While you were out today celebrating Presidents' Day or Family Day, a pair of NHL GMs were continuing the recent trend of trading young stars who are signed through next season.
After the rumor appeared on The Dreger Report this morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie broke the news this afternoon that the Dallas Stars had traded James Neal(notes) and Matt Niskanen(notes) to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Alex Goligoski(notes).
Before you reply "and what else was involved?", let me paraphrase McBain from The Simpsons: that's the deal.
Goligoski, 25, has appeared in 60 games for Pittsburgh this season, scoring nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points. Averaging 20:45 minutes of playing time per game, he shares the Pittsburgh lead for plus/minus rating (also Sidney Crosby(notes)) with a +20, and has a +34 rating for his career. Goligoski leads the Penguins in game-winning goals this season with four. A native of Grand Rapids, Minn., he was Pittsburgh's second round selection (61st overall) at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
"We're very excited to add Alex Goligoski to our hockey club," said Nieuwendyk. "Alex is a legitimate top-four defenseman who will have a positive impact on our entire crops of blue-liners. He has averaged over 20 minutes per game and can play in all situations."
For the Stars, they get an offensive blueliner in Goligoski who's can help bolster their defense, work on their power play and is currently on pace for a career year in production. He's also signed through next season at a $1.833 million cap hit before becoming a restricted free agent. The Stars also freed up some money in the process (Brad Richards(notes) extension, anyone?) as Neal's salary next season will jump from $2.25 million to $3.5 million. His cap hit will remain at $2.875 million, per CapGeek.
So has Ray Shero finally found a guy that can be consistently productive next to Sidney Crosby?
Neal's posted 20-plus goals in each of his first three seasons in the NHL and already Penguins fans are salivated at the thought of him playing alongside Crosby. If Neal could put up 20 goals playing next to Brad Richards, who's to say 35 isn't in reach next to a healthy Crosby?
While Penguins fans are excited at the deal, Brandon Worley of Defending Big D believes Neal has regressed (from this morning before the trade was announced):
Let's not kid ourselves, either. James Neal has shown himself to be more of a one-dimensional forward than we ever thought. He's not exactly the best backchecking, defensive forward the Stars have and when you play the system the Stars do, the ability to backcheck is more important than ever. If Neal were much more consistent a goal-scorer and more able to create offense on his own, then those shortcomings could be overlooked. He's not, so it's impossible to overlook what he's not doing and as of now all we have is talk about his "potential".
All of this isn't to say that Neal is not a good player. He's a very good forward and he's certainly a top-six forward in the NHL.
Right now, however, his value is still high around the NHL based on two years ago and the potential everyone says he still has. Teams would love to have a hard hitting, power forward with sniper abilities on their team -- especially if they have a capable center to pair him with.
While Neal may not have developed into what some thought he'd be when he was drafted in 2005, his trade to Pittsburgh could turn into a "change of scenery" deal where he becomes that player. Only time will time, but in the meantime, the overwhelming opinion is that the Penguins won this one and Nieuwendyk must have taken a headshot in Saturday's Heritage Classic Alumni Game.
- James Neal