Penguins Trade Goligoski to Dallas for Neal/Niskanen

Updated: February 22, 2011 at 8:08 am by Patrick Davey

Clearly the Pittsburgh Penguins are short on forwards. Not just depth forwards but hugely talented stars in the shape of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. However, yesterday Ray Shero helped strengthen a depleted roster by acquiring potential star James Neal from the Dallas Stars.

Dallas in return gains the services of Alex Goligoski, also sending Matt Niskanen over to Pittsburgh as part of the trade.

This initially seems like a very positive move for the Penguins as they add a power forward with 21 goals this year and who is still really only scratching the surface of his true potential. The Pens still sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, comfortably five points ahead of Washington and apart from the rough 9-3 scrap on Long Island, Pittsburgh has been able to withstand the absence of Crosby since January 1st (concussion), and Evgeni Malkin for the rest of the season, pretty well.

Jordan Staal especially has responded well to the increase in ice time with three goals in his last five games within a five-game points streak. With 24 goals in his rookie season, and 27 last year, the sky really is the limit for Neal, who is probably one of the most promising power forwards in all of hockey. With the transition to a team that gets frequent nationwide coverage, people will soon realize how great a talent he is in driving the net.

In addition, his fantasy value also falls under the radar as he contributes in all categories including a healthy 60 PIM already this season. Neal is the perfect fit for any of the Pens three centers, although it appears for now he will play alongside Staal, and then look forward to the arrival of Crosby this year and potentially Malkin next year as linemates. Considering Neal has no playoff experience in Dallas he must be excited by the move to Pittsburgh.

On the other hand, Alex Goligoski was a powerhouse for Penguins last year, maturing well after his impressive play in the run to the Stanley Cup.

After scoring eight goals and 37 points in 2009-10, people expected that he would really be able to take the next step this year but it has been Kris Letang who has emerged as a future Norris candidate with eight goals and 45 points, after just 27 last year.

Letang’s play pushed Goligoski to the role of powerplay specialist, playing the point with the man advantage and only seeing third pairing minutes at even strength– pairing with pugilist Deryk Engelland or Ben Lovejoy. Despite the lack of playing time, Goligoski responded with a very respectable nine goals and 31 points over his final 60 games as a Penguin.

Naturally Pittsburgh will be sad to see a cup-winner in Goligoski leave but GM Ray Shero and company dealt from strength as the team still boast an impressive top four of Brook Orpik, Letang, Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek.  With a red-hot market for defensemen Shero received a return which rivals that of the Tomas Kaberle and Erik Johnson deals.

So where does this leave the Dallas Stars? They clearly sacrifice an important future asset in Neal, who put up some relatively gaudy numbers in his first three seasons in the League as TSN’s Daniel Tolensky points out via Twitter here and here.

Controversy continues to surround the team making it apparent that this deal, while moving young assets, speaks more to the salaries than anything. Neal carried a $2,875 million cap hit and Niskanen added $1.5 million to a very tight budget. By swapping these two players for Goligoski, who comes in at the bargain basement price of $1.833 million, the team clears payroll and covers their “problem” from the point (which Brad Richards had been filling prior to his injury). All three contracts expire following the 2011-2012 campaign.

On a side note, this trade marks a decent benchmarker on how GMs view proven assets. Both players traded from Dallas came in the first and second round of the 2005 draft while Goligoski went late in the 2004 second round. The latter also took the college route which makes his 1.5 years older than Niskanen and over two years older than Neal– with the same NHL experience as Niskanen. Yet with his Cup experience, Goligoski was valued at a level that hauled both of them in.

Opinions around the hockey world varied from ESPN’s Matthew Barnaby thinking the Stars got robbed while his umbrella counterpart Mark Stepneski of Andrew’s Stars Page offering to pick up Goligoski from the airport. We here tend to value Neal more simply because both goals and power forwards come as a premium in the fantasy hockey world.

Like the majority of deals this year we would characterize this transaction as another “hockey deal.” Even though there is a discrepancy in salaries, nobody would be willing to classify this deal as a dump. Similar to the Johnson deal, the two teams traded their fair share of young assets. In this cap-strapped world we now live in, perhaps we will see more developing assets move in order to shake things up.

In summary… (line changes)

Stars: The Stars likely place Goligoski on the top pairing, replacing the injured Nicklas Grossman alongside Stephane Robidas. Even though he played limited minutes in Pittsburgh at even strength, the Stars would be foolish not to play their new puck-moving defenseman in all situations.
Penguins: Until Crosby comes back, Neal will slot next to Staal– who believe it or not is a downgrade in playmaking ability to both Mike Ribeiro and Richards.  Niskanen could be the most underrated part of the deal as he not only takes Goligoski’s place but also will be tasked with replacing the day-to-day Paul Martin in the short-term, placing him in the top four by default. After a promising first two years in the League it became apparent he could use a change of scenery.

We hope you enjoyed our trade analysis as much as we enjoyed writing it. If there are glaring omissions let your voice be heard in the comments. Regardless, make sure to take all of the advice in and continue to check our renowned starting goalies section, which is updated all day until game time and follow us on Twitter @DailyFaceoff

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