond. As I wrote in the Saturday column from Philly, I’m in favor of the actual trade because I like how it addresses the Penguins’ needs. But I also appreciate a good hockey player and good guy for what he did here.

Oh, and if anyone’s interested, here’s video of Grilli’s initial contribution to those powerhouse Angels.

>> The non-powerhouse Pirates, meanwhile, kept right on winning. Edinson Volquez and Pedro Alvarez both appear to be straightening out, and Mark Melancon did his job at the end. Rob Biertempfel reports from PNC Park.

Clint Hurdle prefers his closer to close, by Travis Sawchik.

Tommy John surgeries are way up, by Sawchik. Good stuff in here from Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and others.

Here’s Mets news from ESPN New York.

Here are official game highlights on

Here’s TribLIVE’s Pirates page, our Bucco Blog and our photo gallery.

>> Mike Johnston is mostly observing the Penguins right now, by Yohe.

Looking ahead to the 2015 NHL Draft and far bigger doings, here’s a Trib Q&A with presumptive top pick Connor McDavid, by Yohe.

If you missed it, this was the Sunday column in which I tried to paint a picture of the Penguins’ new management team in action and philosophy.

Here’s TribLIVE’s Penguins page and our Chipped Ice blog.

>> Netherlands and Costa Rica go through to quarters, the Dutch benefiting from a sickening dive by Arjen Robben to draw the winning penalty. If I start complaining about soccer dives, I’ll never stop, so I’ll let this New York Times pic of Robben’s dive do it for me …


Quite the hero.

Here are the official World Cup 2014 page and the U.S. Soccer page.

>> WPXI-TV’s latest Subway Final Word had myself, Yohe, Biertempfel and host Bill Phillips going back and forth on the Pirates, Penguins, Neal, Grilli and, well, yeah, soccer dives.

>> I’ll check in with TribLIVE Radio at 11:30 a.m.

>> Thank you, as always, for reading.

June 28, 2014
by Dejan Kovacevic

91 comments so far - add yours!

Sunday column: Setting the table

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

PHILADELPHIAThe Sunday column from the NHL Draft is about the Penguins’ almost surreal weekend of getting to know each other at the table here and, somehow, coming off with a cohesive look.

My thanks here to all who made the piece possible, notably Jim Rutherford and Bill Guerin.

Here’s a quick bit from Rutherfor about that lack of familiarity:

The news coverage of Day 2 of the draft, by Josh Yohe.

Notes from the event, by Rob Rossi.

Here’s the NHL Entry Draft 2014 official page on

Here’s TribLIVE’s Penguins page and our Chipped Ice blog.

June 28, 2014
by Dejan Kovacevic

One comment so far - add yours!

Final: Dutch Lions 1, Riverhounds 0

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

Looking ahead to kickoff …

Match: Riverhounds (1-8-5) vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (7-1-6)

Time: 7:02 p.m.

Site: Highmark Stadium

TV, radio: YouTube USL Pro Channel

Or you can just watch right here on the blog …

Here’s the official live summary.

Here’s TribLIVE’s Riverhounds page with coverage from beat man Matt Grubba.

June 28, 2014
by Dejan Kovacevic

7 comments so far - add yours!

On location: NHL Entry Draft, Day 2

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

PHILADELPHIA – Looking ahead to the next Hans Jonsson

Event: NHL Entry Draft, Rounds 2-7

Time: 10 a.m.

Site: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

TV: NHL Network (national)

Penguins’ picks: 113 (fourth round), 145 (fifth round), 173 (sixth round), 203 (seventh round)

Here’s the NHL Entry Draft 2014 official page on

Here’s TribLIVE’s Penguins page and our Chipped Ice blog. Rob Rossi, Josh Yohe and I are on the scene.

June 28, 2014
by Dejan Kovacevic

96 comments so far - add yours!

Saturday column: On the Neal trade

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

PHILADELPHIAThe Saturday column from the NHL Draft is about — what else? — the James Neal trade to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

The news coverage of the trade, by Josh Yohe.

Couple of questions I had for Jim Rutherford:

Here are Hornqvist highlights compiled by the Penguins.

And some Spaling highlights, too.

Oh, yeah, there was a draft, as well. And the Penguins took Kasperi Kapanen with the No. 22 overall pick, same spot from which they took a certain other Finn just two years ago. Rob Rossi has that.

Some pretty cool pics from the Kapanen scene …

Pulling over the sweater for the first time.


A big chunk of the new hierarchy, with Rick Tocchet and Rutherford to the left and new coach Mike Johnston way over there on the right.

Meeting in back with the reporters. Surprisingly large contingent of media from Pittsburgh, but I guess that’s just reflective of the interest.

Here’s the official team video of Kapanen’s drafting.

And here below is a six-minute collection of highlights, all blissfully featuring Finnish play-by-play …

Here’s the NHL Entry Draft 2014 official page on

Here’s TribLIVE’s Penguins page and our Chipped Ice blog.

June 27, 2014
by Dejan Kovacevic

159 comments so far - add yours!

On location: NHL Entry Draft, Day 1, Penguins trade Neal

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

PHILADELPHIA – Looking ahead to the Panthers being on the clock

Event: NHL Entry Draft, Round 1

Time: 7 p.m.

Site: Wells Fargo Center

TV: NBC Sports Network (national), TSN (Canada), RDS (Quebec)

Penguins’ pick: 22

Here’s the NHL Entry Draft 2014 official page on

Here’s TribLIVE’s Penguins page and our Chipped Ice blog. Rob Rossi, Josh Yohe and I are on the scene.

UPDATE 4:47 p.m.: Here’s the scene right now as front-office types head toward the 30 tables:


5:08: Bad news for the Penguins already. The NHL and NHLPA just jointly announced the salary cap for 2014-15 will be $69 million, well below some expectations. The current payroll is $55 million for 14 players signed to date. That’s an ouch.

5:55: The Penguins don’t have a trade in line for the 22nd pick, at least not at the moment. They’ve listened to offers. Their scouts have a handful of players they’ve identified for the No. 22 spot, but it’s impossible to even guess at who they might be.

6:54: Leave it to Flyers fans to start a new draft tradition and yell ‘SUCKS!’ after each team is announced. Just wait for Pittsburgh.

6:57: Ha! Well, they at least get credit for making the Penguins feel special. They bypassed the sucks and wait straight for passionate booing.

7:17: Man, I’ve seen Gary Bettman booed, including in Pittsburgh. Never like this. They aren’t letting the man speak. Incredible scene.

7:18: I’m actually enjoying the hell out of this. I’d almost forgotten where I was. Never change, Philly. Never change.

7:20: And the Panthers select — amid a cascade of continuing boos — defenseman Aaron Ekblad of Barrie (OHL) with No. 1 overall pick.

7:22: Give the Philadelphians a break, everyone: They haven’t seen an actual hockey event in June in, what, 40 years?

7:39: Much activity at Penguins table, and it’s unusual to say the least. Rutherford in intense talks with David Morehouse and … Ron Burkle? Yes, Burkle is seated right at the table corner, by the GM. Wow.

7:51: Rutherford’s back. Apparently had some communication with Colorado. Not that this would necessarily support that, but Rutherford also was in a long talk with Patrick Roy a half-hour before draft began.

7:58: Now Winnipeg comes up. Of course it does.

8:03: Whoa. Leafs just drafted the lead singer for Flock of Seagulls.

8:06: James Neal to Nashville, hearing.

8:08: Confirmed: Neal to Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Both are wingers. Have to rewrite column completely. Gotta go from here. Sorry.

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