The Neal Deal: Revisited

My first blog here at The Checking Line posed the question: was the deal that sent James Neal and Matt Niskanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Alex Goligoski worth it? At the time, I said yes—on the condition that Alex Goligoski's performance stayed on par or better with his performance in Pittsburgh, and that Neal and Niskanen stayed at par in Pittsburgh. 

Too bad neither of those happened. 

In any case, Goligoski got the approval of the Stars' management, signing a four year, US$18.4 million contract. This move was more than essential, because if that didn't happen, and Goligoski walked on the Stars...let's just say "disaster" would not even come close to describing the outcome. They already lost one pretty darn good free agent.

Let's delve in a bit.

Alex Goligoski has had a tale of two seasons, to put it bluntly. Last season, as a mid-tier defenseman on the Pittsburgh Penguins, he produced continually increasing numbers as his role and skillset as an offensive dynamo defenseman increased. His performance last year set the precedent of which the Dallas Stars wanted. 

He posted 31 points (9 G, 22 A) in 60 games with the Pens before being shipped to Dallas, where he posted an additional 15 points (5 G, 10 A) in 23 games bringing his season grand total to 46 points (14 G, 32 A) in 83 games. That's solid ground for a really, really good defenseman. 

Along with those points, consider this: he was also brought in to rejuvenate the power play. He scored three power play goals and assisted on four other power play goals. His season total in 2010-11 was 24 power play points (7 G, 17 A).

At the age of 26, Goligoski is entering his prime. This year certainly does not show it. In a season interrupted by a broken thumb, Goligoski has posted 16 points (6 G, 10 A) in 37 games. According to TSN's pace calculator, that means he will end the season scoring around 30 points.

Power play points this season? Two power play goals, and four power play assists.

This season, Goligoski has not even scratched the surface of what he was in Pittsburgh. And yes, that is a problem. At times, he has made some really stupid decisions with the puck. After breaking his thumb, he has shown a lack of confidence while stickhandling or making the first pass.

The 26-year-old's ice time has steadily increased over the past several games, coming close to 25 minutes per game. Perhaps more emphasis has been placed his defensive game. That may be true, and that is not a negative. However, to give up James Neal and Matt Niskanen for this guy, he needs to be better. Much better.

Allow me to depress you with the other side of the deal.

Last year, Neal and Niskanen did not gel with the Penguins. Too bad that was only temporary.

Niskanen has once again found his form as a solid defenseman—the same signs he showed as a young stud in the 2008-09 season in Dallas. Through 48 games in Pittsburgh, he is a plus player, a point producer, and a solid addition to their defense corps.

Neal scored only one goal with the Penguins during the regular season. This season? Try 27 goals and 20 assists. 13 of those 27 goals are power play goals. TSN has him on pace to score 45 goals this season if he stays as hot as he has been.

He surely benefits from regularly playing with super-Russian Evgeni Malkin, but that should not detract from what Neal brings to the table; those skills including size, puck protection, and a wicked wrist shot.

All doom and gloom aside, the deal had to be done from a financial standpoint. The team continued to lose money, and did not have a strong ownership group to pony up the money to keep these players around. Plus, adding Goligoski addressed a need of a stronger defense corps that could move the puck better and perhaps post points. 

Especially on their lacking power play. Dallas' power play sits at 26th in the League at a measly 13.6% this season. Mission accomplished? I sure as heck don't think so.

What's my point? It's a shame. Just a darn shame. Alex Goligoski needs to start living up to not only his transaction, but to his new contract, as soon as possible.

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George Prax's picture

There are other factors at play here. Like, who Neal and before that, Goligoski, had to play with in Pittsbrugh (beyond even Malkin, and before the trade Crosby). The Pens are one of the deepest teams in the league and that helps a player like Neal and one like Goligoski I think.