Monday, February 21, 2011

Pens add talent to wing


I suppose I should come out of my self semi-exilement to chime in on the latest pre-deadline day big trade, Pittsburgh sending defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas for left winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

The short version: "Woooo!!!!"

The not-as-short version: Win-win for both teams.

The longer version: This trade almost made too much sense not to happen. I thought I'd written or tweeted about a potential Goligoski-Neal swap but after looking back, all I could find that I did was declare my love for maybe one day getting Neal. Still, this was a potential trade many people talked about as a possibility.

The Penguins are loaded on the blue line after signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to five-year contracts in the summer to go with Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. Most of their quality prospects are defensemen, guys like Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep and most notably, Simon Despres. Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy, though rookies, have proven to be competent NHLers.

Dallas, when healthy, boasted in my eyes some of the finest top two lines in hockey. Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro got to center players like Neal, Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson. Jamie Benn could be a younger, more affordable version of Neal.

Basically, both Goligoski and Neal were expendable to their respective teams. Pittsburgh needed a player like Neal, Dallas needed a player like Goligoski. Thus, the union. Neal immediately becomes Pittsburgh's top (healthy) goal scorer. Goligoski becomes the leading goal scorer and points producer among the Stars' defensemen.

The Stars, still with some ownership/financial issues, will save money on the deal. Each player is signed through next season, with Neal ($2.875 million) and Niskanen ($1.5 million) more expensive than Goligoski ($1.833 million.) So Dallas benefits in that regard as well. Pittsburgh, not as much, so it'll be curious to see what Ray Shero does with the rest of his team and its impending free agents.

I'm sad to see Goligoski leave, but a player like Neal is one Penguins fans have been drooling over getting for years. I think Goligoski will flourish in Dallas, being probably the most gifted offensive blue liner now with the Stars (sorry, Stephane Robidas), and throwing outlet passes to guys like Richards (if he regains his health and remains in Dallas) and Eriksson.

Goligoski's defensive game is fairly schizophrenic. He can be downright stellar at times or he can be downright brutal. He's not very physical and he doesn't get in the way of many shots. Also, for all his offensive ability, he fumbles the puck quite a bit. But when he can corral the puck, he can be lethal. He led Penguins defensemen with nine goals and had a team-high four game-winning goals.

With Neal and Chris Kunitz in the fold, part of me wonders what might happen with Eric Tangradi - still out with the concussion Trevor Gillies gave him. Neal is basically what Penguins officials hope Tangradi turns into - a physical, young winger with the hands to score and a nose for the net, able to play in the dirty areas - but rumors have been circulating that Tangradi could be moved in the right trade. As near as I can tell, all three players are left wingers, but moving one to the right side should be feasible.

Oh, I didn't talk much about Niskanen, did I? There's a reason for that; he appears to be somewhat of a throw-in. He had two decent seasons to begin his career but has very much regressed the last season and a half. He's offensive-minded but needs to rediscover his game to be a valuable contributor. With fewer responsibilities in Pittsburgh's lineup, maybe Niskanen can get back to being a good player.

That would be a bonus for the Penguins if it happens. If it doesn't, it won't be a big deal. The trade is very much Goligoski for Neal and should be a big benefit to both teams. Dallas needed a puck-moving blue liner and Pittsburgh needed a winger with actual talent.

Problem solved.

(I'm still not excited for the rest of this season. Next year is much more promising; but if Sidney Crosby comes back healthy, stays healthy, and Pittsburgh adds another piece, then maybe something good can still happen this spring and summer. OK, I'm done, back to my mountaintop where I can keep ignoring the NHL.)

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