PITTSBURGH, Pa. – With or without an injury-riddled lineup, the opportunity to acquire young power forward James Neal in a trade with the Dallas Stars was too good to pass up for Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero.
Praising Neal’s potential, and the fact that he has a year left on his contract, Shero elected to make the trade on Monday in exchange for offensive defenceman Alex Goligoski. The Penguins also got a defenceman in return in the deal, landing fourth-year player Matt Niskanen.
“The injuries had not had a lot to do with what I’ve been looking at. This is for now, plus down the line for both of these players. So that’s encouraging,” Shero said during a conference call. “There’s not many of these power guys in the game. And Neal, on our list is one of the better ones in the game and has got some room to grow. That’s why when you can get a guy like Neal, the opportunity might not be there again.”
The parameters of the trade were agreed to Sunday night, and both sides completed it hours before the Penguins played host to the Washington Capitals.
Neal’s addition will help the Penguins in the short-term as well. Pittsburgh entered the game down 10 regulars, including captain Sidney Crosby, who is out indefinitely with a concussion, and Evgeni Malkin, who will miss the rest of the year with a knee injury.
Overall, the Penguins are without players who have combined to score 86 of their 174 goals this season.
And add defenceman Paul Martin to the list, as he’s listed as day to day after he was shaken up after being checked into the boards during a 3-2 shootout loss at Chicago a day earlier.
Neal, 23, is in his third NHL season and ranked third on the Stars with 21 goals and fifth with 39 points in 59 games. Though playing on the Stars’ top line with Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson, Neal had been slumping of late as his goal in a 5-2 loss at Vancouver on Saturday ended a 10-game goal drought.
Niskanen has six assists in 45 games this season, a considerable drop off from 2008-09, when he led all Stars blue-liners with 35 points (six goals, 29 assists). He was the Stars’ first-round pick in the 2005 draft, selected 28th overall.
The trade comes as the Penguins have hit a rut, going 2-4-1 in their past seven games. Pittsburgh (26-19-5) sits fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.
In Goligoski, the Stars acquired a puck-moving defenceman in a bid to secure their playoff position. After holding a double-digit point lead atop the Pacific Division three weeks ago, they’ve fallen to eighth in the West after going 2-9-1 in their past 12 games.
Goligoski is regarded as an up-and-coming defenceman who has nine goals and 31 points in 60 games in his third NHL season. He had three goals and four assists during a career-best-matching seven-game point streak earlier this season.
“Alex is a legitimate top-four defenceman who will have a positive impact on our entire crop of blue-liners,” Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said.
The Stars are also plagued by injuries, down five players, including Richards (upper body), who has missed three games. Dallas has also lost seven straight road games. They’re off until hosting New Jersey on Tuesday.
For the Penguins, Goligoski proved expendable given the Penguins depth at defence. It’s a group that’s led by Kris Letang and rounded out by the off-season free-agent acquisitions of Martin and Zbynek Michalek.
Neal and Niskanen were scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh later Monday, and be ready to practice on Tuesday. They’re expected play Wednesday, when Pittsburgh plays host to San Jose
Shero noted that the injury to Malkin—and the cap space he frees up—actually provided him more flexibility in making the trade.