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Penguins Penguins Q & A with Dejan Kovacevic

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Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Q: Dejan, I'm a little confused, to say the least. The Penguins allow Darius Kasparaitis to just test the free market? And now they're going to trade him? He is a huge fan favorite here. Can you please enlighten the millions of Penguins fans across the country about this?

Larry Scafuri of Penn Hills

KOVACEVIC: Millions? If we're getting millions of hits for this Q&A, Larry, then I might ask my agent to file for a fitting reward through arbitration next summer.

To respond to your question, yes, it's confusing. For the past three days, I've had a cell phone surgically attached to the side of my head trying to figure out how and why this whole Kasparaitis thing came down, and the stories seemed to change with each conversation I had.

I'm not going to rehash the whole process because you can find that a couple of clicks away on the PG's Penguins page, but the long and the short of it is this: One of two things happened to the Penguins in this arbitration hearing. Either they had no problem with Kasparaitis walking away at the end of next season, or they were unaware of the rather obscure clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that Kasparaitis' agent employed in his client's favor. Right now, to be perfectly frank, we don't know which it is, and I'm not inclined to guess or to speak on Craig Patrick's behalf.

Now, of course, this means a trade of Kasparaitis is all but inevitable. The Penguins can't risk such a valuable asset simply walking away at the end of the season for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick, so it would behoove them to move him. The quicker the better, too, unless they have reason to believe contenders might be willing to wait until close to the March trading deadline and rent Kasparaitis for the stretch.

The Islanders, for one, would dearly love to have him.

Q: Dejan, can you explain the apparent discrepancy between Darius Kasparaitus' value to the Penguins and his treatment in the arbitration hearings? I can't believe the team listed him sixth on the defensive depth chart in its arbitration brief.

Kevin Sousley of Denver

KOVACEVIC: No, Kevin, I can't explain anything about the Penguins' peculiar disdain for Kasparaitis. I wish I had an answer for you, but it all makes absolutely no sense.

Q: I thought the Rangers said they would not part with Pavel Brendl in the Jaromir Jagr trade talks with the Penguins. And yet, they made him part of the trade with the Flyers for Eric Lindros. Who got better value in their superstar trades, the Penguins or Flyers? Yeah, I know, time will tell about the untested prospects, but, what is your perspicacious evaluation?

Rich Fidei of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

KOVACEVIC: Courtesy of The American Heritage Dictionary: Perspicacious is an adjective meaning "able to understand keenly, mentally perceptive." That's asking a lot of me after three rough days on the cell phone, Rich, but I'll give it a shot.

I have never gotten a clear picture from the Penguins as to which players exactly the Rangers were offering Craig Patrick for Jagr, nor which players the Penguins were seeking. All Patrick has said on the issue is that the Rangers were offering players who were older than what he wanted.

That said, at the other end of the situation, New York Daily News reporter John Dellapina -- a veteran on the NHL beat -- wrote yesterday that the final offer Rangers General Manager Glen Sather made to Patrick was Jan Hlavac, Kim Johnsson and minor-league goaltender Johan Holmqvist. Dellapina added that Patrick's final request was for those three players, plus another prospect, none of whom was Brendl, Jamie Lundmark, Tomas Kloucek or Filip Novak.

This jibes with other information I have received that Patrick never was interested in Brendl, a player perceived by many scouts as being too soft and too loose in his work ethic to succeed in the NHL.

Most of the what-if questions I received this week concerning the Lindros trade -- nearly all of which presumed that the Flyers got a better deal than the Penguins -- failed to take into account one simple possibility: Patrick might have gotten exactly what he wanted.

Look at the names Dellapina cited, and you will see that Patrick had pretty much the same offer on the table as the one the Flyers received, which was Hlavac, Johnsson, Brendl and a draft pick. Patrick apparently had the chance to take a deal similar to that, mulled it over and didn't like it.

And yet -- I know I write this frequently, but it bears repeating -- it took Patrick all of one day to snap up the Capitals' offer of Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk.

One day. That's it.

This from a guy who typically moves about as quickly as a glacier when it comes to personnel issues.

Yes, we all have seen Hlavac and Johnsson play, so we know them better. But that doesn't necessarily mean they will be better players in the long haul than the prospects the Penguins received from Washington.

You're right, Rich. Time will tell.

Q: Would the NHL allow the Penguins to build a European-sized rink in their new arena? If so, do you think there's any chance Mario Lemieux would go that route? Seems like an obvious way to enhance the team's existing European talent, and it might start a much-needed trend across a league filled with guys way too big and fast for the existing rinks.

Wes Bernardini of Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: I need a bit of a breather after that long-winded answer to the Lindros question, so I'll dish this one off to Tom Rooney, the Penguins' chief operating officer ...

ROONEY: Actually, Wes is onto something we have been discussing. Why not build an arena with the Olympic dimensions?

We talked to the league and they said to build it the way you like, but you're playing on the standard dimensions. They want a standardized game. Of course, we could build it with that kind of surface and then just put rows of seats in place until such time we could use it. And we could have it as a hedge downrange that we might host an international tournament ... who knows, the Olympics? The slalom at Seven Springs?

Interestingly, the original ice surface at Mellon Arena was Olympic-sized. And I believe the old AHL Hornets actually played on that surface the first year or so and then sold additional front row seats all the way around. I was an usher in those days, but there have been too many rock concerts in my life between then and now. If you see old Hornets films or pictures, it looks like the corners are deeper.

It's too early in the design phase, but we'll keep this in mind.

Q: Did anyone notice that the three players the Penguins got for Jaromir Jagr were all born within 17 days of one another? Weird.

Rob Strom of Cleveland

KOVACEVIC: For the record, all three were born in 1981. Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk both on Jan. 21, Kris Beech on Feb. 5.

And I'll take it a step further: Jaromir Jagr was born Feb. 15, 1972. And Frantisek Kucera, the centerpiece of the deal, was born Feb. 3, 1968. All within 27 calendar days of each other.

Maybe they can all share a cake or something.

Q: You mentioned in last week's Q&A that the best-suited linemates for Mario Lemieux would be Stephane Richer and Kevin Stevens. Don't you think that would be a little risky due to the fact that the whole line would be 35 or older?

Paul Grove of Altoona

KOVACEVIC: Actually, Paul, I didn't write that Richer and Stevens would be best-suited for Lemieux, but rather that it was my projection that they would be on a line with him if training camp started today. And it turns out there was no small amount of validity to that, given that Lemieux acknowledged as much in an interview yesterday.

Part of my reasoning for liking that combination, at least to start, is that it probably would be unwise on the Penguins' part to bring Richer in on a tryout contract only to dump him off on a third or fourth line. If the team is serious about seeing if it can maximize his talent -- which is considerable -- it should give him a chance to play alongside Lemieux. From there, having Stevens on the line is logical from the standpoint that someone would have to do the forechecking and charging to the net.

Will they be too old? Well, that might show at times over the course of an 82-game season, particularly in their cumulative speed and backchecking. But remember that Lemieux is planning to rest at times and that Richer is coming off an entire year off, so that should help minimize wear and tear for both. Bear in mind, also, that there are many nights on which the Lemieux unit won't face a checking line if opponents decide instead to focus their energies on Robert Lang, Alexei Kovalev and Martin Straka.

All that said, Lemieux also said yesterday that he might play left wing next season and tossed out the possibility that Milan Kraft could be his center. Kraft is 21, so that would lower the line's average age a bit, to be sure.

Q: Dejan, with the Flyers building up their personnel, the Islanders improving their depth, the Capitals acquiring Jaromir Jagr and the Penguins losing Jagr, do you seriously think the Penguins have a legitimate shot at going anywhere this year?

Tony Genco of Lawrenceville

KOVACEVIC: I predict that the Penguins will finish third in the Atlantic Division -- behind the Flyers and Devils -- and seventh in the Eastern Conference. But only ...

... if Johan Hedberg is the real deal and can perform at a high level for 50 or 60 games.

... if the second line has a better year than last year. Not as good, but better. They are the ones who must make up for the loss of Jagr.

... if Lemieux can find consistent, productive linemates.

... if not one but two or three of the young defensemen makes a significant contribution. This will be particularly true after Darius Kasparaitis is dealt.

... if a true checking line can be formed. For all the criticism Ivan Hlinka received on other matters last year, his unwillingness to put together a consistent No. 3 unit might have been his great failing.

That's a lot of ifs, and I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Barring further personnel moves, a lot of dominoes have to fall in place for the Penguins to rival their performance last season.

Q: To what extent is the financial difference between the Penguins and Flyers attributable solely to the Penguins' need for a new arena? To what extent is it attributable to Philadelphia having a larger population base, better attendance, better marketing or better television contracts?

Joel Straka of New York

KOVACEVIC: You can expect, Joel, that Penguins management will spend much of the next two years touting the virtues of a new arena toward maintaining the team's competitive balance. And, to be sure, a new venue would go a long way toward boosting the payroll.

But the greatest variable in the equation -- in hockey as in baseball -- is local television money. The Flyers' cash comes from being owned by Comcast-Spectacor, the same company which airs the Flyers, the 76ers and the Phillies on Comcast Sportsnet, one of the highest-rated regional sports networks in the country. And the Flyers receive a bounty from that contract, certainly when compared to the money the Penguins receive from Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh.

You've hit the nail right on the head regarding the NHL's biggest problem, Joel. Because it still fails to attract viewers on a national basis, it receives a pittance in national television money when measured against the other three major sports. And, because of that, there is no general pool from which all 30 teams can share money evenly, as they do in the NBA and NFL.

That's why revenue sharing and a salary cap are sure to be the major items on the agenda when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2004.

Q: Dejan, I understand the reason for Mario Lemieux's comeback is partially so he can win a Stanley Cup before he's done playing. Why does it seem no one thinks this can happen with some of the youth in the organization? I remember years ago a quote by Pat LaFontaine, speaking of a young Alex Mogilny and saying something along the lines of how he was going to "turn that kid into a hockey player." Are there any prospects in the organization Lemieux feels that way about? I believe it wasn't long after LaFontaine's comment that Mogilny had his 76-goal season.

Kent Hayden of Toronto

KOVACEVIC: You're right, Kent. It was the following season, actually, in 1992-93, when Mogilny went from 39 goals to his remarkable 76. LaFontaine did his part, too, chipping in 53 goals.

To answer your question, I can only attempt to relate to you the genuine enthusiasm with which Lemieux spoke about Milan Kraft yesterday. He apparently feels strongly enough about Kraft to be willing to give him a serious shot at playing alongside him, and that's got to count for quite a bit.

Can Lemieux and Kraft click? That's hard to say, given that they've hardly ever shared an ice surface. But there certainly are indications to show that if Kraft can see the rink well enough to find Lemieux and if he can develop a sense of timing for giving Lemieux the puck at precisely the right moment, it could be fun to watch.

Q: So, do you think Bob Clarke has sent a thank-you note to Craig Patrick for forcing Glen Sather to trade for Eric Lindros?

Phillip DeCarbo of Ellwood City

KOVACEVIC: Sure, right after he mailed out that Christmas card to the Lindros family.

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