The Pittsburgh Penguins have had injury issues this season. They’ve been without Sidney Crosby for weeks, and Evgeni Malkin is done for the season. While Crosby will be back eventually, hopefully, the Penguins probably needed to make a move to contend for the Stanley Cup. They’ve made at least one move to try and improve their offense. The Penguins have traded Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars for James Neal and Matt Niskanen.
In recent years, the Penguins have tried a revolving door of wings to try and provide depth behind the trio of Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal. Neal is probably the best of those players they’ve acquired thus far. In his first two seasons, Neal scored 24 and 27 goals, and through 59 games this season he has 21, to go with 18 assists. He’s a good goal scorer, and at 23 he has room to improve as a player. He’s definitely the best wing on the Penguins now, and he’s exactly the kind of player they needed. Niskanen, meanwhile, has six assists in 45 games and is a minus-1. His career arc has been odd. His first season, he had 26 points and was a plus-22. His second season, he was minus-11 but had 35 points. Then, last season he had 15 points and was a minus-15 in 74 games. Will he ever return to his old form? If he does, he could be an added bonus for the Penguins.
Pittsburgh didn’t get Neal and Niskanen for beans, magic or otherwise, however. Alex Goligoski is a good defenseman, perhaps even a really good one. He has nine goals and 31 points this season, and was tied for the team lead in plus/minus at plus-20. While he was second fiddle to the excellent Kris Letang, he’s still a nice addition to the Stars. Of course, Goligoski isn’t going to replace Neal’s production, so there’s that.
Overall, I think Pittsburgh got the better end of this deal. Neal for Goligoski is kind of a wash to me, so the value Niskanen brings tilts this deal slightly in their favor. If Crosby is healthy, I think this trade will certainly keep them in the Stanley Cup race, though they might want to make another small move. As for the Stars, it should be noted they are fighting for a playoff spot as well. A hot start to the season is in the rear view mirror, and they are actually eighth in the West right now and one of five teams with 68 points. They can’t afford any slip ups if they want to see the postseason, so they’d better hope Goligoski finds his stride with the team quickly and that they can replace Neal’s production. Otherwise, maybe in a week they’ll be trading away Brad Richards and declaring the season over.