I know that fans have grown to like James Neal. I have, too. He's got upside and can be a solid scorer in the NHL.
But the Stars needed help on the blue line. That's clear. This team is struggling, dropping from first in the Pacific Division (and, consequently third in the Western Conference) to tied with four other teams for one of the final playoff spots. And Neal was expendable. The team can't trade Jamie Benn. But with the forward depth, it could afford to trade Neal. I agree with GM Joe Nieuwendyk: You have to give up something to get something.
Alex Goligoski gives them a puck-moving defenseman and someone who can pair with Stephane Robidas right now to help give that blueline corps some punch. He's got another year remaining on his contract and becomes a restricted free agent after that. He frees up some money should Nieuwendyk find another move he'd like to make.
The move makes sense for the Penguins, too. Neal gives them a winger they need. Maybe a change of scenery will help Matt Niskanen.
But the Stars can shift Benn to left wing on Brad Richards' line (when everybody is healthy) and add a defenseman to the mix who is at least somewhat in the mold of Sergei Zubov. While Goligoski is certainly not at Zubov's level, he is the closest thing this club has had since Zubov left. He can also play the point on the power play.
I know many of you don't like this trade because you feel the Stars gave up too much. We'll know more about that in the coming months. But Nieuwendyk had to do something. A good start to the 2010-11 season is evaporating and now the Stars are in a major fight just to get into the playoffs. Goligoski helps them get there more than Neal would have.