At first Penguins fans, and NHL fans for that matter, had yet to fully discover the talents of forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen (seen above).
When they were traded for defenseman Alex Goligoski midway through the 2010-2011 season, it was a little bit of a shocker to hockey fans.
Goligoski was the young smooth skating two-way defenseman Pittsburgh had loved and was grooming to lead the future Pens defensive unit with Sergei Gonchar’s impending exit.
But with defensive prospects in the waiting (Simon Despres, Joseph Morrow, etc) and a high payroll, Goligoski became expendable.
The Pens also did this with Ryan Whitney, whom Goligoski replaced before being traded, and it’s why Pittsburgh now has a man named Chris Kunitz skating with Sidney Crosby.
The Whitney deal worked out well, but when the Pittsburgh organization looks back on the Goligoski deal – they’ll say this was the transaction that really went their way.
Neal, 25, was first thought to be Crosby’s winger, but due to the captain’s concussion dilemma, Neal was sequentially paired with Evgeni Malkin. And in past 102 contests, he has amassed 102 points (53G, 49A), while leading the entire NHL in power play goals last season.
Being named to his first All-Star team last season, Neal has blossomed into the type of player the Pens expected him to when they acquired him. He may not necessarily have the same style of play as Chicago Blackhawk Marian Hossa had for the team, but Neal is valued more for his all-around play for Pittsburgh.
At least Neal signed an extension to stay with the Pens (6-years, $30 mill) – unlike Hossa (signed 1-year-deal with Detroit.)
Neal is thought as the centerpiece of the deal, but Niskanen has turned out to be just as valuable by being one of Pittsburgh’s better defenders.
Drafted in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft (28th overall, Niskanen has been a solid two-way defenseman for Pittsburgh,
Niskanen, 26, has played in 107 contests since joining the Penguins and has registered a total of 31 points (8G, 22A) for the organization. Being paired with Kris Letang and seeing time on the top power play, Niskanen has seen a lot more scoring chances this year than he probably ever has.
This past summer Niskanen was rewarded with a two-year extension worth $4.3 million, and if you compare him to Goligoski overall, he’s arguably just as talented – if not better.
So far this year, Goligoski has recorded 10 points, all being assists, and the former Penguin has struggled mightily since departing Pittsburgh. The smooth skating offensive-defenseman has even been a healthy scratch for the Dallas Stars at one point earlier this season.
Still don’t think the Pens got the better half of the deal?
At the time Goligoski was dealt, he was older than both Neal and Niskanen, but his potential for being a top defenseman throughout the NHL was through the roof.
In all the games Goligoski has dressed for Dallas (115), he has amassed 55 points (14G, 41A). In the 129 contests he played between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons for Pittsburgh, he totaled a whopping 68 points (17G, 51A).
So not only did the Pens get younger, but from judging Goligoski’s performance in Dallas thus far, he seemed to have played his best years in Pittsburgh.
And because Goligoski has had a tough time clicking with his new team, it has got to give Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero great satisfaction in delivering the goods for the Pens.
Shero has come through on a lot of trades in the past recently, but when the organization looks back on it, they’ll recognize this as one of the best, if not his best trade.
Pittsburgh definitely robbed Dallas.
Well done Mr. Shero – and well done Pittsburgh.